The More We Know…

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Matt Neale

I am a voracious reader. As well, my tastes in reading material are eclectic, to say the last. One day it may be vintage Agatha Christie with “The Fourth Turning” as a counterpoint, the next it’s a biography of Elizabeth Taylor and a re-read of something in “The Tightwad Gazette”. This results in a wide variety of ideas circulating in my brain at any one time, and you can never tell when I’m going to bust out in a new direction. But the most fascinating result of my reading is how often “what everybody knows” is in fact distorted, out of date or just plain wrong. Some of these no-longer-truisms include the following:

Far from being a pristine, nearly unoccupied world prior to the time of European conquest (no, it was not colonization) the Americas were thriving, heavily populated continents full of literally millions of original owners. These peoples had sophisticated government, beautiful arts, writing, great cities and much knowledge. What they didn’t have was immunity to such diseases as smallpox and measles. In the book “1491—New Revelations of The Americas Before Columbus”, Charles Mann reports that epidemics may have killed as many as nine out of ten people, thus clearing the way for English, Spanish, Russian, French, Portuguese and Dutch settlers to take over.

Dr. Robert Atkins was vilified by the medical profession, the government and a lot of food processing companies for suggesting that weight loss was a matter of eating fats and proteins but controlling carbohydrate. Today I picked up the Reader’s Digest to find that the current recommendations are exactly what Atkins proposed over 30 years ago. Not that the FDA has made the connection—urged on by the food conglomerates who grow corn and make soft drinks, our government urges us to eat more carbohydrates and less fat.

As a nurse I have seen many changes in medical recommendations. When I first graduated, the medical profession was convinced that ulcers resulted from stress; many years later the culprit was proved to be an infection. Women were advised to take hormones for menopausal symptoms…  but wait, we think they actually increase the risk of some reproductive cancers, so maybe you shouldn’t. Sometimes, it’s new research that makes for new recommendations, but all too often it’s because the first studies were flawed, or in the rush to get a product to market, little details like lethal side effects were glossed over. And sometimes, as in the case of the tobacco industry, the research that shows you are selling a product that kills is buried, suppressed or denied.

So what’s my point? Well, I have learned to take all wondrous new discoveries and “scientific recommendations” with a grain of salt. If the suggestions are at variance with my personal experience, my tendency is to ignore them and continue doing what works for me. In addition, I always look to see who funded the study and what connections the researchers have with business or government. Cynical, no—realistic, absolutely. I can’t remember the exact quote, but in the book “Rizpah”, author Charles Israel is talking about why Rizpah received so little mention when she had such a great impact on the Jewish  kingdom as Saul’s concubine. He makes a comment to the effect that ‘the scribes eat at David’s table, they drink his wine—it is no wonder that they write of the king’s exploits in flattering terms and downplay those of others’.

Unfortunately, money and connections and politics can influence research—not to mention that some researchers will flat-out falsify their data. So when the latest research says organic food is just the same as conventionally raised food, and my experience is that organically raised food tastes better, stores longer and makes me feel better, I can guarantee I will reach for the compost instead of the N-P-K bag.

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