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December 16, 2015 posted by The Fitness Impresario

Do Studies Still Mean Anything?

Do Studies Still Mean Anything?

“We would never publish it, because then our competition would have it.”

I wasn’t shocked when I heard this the other day. It made sense but, for some reason, I’d never actually heard it from someone who spent time in sports science. I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time with some of the brighter minds of sport, which has led to me wanting to delve into some of the areas where data is lacking. But it’s also made me even more skeptical of the system. If we weren’t publishing our best science, then what exactly is it that ‘s filling our news headlines daily, and how much stock should we put in it?

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Marketing and little, are the answers. Falsified studies make the news so regularly that even the most gullible consumers aren’t surprised to hear that some “science” they’d changed their lifestyle to accommodate was proven false. The most blatant cases, like the tobacco industry studies from the 60s, have spawned a skeptical public have changed little. Bad science, or marketing masquerading as science, is at the forefront of almost everything that sells, especially in a consumables industry.

The reason is simple. Studies cost money, and corporations have most of that. Even government studies are often done under lobby pressure to find a conclusion that’s specified beforehand. And when you study something with a marketing agenda, rather than as an experiment, it’s no longer science. You’re almost certainly going to have manipulated data.

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Examine.com, whose main purpose is evaluating studies, offered a great example. “Almost any single ingredient can be shown to cause cancer in an isolated study,” they reported. This is because the world is made out of a handful of elements that are all, in varying amounts, alter between life giving and life threating. With this in mind, it isn’t all that hard to take aspects out of any study and spin them in your favor.

So are studies worthless?

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Of course not. Science makes the world go round or, more accurate proves it does. Without the scientific method we’d still be living in caves, fighting Mammoths with sticks, and dying at age of 30. And no matter what the guy down a Crossfit tells you, I’m thinking those dudes would trade places with how we live today. Without science you wouldn’t be reading this, contemplating what exercise program you’re do next, or what you’re having for dinner. Instead you’d be on the run, somewhere in middle of the food chain.

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I’m pretty sure that’s not true but…

Trouble is, we’re not privy to most of it. What we get are the things that have PR behind them. Sometimes there is good work under the hood but, unless you’re willing to dig and are patient enough to wade through the actual study, you never really know if the presented data is accurate. That means most science, as it’s presented to us, is best left ignored.

There are awesome things being studied and discovered all the time, but how do you find it when the media is both looking for sensationalism and/or funded to present a specific answer?

Obviousness

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Enter empirical evidence means proof using real-world example. As a consumer, it’s pretty much all you should care about. The media prefers mysticism because they cause words like revolutionary, ground breaking, and other buzz words that attract readers. Corporations prefer it because it helps sell things.There’s an old Henny Youngman joke where he says, “I tell my doctor, it hurts when I do this, and he says ‘Then don’t do that.’” Life is often that simple. Science offers potential but it’s not valid until there’s empirical data. Until the latter happens, the former is nothing but an educated guess.

But society always seems to be looking for the magic pill. We want secrets, I guess, or maybe human nature finds it easier to deal with something where we don’t have to blame ourselves. Perhaps it’s is easier to say, “how could I have known acai berries were the key?” instead of “I knew a six-pack and a bag of Cheetos every night were going to lead to bad health.” The problem here is what do we say when acai research don’t match its promise? So, instead of employing logic we jump from trend to trend, often acting as though the last one never happened.

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Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s smart.

Studies don’t have empirical evidence out of the gate, but I often wonder what the rush is. I completely get it as an athlete and coach. You want to win now. You want an advantage. Timing is everything. I get it as a corporation. You want money. If you have a deadly disease, timing can be everything. But for an average person, patience and logic make much more sense.

As an example, let’s look at the quote that kicked this off. While the study wasn’t public, its findings are commonplace today. That’s because the athletes privy to it trained that way, and got better. Others noticed, figured out what they were doing, and followed suit. Pretty soon we had empirical evidence in place.

As an athlete you would have been behind the eight ball for a time. But athletes are essentially test pilots. They need to test things in order to win. They often crash and burn. Rarely does life put that kind of pressure on us to perform right now.

In that above case, we did get further studies on it. Science loves to confirm things, but not always. We (Beachbody) can’t get university interest to study our main objective because “it’s obvious” that diet and exercise make people fitter. The interesting thing is that we’re so good at it, we often can’t use our best success stories because they exceed guidelines of “what’s realistic” to show in advertising. That just shows the strength of empirical evidence, and why you should base your behavior on it.

Empirical evidence  makes my life easier. When I have to substantiate Beachbody products, we don’t have great science because weigh loss science is boring as a research subject. It’s text book obvious, and no one wants to study it unless it involves drugs so that you don’t need to exercise and eat well. But we’ve been changing bodies for ages. And if you’ve got you’ve thousands people who all changed their shape, and feel fantastic, in a given length of time it’s pretty hard to argue. It’s empirical evidence at its finest, and it works when we’re challenged because “duh” is scientifically sound.

Sorry, but magic is not real. It’s an illusion we use for entertainment.  

We are strange beings, and for some reason prefer un-proven hype to rationale. We love psychics, ghosts, and bigfoot. Hey, it’s good entertainment. But scary to think this carries over into how we evaluate our health.

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seriously, dude, if you take this…

Let’s take gluten as one of the more popular recent examples. The original gluten studies can’t be replicated so, unless you’re in the 1-2% range of those with Celiac’s disease, gluten doesn’t bother you, which the scientific method of replicating studies is proving. Yet millions seem to be crying fowl of new evidence, calling it a conspiracy, even though there are more obvious culprits.

Perhaps this is because we like jumping on trends and clinging to them like dogma. Almost certainly, part of it is a protective industry that’s sprung up around it. No matter the reason, if we based our choices on empirical evidence it wouldn’t matter.

If you feel better, why do you care if science shows it’s not for the reason you thought? You should be happy to roll with the latest findings because, by definition, science can always change. If  you feel better eating gluten free, it makes very little sense to change no matter what the reason.

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Science is awesome. It makes life fascinating. But trying to live your life based on hype you read in the news makes you lab rat. I always say that I’m a lab rat so you don’t have to be. Experimenting with stuff has been my life’s calling. It shouldn’t be yours, unless you’re willing to accept the down sides. Ditch the marketing and follow the obvious. If that troubles you, give Henny Youngman’s doctor a call.

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