This morning’s NPR story about vitamin D deficiency (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125226703) has me thinking about the scientific process.
The story highlights a trend among some physicians to recommend supplemental vitamin D of as much as 1200 mg daily to ward off diseases as diverse as cancer and depression. While some are touting this as another cure-all others are taking a more skeptical view; insisting on more compelling evidence.
We live in a time where information is available instantaneously and often overwhelmingly. It is hard to know fact from fantasy. However, as scientists we have a role to both generate the evidence to support or dispel beliefs but also to insist on a higher bar before we accept claims. In the recent past, we have heard similar claims of broad health benefits from folate, melatonin, quercitin, and vitamin B supplementation. As the experimental data continued to come in, media claims of the wonder-status of these compounds had to be tempered.
Critical thinking is a skill that allows one to wade through the media and commercial hype and judge the merit of an argument. It may be that supplemental vitamin D will turn out to be a critical piece of a healthy life in the 21st century but the data are not yet compelling and there are risks. As scientist we need to act and educate accordingly.