Did you think that cranberry juice is good for your kidneys? Has someone ever told you “it’s good for your body and cleanses you?” While another person says, “it could cut the risk of urinary tract infections.” Or you may have that ignorant friend that thinks they know it all and would say something ridiculous like “You see, if you drink cranberry juice, the sugar will help you piss out the antioxidants.” Well, it’s comments and ‘facts’ like this that peaked the interest of Julia Belluz (@juliaoftoronto) as she looked at credible research and found that…no, cranberry juice had little to no effect on the human body.
I’m sure you’ve heard of myths, marvels, and legendary tales of certain products and studies coming out saying “this is good for you!” A new era has arrived. The era of information. Google’ing, yahoo’ing, or bing’ing may not actually give you the right answer. So where do you go and who do you trust? Scrutinizing people’s remarks and calling them out on the spot is one thing no human outright does. Being tactful and showing someone the proper scientific research paper is the scholarly thing to do. But what if you happened to read a scientific paper that claimed that cranberry juice is indeed good for you? Diving into a sweet and sugary answer may have solved your curiosity, but you’d walk away as uninformed as ever.
Here’s a fact—your googled research and document led you to the wrong path, just as bad as a Facebook algorithm may have led you down a fake news site. This example is all too common as some research papers are co-authored by the scientists that make the product they champion. The research paper that claims “cranberry juice is good for your body” is actually co-authored by Ocean Spray (a world leading company that sells cranberry juice).
If information isn’t free, and Google’ing a research paper may not be the answer, do you just go to your local database that’s guarded and break in? As lawful citizens we may not break into MIT’s network and download all their academic journals. Getting caught doing something like that may spiral you into a depression for a ‘computer crime’. So what do you do and where can you go?
PubMed – a powerful taxpayer-funded search engine for medical studies is where doctor’s go for their information, but its also started to display conflict of interest data, which is all too common as companies grow and become billion dollar conglomerates. They churn out enough money to pay out any scientist to puppeteer their research and spit out fake information.
Transparency is important, so when looking at PubMed’s journals there is something very important to look at. The journal article/study will have a “Conflict of interest statement” somewhere within the content. Why the change? The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest huddled 62 scientists and physicians, six other organizations, and five United States Senators that asked the NLM and the National Institutes of Health to publish the disclosures. “Adding disclosures about researchers’ financial relationships with drug, food, chemical, and other industries makes PubMed search results even more useful than they already are,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “We thank the National Library of Medicine for adding this feature and hope journalists who rely on PubMed make consistent use of it when reporting on studies related to nutrition and health.”
Nutrition isn’t the only area of research that’s currently a problem. Pharmaceutical and medical devices, weight loss aids, and sugary drinks are more likely to return results that favor the funders. The article ends with “according to CSPI, hundreds of millions of searches are conducted on Pubed every year. The easier-to-access disclosures won’t fix the problem of conflict of interest in science. But it’s a step toward making these links more transparent – and that’s a good thing.”
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