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Overblown claims
  1. Martin Kohlmeier
  1. School of Medicine, Gillings School of Global Public Health, and UNC Nutrition Research Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kannapolis, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Martin Kohlmeier, School of Medicine, Gillings School of Global Public Health, and UNC Nutrition Research Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kannapolis, North Carolina 28081, USA; MKOHLMEIER{at}UNC.EDU

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Burden of proof

When I am thinking about overblown nutrition claims, various extravagant theories and hyped nostrums readily come to mind. What makes them stand out as easy targets for criticism and disdain is their obvious lack of credible evidence. Taking them down almost seems unfair because it is just so easy. The same cannot be said about some claims attempting to refute well-established nutrition knowledge by pointing to purported weaknesses of the supporting evidence. However, there cannot be any doubt that the burden of proof still rests with the ones claiming that current science got it wrong. And even if that criticism was justified, we have to remember that invalidating a conventional position does not lead by default to a particular opposing conclusion because there are usually various possible alternatives. Biology is rarely black and white with clearly defined polar opposites. As importantly, common kinds of biases make it very unlikely that a new claim challenging conventional science will hold up over the long run.1 This high rate of ultimately unsubstantiated claims is caused, among other reasons, by publication bias, which describes the tendency to favour the reporting, publishing and citing of controversial claims going against prevailing science, and thereby giving them outsized weight and visibility. It often takes many years until more confirmations of established science eventually bring the pendulum of public opinion back again to the original evidence-based position. Good science is a rough and tumble process that depends on questioning the status quo, but questioning comes with …

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