Day By Day

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Junk Science as Public Policy

John Stossel, who is a national resource, reports on the government's anti-salt campaign.
Have you cut down on salt? Forced the kids to eat spinach because it's uniquely healthy? You may think you're eating healthy food, but you're really swallowing junk science.

The federal anti-salt bureaucracy launched expensive public service announcements that warn Americans to cut back on salt. The ads intoned, ominously, "You eat more than 20 times the salt your body needs."

Many experts on blood pressure told us there isn't enough scientific research to justify the government's anti-salt campaign, and there definitely isn't enough to justify [the recommended] 2,400-milligram limit.

"I can't imagine how they came up with that number. I mean, there isn't a single bit of evidence that suggests 2,400 milligrams is better than 2,100 or 3,700," said Dr. Michael Alderman, who headed the American Society of Hypertension, America's biggest organization of specialists in high blood pressure. He says some people should cut back on salt, but for most people, it's pointless. Some studies have found that those who ate the least salt were four times more likely to have heart attacks.

Stossel asks us to,

consider the choices of the bureaucrat: If he finds that you're probably eating "more than 20 times the salt your body needs," his findings may be on "Good Morning America," and he's important.

If he finds no threat, he is just another bureaucrat.

And as for the "scientists."

Scientists are happy to have non-scientists view them as uniquely unbiased, and reporters fall into the trap of believing them. But supposedly "dispassionate" scientists are as passionate about their ideas as any entrepreneur. They have all sorts of reasons to lose perspective and get carried away with hope and excitement. If they discover something, they may be famous. If they don't, they may have spent years in some windowless laboratory for little good.
Read the whole thing here.

As I have pointed out many times "science" is a human activity, undertaken by human beings, and as such is subject to all the human failings. That does not mean that we should ignore scientific research, but as Stossel notes, we often should take it with a grain of salt.

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