Saturday, September 20, 2008
Scientific method is an accepted way to investigate events and to acquire knowledge about them.
To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
This method of observation and testing aims to get at the truth of something. Aside from gossip about Paris Hilton, we want the truth about things. And while some things may seem obvious to us, a scientific approach to them is what gets researchers and authorities to take note, perhaps throwing more money to causes to find out more.
Anecdotal evidence as defined in Wikipedia:
- information that is not based on facts or careful study
- non-scientific observations or studies, which do not provide proof but may assist research efforts
- reports or observations of usually unscientific observers
- casual observations or indications rather than rigorous or scientific analysis
- information passed along by word-of-mouth but not documented scientifically
When the results of scientific studies are released, the methodology of collecting data or conducting experiments is also released with it. That allows others in the scientific community to scrutinize the studies and allows for reproduction of the studies as well as statistical analysis of the results.
If a scientist publishes a study but does not fully disclose methods or is found to have falsified results, there is hell to pay. The scientist may be censured or lose funding.
We in the MS community "know" a lot of stuff about our illness. We "know" that heat can wipe us out, we "know" that stress can be bad for us, and we "know" that our hormones can exacerbate symptoms. I put "know" in quotation marks to indicate that while these statements hold true for many of us, they don't for all of us; that's why we need studies of the effects of heat and stress and hormones (and a number of other things) on the course of MS. We need to either prove or disprove things about MS in order to treat it.
In the early days after my diagnosis, a lot of well meaning people came to me with stories about friends or friends of friends with MS who took such and such and then miraculously recovered or had astounding improvements. That's nice, I would respond, and then try to figure out if the magical cure had any merit. Few did. Some involved participation in some sort of marketing scheme of the product. And the product would be expensive. Similar results could be gained from a not so expensive product, like a bottle of vitamins. I started asking questions of the people telling me the stories, like "what is the mechanism of action of the product?". After a while, people realized that I wanted scientific evidence so would stop trying to "sell" me on a product and they became more selective about what they told me, only referring me to scientific studies. They don't know it, but I was slowly educating those around me about the scientific method.
I like this one:
"non-scientific observations or studies, which do not provide proof but may assist research efforts". If an idea has merit, it will be studied. For a number of years, many people were touting bee sting therapy as a cure for MS. So the scientific community took notice and began to study it. The results of the studies are mixed at this point, but at least the idea is being studied. Other alternative treatments have to be studied as well. And when they are, and results are favourable and repeatable, and don't require me to market a product in some sort of pyramid scheme, I'll jump on the bandwagon.
The point of all this is that there was a big meeting of a whole bunch of international MS researchers in Montreal this week. I've been following the news and press releases and many of the studies may have some in the MS community shaking their heads and saying "Well, d'uh! I could have told them that!". But in order for the scientists and researchers to get to the bottom of MS they have to use scientific methods. And that takes time. (As well, they are researching some anecdotal events.)
Do you want the truth? Or do you want to spend time and money, possibly risking injury or death on something that hasn't been tested?
I want the truth.