“Discuss risk assessment in science with reference to an example of misrepresentation”
Risk assessment is a very important aspect of science. Scientific research attempts to examine what can cause harm to people, and ways this can be prevented. In most cases, scientists strive to find out the truth, and thus make a difference in the world of human health. Unfortunately, this does not always occur. Corruption, greed and poor reporting has led to the misrepresentation of scientific data in numerous cases.
In the 1960’s cardiovascular disease was one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. People wanted to understand what could be changed in their diets to try to prevent this.
In 2016 internal sugar industry documents were discovered in the University of California. These documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease.
The sugar industry selectively chose data from this research to promote a message against fats in the diet, and in turn shining the spotlight away from sugar. As a result, health officials encouraged Americans to reduce their fat intake. For many decades, people consumed low-fat, high-sugar foods that some experts now blame for fuelling the obesity crisis.
However, it is important to note that this case of misrepresentation is not as black and white as it may seem. That is, there is no evidence that consuming fats and eliminating sugar in your diet would be any better in preventing cardiovascular disease.
In fact, a trial in 2003, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, compared a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, with a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, one. After a year, there were no significant differences in how much weight the people in each group had lost, or in their levels of blood lipids.
In a follow-up study in 2010, participants who followed either a low-carbohydrate or a low-fat diet ended up losing about the same amount of weight (seven kilograms) after two years. It was impossible to predict which diet would lead to significant weight loss in any given individual.
In 2017, Jerome Groopman, a writer for the New Yorker put it simply; “What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.”
It is clear that assessing risk is a valuable tool in scientific research, and it has the ability to change lives for the better. However, when this power falls into the wrong hands, the effect can be devastating. Misrepresentation of scientific date can strike fear in the general population about harmless or safe procedures. Even worse, this misrepresentation can prevent the discovery of proper causes and possible cures.