Of Lies, Damn Lies, and Science

Alexander Dunlop
9 min readSep 20, 2019

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”
~ Marcia Angell

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”
~ Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet

Mark Twain famously said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I believe if he had lived to our day, he would have amended his pithy maxim to read: “There are lies, damned lies, and scientific studies.”

I mean, how else could there be a series of scientific studies that prove Vioxx is safe and effective, get the drug approved by the supposedly rigorous vetting process of the FDA, only to have the drug, in public consumption, kill at least 60,000 people over a five year period, which is as many American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.

Science. Or actually, let’s write the word with a small s for science.

It’s a method of testing; no more and no less. It’s a tool that’s only as good as the craftsperson who wields it. And like a hammer or a hacksaw, it’s a tool that might even be dangerous in the wrong hands.

All scientific research begins with a hypothesis, an assumption. Then, that hypothesis is tested. Change the starting hypothesis and/or change the parameters of the testing and you get very different results — results that are nonetheless scientifically true because they were obtained from the scientific method — results that can be published in a scientific journal. However, the scientific method of study is only as revealing and only as illuminating as the starting assumption that drives the investigation.

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Alexander Dunlop

Best-selling author of Play Your Cards Right: A Sacred Guide To Life on Earth. Founder of Life Elevated, a non-profit org dedicated to elevating consciousness.