[unrev-II] Following the Numbers!

From: Eric Armstrong (eric.armstrong@eng.sun.com)
Date: Sat Feb 19 2000 - 16:59:55 PST

From: Eric Armstrong <eric.armstrong@eng.sun.com>

In some respects, the way we do science can be
unbelievably idiotic. A true failure to *think*
is undoubtedly the cause.

I am thinking of nutritional research studies,
in particular. These are frequently a gem of misguided

It is disturbing the number of times that we'll see
a study with results like these:
  "We gave Vitamin X to 80 people with condition Y
   and it only helped 30% of them."

along with a conclusion like this:
  "So it appears that Vitamin X is really not all
   that effective"

What's disturbing about the conclusion is the potential
for a wealth of information that is blithely ignored.

The important point, to any reasoning human being, is
that we found something that is effective in 30% of the
cases!! The *real* questions are:
  * What did those 30 cases have in common?
  * How could we have identified them?
  * If we couldn't have, what is it we need to
    understand so we could?

Answering those questions means we would have the ability
to successfully treat 30% of the conditions in a way
that was safe, free of side-effects, and effective!

More importantly, if we find a nutritive cure for a
condition under circumstances we can identify, then we
may well be able to test and prevent that condition in
that population -- reducing the overall number of occurrences
by 30%! Wouldn't that be a good thing?

Nut even that chain of observation and deduction (which
we appear not be doing) still only scratches the surface.

It is well known that without a preexisting deficiency,
a nutritional remedy is completely ineffective. With such
deficiencies, however, nutritional cures can be miraculous.

The deeper question, in those cases where a deficiency
exists, is WHY is there a deficiency? There are several
possible reasons, each with it's own set of preventive
and prognosticative guidelines:
  a) It's not in the food supply.
     Perhaps the soil is deficient (as in is in chromium
     and selenium). Or perhaps it is lost in the refining
     process (as are essential fatty acids), or perhaps
     we don't have access to the really rich sources
     (say, Tasmanian Kumquats).

  b) It's not in the food the individual eats.
     Possible causes are genetic, learned behaviors, or
     perhaps the combined effects of advertising and

  c) It's not assimilated.
     Maybe some other nutrient is needed for assimilation,
     so large doses are needed to get minor improvements in
     absorption. Maybe the "high leverage" attack is supply
     the other nutrient, rather than mass quantities of the
     "effective" one. Or maybe the food supply contains
     toxins that neutralize the nutrient or prevent from being

  d) There is "sink" that drains the available supply.
     For example, glutathione in they eye recombines Vitamin
     C after it breaks down as it does it's antioxidant
     thing to protect eye tissues from X-rays, cathode tube
     screens, TV sets, fluorescent lights, and sunlight.
     Selenium is needed for production of glutathione. If
     it's not present, maybe large quantities of Vitamin
     C are needed to keep it all from "going down the sink".
     In such cases, maybe the high-leverage, long-term
     solution is to supply smaller quantities of the missing
     nutrient. Or again, perhaps toxins in the food supply
     must be neutralized by the nutrient, making the food
     supply itself the "sink".

  e) Use of inefficient metabolic pathway. Perhaps other
     nutrients or missing that would allow for efficient
     utilization of the "deficient" nutrient. If those
     nutrients were present, perhaps the original
     "deficiency" would cease to exist.

Doing the research, following the numbers, and getting the
answers is *clearly* the proper domain of government. The
information that would result from research in these areas
would clearly benefit everyone, just like a road. At the
same time, industry can be excused for being uninterested,
given the inability to patent a vitamin and make an
obscene profit from it.

To the extent that government is simply not doing it's job,
then, we can require it to do more. One hopes, at least,
that the lack of adequate research is due to simple lack
of recognition of the need for it. A more paranoid view
would suggest that drug companies actively lobby against
such pursuits, to prevent obsolesence of "cash cows" they
have in the stable.

I would like very much to think that it is not true. How
can I possibly imagine that it could be? But as we review
the history of tobacco companies and mining towns, it is
clear that industry has frequently displayed little regard
to the benefit for humanity, preferring instead to focus
on maximizing profit.

So it is possible that vested interests *are* actively
preventing the kind of research we need. If so, there is
clearly an urgent need to find a way to separate business
and state.

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