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“Science” is often unreliable, with coffee and tobacco both providing good examples

In brief

  • Decades of research on coffee’s health effects reveal a tug-of-war between touted benefits and potential risks. 
  • Smoking had its own tug-of-war, which finally came down hard on the “bad for you” side. 
  • The Salem Witch Trials, plus countless other debunked scientific theories, illustrate the common belief often proves to be wrong. 
  • Understanding that some things are hard to prove is a great place to start.

Two sides of the coffee pot – touted benefits to potential risks

While “backed by science” might sound more legitimate than merely stating a preference or opinion, the underlying scientific evidence may still be varied, weak or just plain wrong. Studying  the effect of something on humans is notoriously problematic

Even well-studied topics often yield varied conclusions. The lack of scientific consensus regarding the health effects of regular coffee consumption, for example, illustrates how decades of studies have presented conflicting evidence on this seemingly straightforward and well-explored subject.  

Some studies indicate that moderate coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of developing hypertension, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. Some suggest that moderate consumption may offer protective effects against certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and keep muscles young and healthy

“Science” is often unreliable, with coffee and tobacco both providing good examples - Centrist
20,679 physicians can’t be wrong can they?

Other research warns about potential negative impacts on cardiovascular health, the risk of developing coronary heart disease, and psychological disorders such as anxiety. Earlier research into the health effects of coffee had linked its consumption to heart disease and asthma. 

Sometimes the seemingly contradictory results may be the result of nuances, say how much coffee you are drinking. Regardless, it is fair to say there is a range of scientific research to support the potential health effects (if you choose to consider that) of your decision to drink coffee, or not. 

“Science” can be full of mistakes and sometimes it’s just marketing

At one time cigarette companies used scientific studies and chemical analysis to pitch the health benefits of their products before the risks were better understood. 

Furthermore, history is filled with examples of events where even highly qualified individuals were convinced of certain beliefs, which later proved to be unfounded or based on superstition rather than evidence, like the Salem Witch trials. Phlogiston theory and spontaneous generation, now debunked scientific theories, were also famous at one time but are now largely forgotten. 

Despite the authority or certainty attributed to respected individuals claiming these theories and beliefs, the outcomes were often erroneous, unjust, or worse. 

Oftentimes, the only certainty is uncertainty

It is vital to recognise the fallibility of human judgement and the importance of acknowledging uncertainty, even in matters that seem certain or are supported by purported experts.

Like coffee and cigarettes, conclusions based on supposedly sound scientific research can be disputed and inconsistent. Of course, as in the case of the latter, the accumulation of evidence through multiple studies may help form a more reliable understanding of a topic, but how sure  should one be that the latest intel is the last word on any given topic? Even if the media and/or government is selling it hard.

Governments presenting various policy decisions as definitively science-based may be oversimplifying the range of  evidence. Like with coffee, they may simply have a preference, but in this case arising from a political perspective, and are just cherry picking the evidence. 

The main takeaway is that the effects of something on health are often not certain. The conclusion can even be, in extreme cases, dead wrong (no pun intended). 

The good news is you can improve your knowledge by finding qualified people with contrary views. The internet is very good for that, but it also requires sharp critical thinking  skills.

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