04 December 2015

The value in research

For the last few days I've been having a pretty interesting conversation about the benefits of grass fed vs conventionally produced meat on Google+. Where it started off as a bit of a typical confusion fueled internet fight, it evolved into some pretty on-point commentary on the value of academic research. Here is the conversation in full, anonymous of course:

Person A: i want to see the evidence that organic or grass is actually better. Every paper out there says otherwise. You are paying double the price for the product that is marginally better. Common sense applies

Person B: Really? I have read plenty that suggests grass fed and local is best.

Person A: where. Please provide a link to to research paper or nutritional analysis 

Person B: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=777732

Person A: sorry this evidence is stronger

Person B: If you believe some studies more than others, that's fine. That's your prerogative. Thankfully, it's not my job to convince you of anything. I just wanted to show you that there is research, because you said you hadn't seen any. You disagreeing with the research isn't the same as there not being any research. 

Person A: OMG dude that meta analysis. it combines all the studies out there. You clearly have no idea about hierarchy of evidence

Person B: You make judgements really quickly. 

Person A: why shouldnt I. If i give you a meta analysis and you dispute that based on your study why shouldnt i judge you. Its you who believes in "suitable" evidence not me

Person B: haven't even told you my opinion. I haven't said anything here about whether I think organic or grass fed meat is healthier.

You said you haven't seen any research that says it is. I said there is plenty of research. You asked me to give you a link. I did.

That's really all there is to this.

Person A: read through this correctly:

i want to see the evidence that organic or grass is actually better.
You: Really? I have read plenty that suggests grass fed and local is best.
Me: where. Please provide a link to to research paper or nutritional analysis 
You: give a single research paper based on pregnant animals and from a country where environmental factors are different.
Me: provide 2 spearate links to meta analysis (combined 200+ papers) showing clear evidence that there is no difference or that organic is better.
You: If you believe some studies more than others, that's fine. That's your prerogative.

Who is making judgements here? I believe in strongest evidence available you believe in "selective" and convenient evidence. Simple as that

Person B: The way I see it., you've made more of a judgement than I have. All I did was post one research article, and I only did that because you asked someone to. Had I known that doing so was going to lead to someone implying I don't understand scientific research, or know how to read, I probably wouldnt have bothered.

Person A: your response was biased. Based on one article that suited you.
I've given you a top of the range evidence showing no difference between organic and normal. Which is what I've indicated at the very beginning.
In medicine/science you cannot use whatever suits you. It has to be in best available evidence which your example wasn't.
This is how most of the articles in this community are posted based on preference and not evidence 

Person B: I'm sorry man. I really don't want to have a debate about anything. That was never my intention.

I misinterpreted your original post as a question. I genuinely thought you meant that you hadn't seen any research that suggested grass fed or organic meat was better. This is why I responded with an article, which admittedly was the first one that came up when I googled "benefits of grass fed beef". 

I didn't and don't even care enough at the moment to use some of the research I'm familiar with. I just wanted to show you there was some research because I thought you were saying there wasn't any. 

Had I known that you actually meant "can someone convince me that my stance is wrong? I come prepared with a lot of legitimate research ready for a debate," I honestly, wouldn't have responded. 

Person A: Google plus was created so that people can have debate.
I suppose be both are at fault here. Each of use have different definition of evidence. I knew there is top of the line evidence that supports my claim and anything else would have less "kick".
So unless there is meta analysis /systematic review that shows that organic food is better there is nothing that will be able to convince me or change the way I practice dietetics and give advice to people.
Please feel free to continue this discussion, it doesn't matter who is wrong. At the end ee both will learn something :) 

Person B: Sure we can talk. FIrst I may as well say explicitly now that I think there are defintie benefits in grass fed animal products. This extends to local and wild caught. 

Organic, I am not necessarily sure about but only because the other indicators I think out weigh it. Overall, I tend to believe (and the research seems to support), that finding a butcher you trust, with meat products that come from close by, where animals are free to roam and fed healthy diets themselves, trumps something that is organically produced that may have spent 3 weeks frozen on a truck, boat or plane. 

Another thing is the value in research. Meta analyses are great, but they still have only their place in academia. They serve a great purpose in summarizing and contextualizing existing research, but they don't add anything new to the discussion. 

Especially given the innoation and cutting edge findigns that science pursues, you also need to track newer studies that use new ways of testing and new experiments. 

Meta analysis also doesn't involve any specific new tests. The two you posted specially, were actually really vague. They literally just summarised a bunch of existing papers. They were essentially a survey of existing research. 

And in doing so, their criteria was "health outcomes" which is a bit vague. They reference this themselves. Rather than looking at more specific health effects, they looked at overall trends such as number of people with dimentia or heat disease. 

For example, research that specifically looks at how grass fed vs conventional beef impacted a cognitive functioning, is far more focused of a test - and is actually too specific for meta analyses. 

I'm not saying that those studies aren't valid, but they're not everything. And shouldn't be taken as the "most" valid. They have their place and that's it. 


Here's something that you may find interesting. It's part literature review, and part dedicated experiment. They looked at how grass fed vs conventional meat affected the lipid profile (good vs bad fats). 

Too narrow in focus to be counted in a meta analysis, but very significant in research as it provides very convincing evidence that grass fed meat proved healthier ratios of omega 3s and omega 6s than conventional meat products. 

The internet is bizarre.