Friday, September 5, 2014

The Limitations of Science

You can learn a lot from a 7th grade science textbook 

This year Heidi is taking a general science class, and since it's the beginning of the year, the beginning of the science book talks about general sciencey-stuff.
 The history of science, the scientific method, and the limitations of science. 

That's one thing I don't remember ever learning...the limitations of science.  Do you know what they are??

Well, it depends on who you ask, really. 

According the College of Dupage the 3 limitations of science are
1) Science can't answer questions about value,
2) Science can't answer questions about morality.
3) Science can't answer questions about the supernatural.

All that is very true of course. 

However, according to Heidi's science textbook the 3 limitations of science are

1) Science can't prove anything. 
2) Science is not 100% reliable
3) The constraints of the scientific method.  

Why do I bring this up?  Most of my readers are probably moms or other women who have no desire to go back to science class.  

I bring it up because I am a scientist. I've conducted scientific trials.  I'm very familiar with the scientific method and how to read a scientific article and how to conduct a scientific trial. That is what my education is in.  I have a Bachelor's of Science in Animal Science and a Master's of Science in Reproductive Physiology of Dairy Cows.

I'll let you stop laughing actually CAN get a degree in that.  A mostly useless degree (unless you are a dairy farmer) but a degree you can frame and hang on your wall and everything. 

The reason I bring this up is because there seems to be some controversy about faith and science and reason lately. 

As some of you know, we use a lot of natural remedies. That's doesn't mean we are anti-Western medicine by any means.  Not at all.  We do see traditional doctors should the need arise.  But it also means that I'm likely to try to alternative means of healing an ear infection before using antibiotics and I'm likely to use vitamins and herbs to treat the common cold (with great success, I might add).  

Some people seem to find this confusing.
 They don't understand how someone with a scientific background or degree could use "unproven remedies". 

But, let's go back to the limitations of science. 

Science can't prove anything.  Science is not 100% reliable. 
The constraints of the scientific method. 

Science can't prove anything.  That means that anyone who says "X is proven safe" is wrong. This also means that anyone who says "X is proven unsafe" is wrong. Anyone who says that "It is proven that X causes Y" is wrong. Likewise, anyone who says "It is proven that X does NOT cause Y" is wrong.

All we can say is "Currently studies shows that....blah, blah, blah"

This DOESN'T mean science is worthless. Science is a wonderful thing. It just means that it's not 100%.

Some people seem to treat science like an infallible god...they seem to forgot all the numerous ways scientific thought has changed over the years.  A good scientist questions everything and takes NOTHING for granted.  All scientific thought is open to refute.   History is full of examples of scientific facts changing. Just think of poor Pluto, the former planet.   

Furthermore, science is constrained by the scientific method.  I believe that constraint is especially important in the area of health and medicine.  Why? Because you can never design a perfect scientific trial using people (or animals).  Everyone's body is different.  People have different genetics and different health histories and different diets and different strengths or weaknesses in their bodies.  

We all know this.  

Sally, Suzy, Sam and Stefan all have depression. With the help of a pharmaceutical Sally is able to lead a normal happy life.  With the help of dietary changes and nutritional supplements, Suzy is able to lead a normal happy life.  Sam is helped by a different pharmaceutical than that which helps Sally and Stefan is helped by different dietary changes or supplements than those that help Suzy. 

We all know that the same treatment doesn't always affect everyone the same way. 

We all know that the same foods don't affect everyone the same way. 

Little Timmy can drink milk every day of his life and be totally happy.  While if little Tommy drinks milk he gets stomachaches. And, little Tiffany can drink milk as long she doesn't have too much, but if she does, her little digestive system protests.

Three different kids...three different outcomes. 

This is why scientific trials involving and health and medicine and treatments are so tricky.  There is so much room for error because no two people are the same. That's not to say that they are worthless.  They are the best we have, and they are pretty darn good at that, but it does mean that nothing is proven and nothing is 100% reliable. 

So what's my point? 

We should all extend a little more grace to each other if other people choose different health paths than we do.  

I've tried chiropractic care. It didn't do anything for me. Mainstream science doesn't really support it.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to pooh-pooh it and say it's worthless.  
If YOU find benefits from chiropractic care, that's great.  And, if you find benefits from pharmaceutical medicine, that's great.  And, if I find benefits from certain herbs and eating gluten-free, that's great for me.  We should all respect each other's health choices, because we are all different, and we all respond a bit differently to different things.

Maybe you feel just wonderful eating a typical American diet.  Maybe the person next to you, loves her vegan diet and feels awesome on that.  And maybe the person on the other side feels awesome eating Paleo.  That's okay.  It's important to respect each other's health and dietary choices, because no matter what anyone says, no one really knows the best way to eat or the best way to treat disease or pain. 

For just about every study you find that says X, you can probably find another study that says Y. I think ESPECIALLY in areas of health and medicine, we need to extend more grace and understanding to each other.  No one way is proven because science can't prove anything and there are an awful lot of conflicting scientific studies (even properly conducted ones) out there.  

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  1. This is a great response to Simcha's article. We are all different and it's easy to assume that what works for us will work for others. If I (or my baby) so much as look at an antibiotic or a steroid, I get thrush and will battle with it for months on end. Diflucan does nothing for me, so I have to manage it with natural remedies. I have friends whose children have been on months of antibiotics and never had thrush and also friends who had thrush that was wiped out with diflucan. It really is interesting how different our bodies work!

  2. I love this post. I love it so much. My BIL (Who is an organic dairy farmer funny enough) and his family are big into the "no conventional medicine" at all thing. We are far more conventional ourselves. But we're family so we have learned to just keep our mouths shut unless we see an actual life or death situation. And that's kind of what you've said here, we're all Children of God so that makes us one big family who needs to extend graces to one another. Brilliant. I love this post.


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