Pseudo-Science, Defined

There is science and the scientific method, and then there is pseudo-science. It can be difficult to tell the difference, but once you know about the scientific method it becomes much easier to tell them apart.

From Wikipedia:

The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method of acquiring knowledge from other ones, is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself, supporting a theory when a theory’s predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false.

The steps taken when conducting scientific study, before conclusions are drawn are, formulate the question to be answered, propose a hypothesis for a possible answer to the question, predict the logical conclusions of your hypothesis, design tests that will support or refute the hypothesis, then, finally, determine if your test results actually strengthen your prediction and conclude that your hypothesis is true or not.

I bring all of this up because it turns out that drinking milk as an adult is probably bad for you. Nonetheless, here is what the USDA says about drinking milk, and they recommend that you drink three cups of milk PER DAY:

  • Health Benefits

    • Intake of dairy products is linked to improved bone health, and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
    • The intake of dairy products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built.
    • Intake of dairy products is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and with lower blood pressure in adults.

Now, using the scientific method, the question would be, “does drinking cow’s milk improve bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis?” Our hypothesis would be to make the conjecture that “people who drink more milk will be shown to have better bone health than those who do not.” The test would be to survey a large group of people over time and actually record their health outcomes. If our hypothesis is true, then we would predict a measurable improvement that we might be able to correlate to their milk consumption.

This has been done, now, several times. In 2011, there was this study by the same government, the NIH:

Our conclusion is that in our meta-analysis of cohort studies, there was no overall association between milk intake and hip fracture risk in women but that more data are needed in men.

The study surveyed 200,000 women.

Here is a study that tracked 100,000 men and women over a twenty year period, looking for some association between milk drinking in adolescence and hip fractures later in life. The conclusion:

Greater milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture in older adults.

Here is a brand new study out of Sweden, they tested men and women for health outcomes  related to milk consumption:

High milk intake was associated with higher mortality in one cohort of women and in another cohort of men, and with higher fracture incidence in women. Given the observational study designs with the inherent possibility of residual confounding and reverse causation phenomena, a cautious interpretation of the results is recommended.

I highlighted the bold bits up there. Not only does drinking lots of milk not ‘do the body good’, it is actually related to dying younger. It is also related to women’s bones breaking easier. It is actually being proven to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the USDA would lead you to believe. So, where did the USDA get their ‘facts’ from? What scientific studies were done to recommend that we all drink three cups of milk per day for the rest of our lives? Well, I poked around tonight and couldn’t find any studies not funded by the milk industry that scientifically showed a correlation between milk and improved health. Maybe you will have better luck than I did. Some showed that calcium is good for you. Some showed that vitamin D was good for you. Couldn’t find any that showed the milk is good for you.

What seems to have happened here is that the people who make their living selling milk began their ‘science’ with the conclusion that milk is good for you, and went about their business of proving the conclusion. Calcium is good for you and has provable benefits, milk has calcium in it, THEREFORE, milk is good for you. Ditto with vitamin D. This is ‘pseudo-science’.

Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is falsely presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a validscientific method, lacks supporting scientific evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.[1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.

Now that actual science has turned it’s attention to whether or not milk can be proven to be good for you, the results seem to be REFUTING milk’s claims to health benefits. Naturally it will be a very, very, very long time before the USDA begins to change their advice to drink three cups per day. They are still touting ‘low-fat’ products, even though these products tend to be ‘high-sugar’ foods and are therefore actually much more deadly to us than the regular foods that they replace. No, the USDA will be the last arm of the government to finally admit that some food made in the US is anything but perfect and a bargain at twice the price.

If you make your food choices only on the advice of the government, then perhaps you should find and volunteer to be a subject in a REAL scientific study on the effects of eating a USDA recommended diet. They could compare your outcome to mine and the future generations will thank you for your selfless sacrifice to scientific knowledge.

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About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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One Response to Pseudo-Science, Defined

  1. Pingback: Trust Me, It’s Related | One Small Change at a Time

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