March’s edition of Unpopular Science comes in under the wire with only a few hours remaining in the month. It is the final installment of our covid-19 miniseries, and what a finale it will be. This time, I leave you with no research article. What?!?!?! I know, your brains are imploding with the need to be filled with more data, but sometimes, less information coming in, leaves time for our brains to explore what we already know, and - here’s the kicker - make room for unique thought.
So, instead of reading an article, I ask you to ponder something. A lot of data has been in the news showing the correlation of vaccination status and infection/hospitalization rates. New numbers are coming out every day and I am not here to ask you to debate those numbers or the trends that change with new variants. I am not here to make you question vaccines or get vaccines. What I am asking you to do, is think about the other variables that have been correlated with covid-19 mortality and why we aren’t hearing about them. Even in the early stages of covid-19, research was showing strong trends correlating the severity of the virus’ effects and mortality rates with predisposing health factors such as: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, etc. So why aren’t we hearing about infection/hospitalization rates based on these factors?
Uh oh… Did your world just rock a little? Good! Then I’m going to take your brain one step further. What if there is a correlation between general health status and vaccination status? Could it be that people who chose to get the vaccine have on average better health in general compared to people who opted out of getting a vaccine? Now there is an even deeper scientific theory. Maybe there is no link between general health status and vaccination status’ “second hand correlation”, but it would be interesting to know huh.
Why I bring this up is because I want you to make informed decisions, not just follow easy recommendations. It makes sense from a scientific standpoint that reducing your risk of heart disease would reduce your complications from getting covid-19. It also makes sense that a vaccine could help reduce complications from covid-19. Unfortunately, what a lot of people are hearing is, “If you get the vaccine, you’re safe.” And sadly, this is not the case. It is much easier to get a jab than it is to make positive long term lifestyle changes. Ouch that hurts a little to hear, I know.
I also wanted to discuss this because scientific research is valuable, but often only focuses on one variable and one outcome at a time. If you have read this blog long enough, you will have noticed that there are often multiple variables that can create similar outcomes (for example, July 2021’s connection with TBI and leaky gut, which we know is caused by many other things) and multiple outcomes that can come from a single variable (remember October’s tribute to our genetic differences with caffeine tolerance). When focusing so tightly on one variable and one outcome, researchers can often miss these “second hand correlations” that better explain a phenomenon. A good example of this is the “Nurses’ Studies” which touted a low fat-high carbohydrate diet was better for your health. Decades later we are seeing the unfortunate side effects of this misinformation and have thankfully learned that this wasn’t necessarily 100% true. Because they were looking to prove low fat was the key, they were able to find a correlation with that and general health quality. What they missed were other lifestyle variables and health outcomes that didn’t fit that particular research model.
Removing a single variable/outcome mindset from science is especially important when doing human studies because we do not live in sterile labs and have the exact same DNA, experience the same environmental stressors, or have the same history as even our closest relatives. What we often find with longer-term studies, that look at trends over generations, which observe multiple general outcomes, is that general systems (ie the ecosystem in a rainforest or the general health of your body) often respond better to threats when they are healthy and whole from the beginning versus depleted and weak and given a single remedy to treat a single problem.
So the take home message for today is that I want you to go one step upstream every time you hear a fact. Open that brain an inch wider. Think a thought that might be contrary to what you are being told, just to do it, and don’t expect an outcome.
With that final thought, I leave you for an extended Unpopular Science hiatus. It is spring and farming season is upon us. During our break I will be planting seeds, raising baby chicks, petting goats and pigs, tending to the native flora and fauna in my neighborhood, soaking in some sun, and being grateful for the fresh air in my lungs. I hope you can do some of the same and I look forward to seeing you in a few months.