Don’t believe everything you read or watch
By: Saad Al-Dosari
The word “study” has a glamorous ring to it. Put it in a sentence, followed by a name of a western university and to many people, it becomes a universal truth or not that different from Newton’s laws of motion.
When catchy statements like “Diet soda helps weight loss; Diet Soda is better than water for weight loss” start to fly around, you should instantly feel that there is something fishy. The study contradicts some very basic knowledge that it is next to impossible to take it at its face value; how a carbonated, chemically altered beverage be better than a basic human need like water.
Of course the next step would be trying to go a bit deeper beyond the headline and try to figure out how the study reached its results. That did not happen around here of course. I cannot totally blame the individuals behind the flood of Tweets and WhatsApp messages sharing it, but I would certainly blame the news channels.
The study that lasted for 12 weeks over 300 participants does not give much. It is more of an experiment rather than a detailed, well evident study. It goes like this: 300 obese participants listed in a weight control program were randomly divided into two groups; one group was asked to avoid drinking any beverage other than water, and the second group was allowed to consume diet sodas besides water. At the end of the study, the group allowed to consume the diet sodas had lost about 13 pounds (close to 6 kilos) on an average, and the water- only group had lost around 9 pounds (around 4 kilos) on an average, and … that’s it. The study gives nothing more to describe its findings.
“We did see that people in the diet-soda wing of the study reported less hunger during the trial than those in the water group,” says John Peters, one of the study authors, but then stipulate that it is only a speculation. “We can’t determine a mechanism from this trial.”
Such results do not go down well with other scientists. “Studies suggest that consumption of diet soda makes people continue to crave sugar, thereby making it harder to quit,” says Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy at the University of California, SF. “This paper is fatally flawed, and leaves us with little science to build on,” another researcher from Purdue University, Susie Swithers says to NPR. Laurie David and Stephanie Soechtig wrote in Huffington Post bashing the study, and calling it “counterintuitive conclusion” that is meant as a paid advertisement rather than a scientific study.
They went even further to explain how such so-called studies truly start; “Here’s how it works: Diet-Soda sales are in free fall. The beverage industry sees the writing on the wall. It’s not hard to find a credible-sounding research institution that’s short on funding. That’s most of them. The soda company (or its lobbyists) generously offers to underwrite a “study” which then just happens to yield positive results that the company can use to sell their products.” They point out that according to New York University Professor Marion Nestle, “Independent research shows that the likelihood of a favorable outcome to a product funded by the industry was 8 to 1,” that’s an overwhelming ratio that suggests putting any industry funded studies under questioning!
There are many points that we could take out from such incident and debates. First and foremost, do not believe anything you read or see on TV without a second thought. There is almost daily doses of these studies disguised under science that are fed to the public, especially here in the Arab world where verification and referencing do not carry that much of a weight. Secondly, there are businesses and advertisers who are willing to cheat and lie so you could buy their products. It is the dark and ugly side of capitalism, what’s “in it for me,” and “after me, the flood!”
Interestingly, while writing this article, I am receiving on Twitter an ad for a car rental company in the country, not sure of its authenticity, advertising “corona free” cars!