How do you Critique Scientific Information?

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There is an old saying that we have seen which is very applicable to a number of positions held by various groups:

You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into’.

What do we mean?

Obviously, ongoing challenges across all aspects of comprehension with the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred numerous opinion pieces (including our own), polarised groups into entrenched positions and created a tsunami of conspiracy theories, and a small number of potential clinical interventions (so far), some of which appear to be viable, safe and effective, others less so.

We have previously qualified that the underlying and fundamental requirement of the immune system is to have adequate nutrition to facilitate a proportional triggering of an appropriate and effective defence and resolution against insults.

This operational position has remained a consistent element of the overall discussion about how to be as resilient as possible. It is also a constituent part of the challenges now facing hundreds of thousands of people who have post Covid-19 symptoms and are seeking a safe way to recover their prior health status.

Whilst post infectious illness has been recognised for decades, there remains numerous possible mechanistic explanations (some with more substance than others), as well as a great deal of unknown ones and numerous proposed interventions – not all of which confer an advantageous outcome.

Essentially, the important consideration to hold is that the immune system is complicated, and when it is activated or depressed, depending on numerous factors, it may not always reset to the same status it enjoyed when first triggered. Yet despite the huge complexity of this integrated system its very uniqueness does not prevent unsubstantiated (poorly informed) claims about what happens to it, and you, and how related adverse consequences are being developed.

It is here, in this and other aspects of ‘analysis’ and related commentary that a lack of reason, or at least inadequate application of it, has its risks.

How do you Research?

Generally, when most of us “research” an issue, what we do is:

  • formulate an initial opinion, the first time we hear about something,
  • evaluate everything we encounter after that through the lens of that opinion and our ‘gut instinct’,
  • find reasons to think positively (and unambiguously) about the portions of the narrative that support or justify our initial and preferred opinion,
  • and find reasons to discount or otherwise dismiss the portions of the narrative that detract from it.

Of course, that is not what we think we’re doing.

Inevitably we think of ourselves as the skilled detectives of our stories: cutting through misinformation and digging up the ‘real truth’ on the matter. We argue that, just by applying our brainpower and our critical reasoning skills, we can discern whose expert opinions are trustworthy and responsible.

We think this analytical process will allow us to see through who a charlatan and a fraud is, and accordingly we can tell what’s safe and effective from what’s dangerous and ineffective.

Except, for almost all of us, we cannot. Even if you have excellent critical thinking skills and lots of experience trying to qualify the truth behind a variety of claims, it’s likely that you are lacking one important asset: (in most cases) the related scientific expertise necessary to understand any finds or claims in the context of the full state of knowledge of your field.

It is part of why ‘scientific consensus’ remains so valuable for determining validity: it only exists when most qualified professionals hold the same consistent professional opinion.

It is consequently, one of the most important and valuable types of expertise that has ever been developed,

regardless of the current populist enthusiasm for dismissing expert opinion and claiming, ‘false news’.

A collective agreement/understanding over mechanisms of action takes time to achieve (during which time iterations will evolve) and that process helps to weed out inaccurate or porous hypotheses.

Placing proposals and suggested mechanisms under analysis (even flawed analytical process can reveal useful information) by different research centres allows for observed/anecdotal events to be translated, sometimes imperfectly, into a collated body of work, to encourage further detailed review. Eventually it forms a well-structured and collectively agreed set of opinions/facts –which will be subject to evolutionary changes.

But its value exists only if we listen to it, plus reflect on it. It is naïve/optimistic to think that if you, a non-expert (unless you do have relevant expertise) who lacks the related scientific/clinical expertise necessary to evaluate the claims of experts, are going to do a better job than them of separating truth from fiction or fraud.

When you “do the research for yourself,” the effect is to almost always wind up digging in deeper to your own preferred and emotive positions, rather than regarding the professional opinions of the consensus of experts as being more valid. Then utilising the contrasting views to challenge and evolve the discovery along with the data, a constructive analysis and position outcome that reflects emerging or current, consensual agreement

That is not to say you do not have the requisite capability of collating, disseminating, evaluating and analysing the data, simply that very few people (maybe even you?) make the effort. Is this something you recognise?

For example

Some people feel comfortable stating that the Covid-19 outcomes are just like the flu. Even though over 160,000 Americans have already died from it (based on current statistics). The last time 150,000 or more Americans died from the flu was 1918: the year of the infamous Spanish flu and the numbers are not yet flattening off.


For the purpose of this challenge piece, resilience is best seen as ‘a dynamic process whose ultimate goal is to enable individuals to achieve a favourable outcome in the face of adversity thanks to a number of psychological and biological qualities that depend in part on intricate relationships between the immune system and the brain.’

Central to this are lifestyle invoked benefits and risks, psychological, behavioural, social and environmental, as well as core to all aspects – nutritional optimisation.

As more studies exploring the role of lifestyle and nutrition make their way into respected journals They further, add confidence to the ‘functional medicine’ approach to multiple points of simultaneous intervention- a threshold of therapy. Forming a step wise lifestyle led induction of resilience.

Remember your core focus on this style of health care facilitates many of these interventions and changes to act in synchronicity and in doing so uncouple many of the unsubstantiated narratives and claims in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19. Understanding the mechanisms involved more clearly, helps qualify intervention applicability, which in turn can also reduce your stress.

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Rowena Paxton
    14, August 2020 10:31

    Thank you for a rational and objective view. We are effectively watching scientific research in “real time” when it comes to Covid19, rather than long after experiements have been done, failed, done again, failed and finally a solution has been identified. Inevitably this leads to misunderstandings and false starts. However, as you say, lack of resilience is the weak point for most of us living a western lifestyle. Restoring it will take time, application and profound change for many of us. How nice it would be if we felt that government thinking was in tune with this rather than relying on the inevitable quick fix, like better food labelling and less sugar.
    On the point of scientific consensus, I suppose there is always the exception that proves the rule. I don’t think consensus has got the right answer to LDL cholesterol for example……

  • Michael Bazlinton
    19, August 2020 18:01

    Great wisdom. COVID-19 has exposed western societies’ lack of rigor with devastating effects.


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