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Friday, May 10, 2013


The headlines from the featured stories on Biospace struck me as an interesting study for future generations. Today we can look back and scoff of things like leeching or the uproar over whether to wash ones hands before surgery or not. But look at what our scientists are proposing just today:

  • Drinking Champagne Improves Memory
  • Could Eating Peppers Prevent Parkinsons?
  • Soy and Tomato may be effective in preventing Prostate Cancer
  • Fish Oil doesn't help prevent heart attacks
In the future, people might look at this sort of research as we now look at leeching. Each solution to a human condition has a single simple answer. Leeching was suppose to help balance the four humors; blood, phlegm, yellow and black vile. When all humors were in balance perfect health was assured. What if you are experiencing memory loss and the leeches aren't working? Never fear! Science has found an alcoholic beverage to cure that problem. Throw in some red wine, the magical elixir of life, and you might just wake up with a hangover and a newfound skepticism towards this kind of science. 

Each single simple solution began life... as a single simple solution. We are taught this manner of thinking in our education system. Life sciences are easy on the math, heavy on the narrative. As a result it seems that we begin to address problems, such as how memory works, Parkinsons, Prostate Cancer and cardiovascular disease, as if they were test questions. Parkinsons can be treated with ________. Eating peppers can be used to treat __________. We find the answers from simple everyday products. 

Scientifically speaking, the most interesting aspect of this kind of research would be that scientists have found a way to measure disease states. The assumption is that we naturally know how to study health effects one food at a time. At the same time we still have no standardized way of measuring the health benefits of any intervention. If we did clinical trials would be much easier. We could simply fill in the blanks with data from our statistical analysis with an appendix reference to the raw data. The above studies could be compared to other claims on their disease area. Red wine benefits could be compared to the secret of long life (bacon) discovered by this 105 year old Texas woman.

In each case above we have a lack of creativity when it comes to attaching solutions to problems. We have an abundance of creativity in creating the story that the simple solutions actually effect the complex problem. Science should work in the opposite direction. We get creative in tackling problems and rigorously scientific in analyzing our outcomes. 

Much of our problems come from education. This TED talk describes how we have a one-size-fits-all education system that mines each brain for the same things. 

The creativity we employ is not what it once was. Don't tell us about your findings of X treating or curing Y. Tell us how you found a way of measuring the effects of X on Y. That is where creativity is needed. 

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