I have recently lamented the pernicious influence, within my domain of public health practice, of hyperbolic headlines proclaiming “this,” followed unfailingly by equally and oppositely hyperbolic headlines reactively proclaiming “that.”
But we are obligated to acknowledge that there are, generally, research studies underlying the headlines, however extreme the pop culture distortions of the actual findings. So to some extent, the problem originates before ever the headlines are a gleam in an editor’s eye, with our expectant anticipation of the next clinical trial, and the next, and the next.
By all means, bring on the clinical trials! They serve us well. They advance the human condition. I run a clinical research lab — my career is devoted to just such trials.
But still, I wouldn’t conduct one if my foot caught fire.
Of course, there is a very good case for running such a study, as many vitally important questions about the right response to a foot on fire are at present unanswered. What, for instance, would be the ideal volume of water? Should it be hard water, or soft? Fluoridated, or not? A controlled trial is very tempting to address each of these.
The vessel is even more vexing. What would be the best kind of bucket? What size should it be? What color should the bucket be, what composition, and what’s the ideal kind of handle? I think the variations here are the basis for an entire research career.
Perhaps the notion of running randomized, double-blind, controlled intervention trials to determine the right response to a foot on fire seems silly to you. But if so, you must be suggesting that science does not preclude sense.
That’s rather radical thinking in some quarters.