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It’s Just One Study

A colleague remarks he’s using cannabis to help himself sleep better. I send him a new study that says, no, in fact, people who use cannabis to sleep better actually report feeling more tired the next day than when they don’t use it.

“But it’s just one study,” I add, trying to soften his disappointment.

Another new study says polyamorous couples self-report having higher levels of both passion and nurturance than monogamous couples do. I consider sending the study to my special someone; then reconsider. After all, it’s just one study.

And then there’s the new study that tried to figure out how best to counter deniers of climate change and vaccine science. Of all the techniques tested in the six experiments, the one that performed best was…none of them, really. Debates with deniers usually end up reinforcing the denier’s position for an audience. But not debating a denier and letting her have the floor to herself just makes things worse.

Then again, it’s just…

Finally: Aaron Carroll reminds us of the study, out earlier this year, that found that 90 percent of Americans believe that food containing GMOs are unsafe — as opposed to almost 90 percent of scientists, who believe foods with GMOs are safe “and can be of great benefit.”

More amazingly, the study also found that those most opposed to GM foods “believed they were the most knowledgeable about this issue, yet scored the lowest on actual tests of scientific knowledge.”

The results also hold for France and Germany, for those of you who think Americans are uniquely ill-informed.

Similar results for vaccines — those who oppose vaccines and know the least think they know the most.

Carroll blames this Dunning-Kruger effect on science communication’s continued reliance on the “knowledge deficit model.”

Sure, why not? Nobody likes know-it-alls. Deficit model is such a convenient scapegoat.

On the other hand, after more than a quarter-century of a dominant science communication model that promotes the findings of individual studies as “science” — findings pertaining to personal health and well-being that are often based on self-reporting and that often contradict each other, driving official recommendations that also then swing wildly from decade to decade or even year to year — should we be surprised that increasing numbers of people feel empowered to serve as their own experts? That expertise has become, in many cases, simply a matter of declaration?

But, as usual…it’s just one study.