Waiting around for definitive ‘proof of harm’ won’t keep us safe anymore

“Further studies are necessary to determine if _________ is indeed harmful to human health.”

“There is no definitive evidence to suggest that _________ has negative consequences.”

How often have you read something like that in the news? To me, it seems like every day.  When it comes to testing, the gold standard has always been the randomized, double-blind study. The problem is that these studies often cost millions of dollars and take years to execute and analyze.

The crisis we face today is that potential threats to human health are cropping up at an exponential rate:  in our food supplies, in our water supplies, from electromagnetic radiation,  from the myriad medications we take.  Over time, the number and frequency of these potential threats will continue to increase. Randomized, double-blind studies simply can’t keep up with this onslaught.

The conventional wisdom is that we should accept that all of these “advances” are harmless until they are proven otherwise. We should leave it to the corporations that stand to profit from the sale of these products to design, implement and analyze the testing and to assure us of  safety.

There is a strident orthodoxy to the conventional wisdom that defies reason.

Vaccines, for example, are all commonly lumped together into one giant ball of virtue that can do no wrong.  Since vaccines can do no wrong, the more vaccines you take, the better off you will be.  If you question this orthodoxy in any way, you will be widely dismissed as an evil, nutty person who hates children.

The measles and mumps vaccines have been used for decades. We know that they are effective and very safe. But question the logic of vaccinating a pre-teen boy with a $360, three shot Gardisil treatment for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, and people will get very angry at you. Why? Because vaccines are always good and never bad.

Besides, Gardisil hasn’t been proven to be harmful. 

Cell phone radiation hasn’t been proven to be harmful. GMOs haven’t been proven to be harmful. Move along. There is nothing to worry about.

Ironically, one of the oldest known drugs, marijuana, is the latest medical cure-all to grab the headlines. As legalization efforts sweep the nation, a whole industry is sprouting up to capitalize on this.

Not too long ago, a study suggested that marijuana can cause “structural abnormalities” in the brains of young people. The study’s authors were careful to say that “further study is necessary” to conclude whether this means actual brain damage takes place. I’m going to go out on a limb as say that “structural abnormalities” are enough of a red flag to be concerned about what pot does to developing brains. As marijuana goes mainstream, this is a serious public health problem.

We just can’t wait around for “further studies” anymore, with marijuana or any of this. The onslaught is too great. The double-blind study is too little, too late.  We need to integrate information from multiple sources and make informed hunches. We need to rely on common sense. Finally, we need to be skeptical whenever an organization or entity that has a vested interest in the sale of a product, whether direct (revenue) or indirect (campaign funds), dismisses our questions and concerns about its safety  based on all that we know.

This is the new reality.  The scientific method still matters. But a gut check just might end up saving your life.