Porkies and pies

Scientists use variations of working language and terminology which, to the uninitiated, cause confusion.

Evolution started life as a hypothesis presented by Charles Darwin. Using all available testing and evidence, in time the scientific community, having exhausted all possible alternatives, posited a scientific theory.

This isn’t the same as a theory you or I might have about, say, the effect of either result in the upcoming referendum. That sort of theory is untested until after the 23rd of June and is, by definition, based on zero evidence until then. It’s a hypothesis in other words.

This train of thought came from reports about events at the National Obesity Forum. This body published a report which, in summary, claims that saturated fat in meat and dairy is better for you than low-fat foods. It blames refined sugars and an excess of carbohydrates for the global obesity trend.

Key members of the organisation’s board have resigned in protest. The chairman and others have attacked the report’s detractors with the claim that they are in cahoots with the food industry, in their eyes the guilty party responsible for ever-expanding waistlines.

Just like the MMR vaccine scandal in 1998, when experts argue in public about facts that are actually scientific theories, we are confused which can result in our acting dangerously.

When journalists, who should know better, do no fact-checking but leap upon one claim or another and present it as fact, the problem is compounded. Sometimes it looks as though the choice of claim to leap upon is made by the ad director (DPS from burger chain trumps facts) as opposed to the editor.

Clear and honest communication, whether served up as reliable content on a news page or face-to-face, depends upon a common understanding of language.

Misunderstanding and misusing the words hypothesis and theory makes people believe all sorts of nonsense. For evidence, look at all the extremely fat people in rural parts of religious America.