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Research Vital in Making Informed Decisions

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These days, health is a hot topic on social media websites such as Facebook, causing plenty of heated debates and is partly the inspiration for this article, which is not about right or wrong. As a matter of fact, I try to avoid pointing out polar opposites in these articles and instead reveal experiences rather than opinions. In this article, I will share how I conducted research about a particular topic. This may, perhaps, help the reader understand how to go about making informed decisions with research methods in this age.

The Mercola Era: Triggering Research

About 15 years ago, back when e-mail was all the rage, I would get these forwarded e-mails from a friend of mine on a regular basis with health articles from Dr. Mercola. After reading several of these articles, I was convinced this Mercola guy was a quack and ignored further e-mails for the next couple of months until one e-mail for some reason caught my attention. Once again, I was back on the Mercola site reading another article, but this time, I felt my intuition kick in while my brain was still trying to make sense of the article. That intuition was a warm feeling, as if it was telling me: “You are on the right track. Keep going.”

Dr. Joseph Mercola with hands folded
Dr. Joseph Mercola of Mercola.com.

Although I am no longer a subscriber mostly because some of Mercola’s articles invoke fear, Mercola.com was the go-to for all my health research at one time. I thought of it as the back door into the medical world, where ugly secrets were revealed. I would relay my findings to friends and family members and was ridiculed every time. Family members now remind me about the ridiculous health stuff I used to tell them about 10 to 15 years ago whenever it surfaces the media, saying this stuff was not so ridiculous after all.

When my thoughts bubbled once I came across Mercola’s articles, I looked up his name on the Internet before it was called “Googling.” Several articles appeared with Dr. Joseph Mercola’s name and the word “quack” in the same sentence. When I saw some of these articles were written or validated by several other well-known doctors or medical establishments, my brain was satisfied. Then my gut started acting up.

Black-and-white comparisons of words such as "true" and "false"
Concept and design by Korey Constable.

After that one article caught my eye and I read several more, my gut was satisfied. I also received a warm sensation that went beyond satisfaction, leaning toward fulfillment. My brain, however, intervened, and I was off researching articles, trying to make sense of things because there was always a scientific study coming out that conflicted with several other studies or an article that spoke the opposite of another. A case in point was my concern for plastics. I sent an article to an individual close to me, expressing my concern. Out of retaliation, she sent three articles supporting the fact there was no scientific evidence of plastic causing health problems such as cancer. I was stumped trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong and spent some time trying to come to a conclusion of this basis of right and wrong. I realized this wouldn’t work because even if I found claims supporting my beliefs, it was no different from anyone else with claims that supported their beliefs. Keep in mind this was back when the Internet was just a toddler, trying to navigate its way around.

Screenshot of a Google search for "plastic dangers"

Pinpointing Sources and Their Underlying Motives

I looked into the sources of these articles, thinking that maybe I would get answers, but these sources brought forth more questions instead. For example, Googling “plastic dangers” will bring up articles supporting and debunking the claim that plastics have long-term health effects. One of them is PlasticsIndustry.org, which lists several “myths” about the health dangers of plastics. Hopefully, most of us are smart enough not to rely on the plastics industry for a source of information. This would be like going to tobacco companies for health information.

Headshot of Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council
Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council. This organization is a trade organization representing the U.S. plastics industry.

Another article comes from MotherEarthNews.com, which basically lists several dangers of using plastics, citing 28 sources, ranging from professors and doctors to scientists and environmental groups. This was one of the articles that I felt was the most truthful, but I wanted further confirmation to satisfy my brain. Mother Earth News, in my experience, is one of the last few publications churning out mostly unbiased articles.

And there’s WebMD.com, which basically says not to worry about plastics, with several sources mentioned: Rolf Halden, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health; Rob Krebs, director of communications at the American Plastics Council; and George Pauli, associate director of Science and Policy at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. These individuals all vouch for plastic and have valid credentials like the sources in the Mother Earth News article. For the heck of it, I wanted to see what I could find out about these respected groups and individuals.

Starting with Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council, I set out to look up this organization because it piqued my curiosity. According to Wikipedia, “The American Plastics Council (APC) is a major trade association for the U.S. plastics industry. Through a variety of outreach efforts, APC works to promote the benefits of plastics and the plastics industry.” Another Google hit takes me to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), of which the APC is a part of. What is interesting is a site mentioned earlier, PlasticsIndustry.org, turns out to be the public relations website for the APC and ACC! Further investigation of the ACC reveals a list of members such as 3M, DuPont, ExxonMobil and Merck. After realizing who the APC is, I didn’t even need to look up Rob Krebs. Now I know not to rely on this group or individual when it comes to plastic safety. Strike one.

Screenshot-of-PlasticsMythBuster

Moving on to George Pauli of the Food and Drug Administration, who said in the WebMD article, “Any food packaging company that wants to put their food in plastic must pass muster with the FDA first.” Since the FDA is a regulatory commission, that makes Pauli’s statement valid, right? Well, not exactly. I have come to learn the FDA is not what it used to be. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods is Michael Taylor, former vice president of Monsanto, who was appointed to the position after devoting years lobbying for genetically modified foods. The FDA may have been a commission for the people at one time, but its current role is to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies. This is why we have a former Monsanto lobbyist and vice president working for the FDA. I think that if someone was really looking out for the safety and well-being of the general public, that person wouldn’t be the former vice president of a chemical and biotechnology company with past safety, workplace, health and environmental violations as well as corruption, discrimination and antitrust lawsuits. As for George Pauli, it doesn’t really matter at this point because the group is the culprit once again. Strike two.

Finally, there is Rolf Halden of Johns Hopkins University, an individual working at a prestigious accredited university most of us are familiar with. Normally, this is more than enough to validate a claim, but I decided to do some digging anyway. Once again, I was more interested in the group than the individual, so I looked up Johns Hopkins University and found some fascinating information. Since 1979, Johns Hopkins led the nation in research spending. In 2008, the university spent $1.68 billion of funding on research and development and $2.1 billion in 2013! One of the supporters was the National Institutes of Health (NIH). From 2002 to 2008, the NIH’s CEO was Elias Zerhouni, a consultant for Sanofi-Aventis, a pharmaceuticals and vaccines company—the fifth largest in international prescription sales. He also serves on the board of Actelion Pharmaceuticals. The NIH gets its funding from Congress, and in 2010, it spent $10.7 billion in funding related to genetics, prevention, cancer and biotechnology (its budget was $31 billion in 2010).

A paper following the trail of power
Korey Constable‘s notes in diagramming organizational and company ties.

As for Johns Hopkins University, another thing I found interesting is that its former president, William Brody, was the highest-paid university president in 2004 and 2008, earning almost $900,000 in the latter year alone. The money alone wouldn’t be so bad if measurable accomplishments benefiting humanity and the planet surfaced from these research and development projects. The truth is, billions of dollars are being pumped into these projects as the nation’s health continues to decline, thus supporting the fact that the United States is No. 1 in the world when it comes to health expenditures but dead last when it comes to the quality of health care. Therefore, this results in a strike out for the WebMD article as a valid and reliable source of information because I cannot trust sources with access to that kind of money who don’t bring forth significant positive changes.

This is just one way to get to the source. There are multiple ways. Perhaps this will save the reader a couple of years’ worth of research and allow truly objective thoughts to be heard when it comes to comment wars on social media platforms because one would be able to identify not just the sources but the motives of these sources. These debates are sparked by a common interest that is, after all, to live in a world of health and well-being. Even soldiers of war share a common interest with the enemy—an interest that has the potential to end all wars. Rather than fighting, how about asking questions until the answer presents itself?

Or better yet, look within.


Korey Constable holds a large watermelon on a beach

Check out Korey’s transformation story!

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