By Cyril Lopez
My name is Cyril Lopez, I’m a French computer scientist who has worked at Nuritas™ since the very beginning. I wanted to write this personal blog post to share my passion about good science and how it can sometimes be misused.
I grew up loving and respecting science and I get mad when I see it manipulated and misleading consumers. There are so many products and publications out there that have no fundamental science backing but are promoted through ‘science’.
I am proud to be working at Nuritas™ because we believe in solid science, and this very fact makes me want to share some of the true fundamentals that, in my personal opinion, make good science.
“Science”, “Scientific” and “Proof” are only a few examples of words widely used to support an argument, product or more. However, these words are often used in a wrong way, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.
In the domain of biology, pharmaceuticals and food, something “scientific” sounds like something we can trust, it is good in people’s minds.
But what does “scientific” really mean?
1. Science is true
Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Wow calm down guys, don’t throw rocks at me! First, let’s take a minute to remember that science never really proves anything, it just creates more and more reliable and comprehensive theories of the world that are always subject to updates and improvements.
So yes, science is true and that’s why it is so successful.
With this in mind, there are still things that are proven at a very high degree. Let’s take an obvious example: The Earth is not flat. Even if you can still debate the actual shape of the Earth (spherical? patatoidal?), the fact that it is not flat is true whether or not you believe it, and yes, I have met people that do not believe this is true.
The thing with science is that you sometimes need a deep understanding about a field before your opinion should be considered. From a personal experience, it’s very annoying when someone says something like “There is no way we have bacteria in our gut! That’s gross and that makes no sense!” and they won’t change their mind because you can’t prove them wrong in the 5 minutes you have. Or someone that says: “Look it’s snowing, that proves that global warming is fake.”
2. Science needs a critical mind
If some obvious facts are definitely true, we need to be careful about what people claim is “scientifically proven”. In a lot of fields, especially in biology, we can find papers with scientific experiments demonstrating opposing facts.
To be able to have an opinion about these studies, we need to have a critical mind and be open minded. First, we can ask ourselves these questions:
• Did they detail the full experiment? Can I repeat it and find the same results?
(see section 3 about reproductability)
• Are there other studies that support their study? (see section 4 about references)
• Are the results decently interpreted? (see section 5 about interpretations)
In the case of an opposed study, a lot can happen. Let’s take two papers:
1) Team A showed that protein X is responsible for Alzheimer’s
2) Team B showed that protein Y is responsible for Alzheimer’s
Here is a list of what can actually happen:
• Team A is right and Team B is wrong, X is responsible for Alzheimer’s
• Team B is right and Team A is wrong, Y is responsible for Alzheimer’s
• Both are right, X and Y independently cause Alzheimer’s
• X is responsible for Alzheimer’s only for Asian people due to a specific metabolism,
for other people, Y is more likely to be responsible
• X actually interacts with Y and the complex X-Y is responsible for Alzheimer’s
• X and Y are the same protein, they just gave them different names
• A lot more…
Overall, when we claim something as “scientifically proven”, it’s best to have a lot of papers supporting it.
3. Science is reproducible
In the domain of food especially, stating that a claimed benefit is “scientifically proven” is a marketing boost.
The basis of science is its reproducibility. Any claim should be able to be proven again by anyone at any time. If there are not enough details given to allow people to repeat the experiments, then they have no reason to trust your claim.
In a company (opposed to an academic lab), it’s a bit trickier since the experiments conducted are a part of the secret. However, it’s important to understand the difference between fake “scientific” claims and legit ones.
If the experimental protocol is not available, there are labels, norms and regulation organisations that are trusted and will or will not label a product. These labels and organisations are trusted enough to be used as “proof” that a product does what it says it does.
4. Science is referenced
When we want to demonstrate something, we need to know the background of our subject. This step is fundamental and has many objectives:
• Verifies that our experiment has not already been done.
• Checks if someone has already proven that we are wrong (if so, maybe redo the
• Allows us to have the best understanding of what is already known in the area
so that we can be as efficient as possible. We do not want to
waste time and money.
While the paper is written, a lot of references to other people’s work are included to ensure a good cross-referencing process in order to provide the most efficient science possible and allow further studies.
The references have to be as recent as possible and if some papers are showing opposite findings, there is a need to understand what makes the results different. Too many scientists just take the articles that best suit what they want to show and ignore the rest. This is indeed a very bad thing to do and ultimately moves scientific research backwards.
5. Science is not over-interpreted
Obviously, all experiments need to be interpreted but in most cases, the interpretation goes too far. Let’s take an example:
– What the experiment shows: An alga has been shown to chelate one particular type of free radical of oxygen.
– What should be interpreted: This alga as an anti-oxidant effect.
– What should not be interpreted: Eating this alga will dramatically change your life and make you live longer and healthier. It will also reduce heart attack probability by 90%.
6. Science is reviewed
In most cases, scientific publications are reviewed by other scientists hopefully with a good expertise in the corresponding area (at least, this is the case in the best scientific journals).
If the paper lacks rigor, details, reproducibility, references etc., the reviewers can ask for complementary experiments or just refuse the paper.
This process is fundamental in science and helps to maintain a high quality level in the scientific papers as well as prevents fake or biased papers.
This way, “scientific theories” are separated from “trust” and “beliefs”.
In my humble opinion, science without all these steps cannot pretend to be true science.