"Studies show that ..." How do I deal with statements that cause me to feel insecure?

Reading and interpreting scientific studies is a complex challenge. Putting these studies into a larger context is even more challenging. Large nutrition societies have their teams of scientists who specialize in the respective topics for that.

Some of the claims you come across in relation to diet seem reasonable and convincing at first, but lack practical confirmation. Even if there are several studies on similar topics, it is usually not possible to synthesize them, because of different target groups or different methodological approaches and analyses.

To help you deal with "expert opinions" that cause you doubt and confusion, we have developed ten guidelines.

  1. Consider the interests of the broadcaster: Who is making the claim and what motives, such as financial interest or power-seeking, might be behind it? Consider whether the statement is likely to arouse fears, and to what extent advertising for products, such as dietary supplements, plays a role. Consider whether there is any collaboration with companies that might benefit from the statements made. Find out if the person has any real scientific training in the field. Assess whether their approach is demeaning to others, how they deal with possible criticism, and whether their arguments are factual and sound.
  2. Review the actual study claims: Do your own research on the studies cited and see if their results are consistent with the expert's claims. Pay particular attention to whether the results are both significant and relevant to everyday practice. Check to see if any results were omitted that might contradict the expert's clear statements. Also look at the discussion section of the study: What are the strengths and weaknesses, and how do the results fit into the overall scientific context?
  3. Review the study design: Is what is being said based on single case studies, mechanistic studies, or animal studies? Has it only been tested on a small group of participants or participants with special characteristics? If so, it is important to remember that no general conclusions can be drawn.
  4. Analyze the study results: Results from different publications often cannot be combined directly. It is important to check them carefully: Are the conclusions really valid?
  5. Comparison with official nutritional societies or other renowned scientists in the field: What statements, recommendations, and viewpoints do they represent?
  6. Fact vs. Hypothesis: Have you found evidence of truly relevant effects or benefits, such as health or life expectancy? Or are these statements based on conjecture derived from individual parameters?
  7. Overwhelming citations: If numerous studies are cited which hardly can be thoroughly reviewed, making them difficult to refute or discuss in depth, this may hinder or even prevent critical review.

  8. Complex explanations and rationales: Be careful not to be fooled by extensive and rhetorically clever explanations and justifications in response to potential criticism!

  9. Absolute statements: Statements that leave no room for relativity raise doubts about their scientific validity, especially in the field of nutrition.

  10. Personal experiences: Statements that use personal or subjective experience as evidence are not consistent with the principles of scientific competence.

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