Unbiased Science and the Engineering Approach.
Most people are aware of the Hans Christian Andersen classic story detailing how the Emperor was fooled into believing he was wearing a suit of finery, although the truth was rather different. Once the supposed reality was adopted by his eminence, those in relatively powerful positions shrank from challenging it in spite of the contrary evidence, afraid to show dissent and thus doomed to fall in line with the orthodoxy. Most importantly the pretense fed upon itself over time and became even more entrenched, as the fear of challenging it becomes greater with the numbers implicated. Ultimately a mere child collapses the delusion.
As I began to study the last few decades of medical trials and experiments I noticed parallels with this insightful parable. The flawed hypotheses put forward from VERY weak data in the 1960’s became extraordinarily entrenched, and similarly developed their own momentum, building castles in the air that were defended by legions of academic acolytes. Sadly, most of the experiments undertaken were biased heavily towards firming up the existing hypotheses – there was clearly no room for challenge. Contrary evidence that emerged was dismissed, and any morsel supportive of the status quo was enthusiastically published and promoted. This was an egregious breach of the scientific method (which ought to strive towards exploring exceptions in order to strengthen the rule), and in short was very, very bad engineering.
I refer primarily to the “diet-heart” hypothesis, which proposed that dietary Saturated Fat elevated Blood Cholesterol, and the latter drove heart disease mortality like nothing else. The evidence at the time was loose correlation, certainly not causation, and seems almost laughably naïve in retrospect. However, the tenaciousness of this flawed hypothesis has turned out to be no laughing matter, condemning millions to the misery of Obesity, Type II Diabetes and an extraordinary range of Inflammatory diseases. The factors that conspired to perpetuate the flawed hypotheses were many: academic and research community hubris, political forces, economic imperatives, profiteering from the Food and Pharmaceutical Industries, and the groupthink psychologythat underpins the worsening “Diabesity” epidemic.
After 25 years in technical/management positions with a personal specialty in complex problem solving, I have been inspired to counterbalance the Emperor’s Entourage, and bring an engineering-style approach to the current situation.
Ivor Cummins BE(Chem) CEng MIEI