Scientism is a concept that is one of my primary motivations behind creating this blog, website, and the future writing my book. After spending most of my career teaching science at the college level, I have found myself teaching more about the limitations of our current science vs. the conclusions and applications of the science. According to Mirriam Webster, scientism is “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)”. As someone who holds a masters degree in nutritional sciences, that is the least of all my qualifications as to why you should be listening to anything I have to say or write. I can’t tell you how much misinformation I have provided over the years because of my limited Western medicine model, registered dietitian tunnel vision , and faith in the results of scientific knowledge. I feel it is absolutely imperative to understand this concept when making health decisions for you or your family.
Studies show there is approximately a 10 to 17 year gap between scientific innovations and actual implementation in clinical practice, which was what drew me to functional medicine almost 10 years ago and led to me leaving my 20 year traditional dietitian career. In fact most of my career, I have been about 10 years ahead of others in my field, and I am sure I have had many colleagues roll their eyes behind my back, but I am usually proven right in time (GMO’s were a perfect example of that….and will be a topic of a future blog post). Given this, and the fact that most Western medical practitioners are required to work within the guidelines of insurance parameters and most medical books are written by pharmaceutical companies, it is very challenging to get more holistic treatment or treatments that reflect the most recent science.
In addition, this situation has also created a complete lack of empowerment on a personal health level. Statin drugs (cholesterol lowering drugs) are a perfect example of this situation and really speak to the whole concept of scientism as they are the number one prescribed drug in the U.S.. However, the research was based on a study done in the 50’s that was actually a very poor study design. The pharmaceutical companies, along with insurance companies, deemed this the standard of care for anyone who had “high cholesterol”. These drugs block an entire metabolic pathway in your body, therefor the side effects are significant and include myopathy (muscle pain) that can be debilitating and often mimic other medical conditions, as well as an increased risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. When you look at the actual data, they are mostly effective in individuals who have already had a heart attack and the numbers of individuals they help is significantly lower than the number that they hurt due to the plethora and severity of the side effects. However, this is the “standard of care” most physicians are required to follow, until the scientific consensus shifts.
Most people do not realize that drug companies, supplement companies, agribusiness chemicals, and food companies conduct most of their own research and testing that the FDA, EPA and USDA than uses to evaluate the effectiveness and risk of these substances. In addition, only 50% of all drug trials are ever published leaving a complete lack of data for physicians to evaluate effectiveness and risk. Most universities are heavily funded by corporations like Monsanto, Coca Cola, and ConAgra therefor, they are dictating the research as well. In addition, most of these companies spend millions of dollars sponsoring medical advocacy groups and manipulating search engines like google, pretty much preventing the average consumer on properly informing themselves so they can empower and advocate for their own health. Additional millions are spent lobby are government representative so they are often provided with biased information and science when making decisions and policies that effect or health and well being.
So what is the take away here to empower yourself? First, always ask questions of your physicians and find a physician/ healthcare practitioner you can talk to and has the same values that you have about health. Because many healthcare practitioners are severely limited in their available time, do your research prior and have your questions ready to go at your appointment When you are doing your own research and finding information, make sure that it is free of corporate bias by looking at the sponsors and funding of the groups. I think it is always good to look at both the Western medical perspective and the more integrative or functional approach as well. However, supplement companies also work under similar guidelines as the pharmaceutical industry, so be wary of information provided on websites that are also selling supplements when dealing with the integrative world. Look at science with a critical eye in terms of findings and interpretations of the findings. If you find a medical advocacy group, you can see who sponsors the group with a little digging and you can do the same with schools who sponsor the research as well (for instance Monsanto has a position on the Advisory Board of UC Davis). However, I think the most power we have is listening to your heart and your intuition in all areas of your life, especially when it comes to your health and wellbeing.