Elizabeth Sullivan is a peppy 104 year-old woman who, for almost forty years, has enjoyed a daily dose of an inarguably unhealthy addiction. The addiction includes nearly eight times the American Heart Association’s safe amount of daily sugar intake, is categorized by Harvard’s School of Public Health as a catalyst of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gout; and has no definitive medical benefits whatsoever. However, Sullivan insists that 3 Dr Peppers a day is an essential staple in her diet.
How can a person live that long whilst fervently maintaining such an unhealthy addiction?
The answer does nothing to satisfy our curiosity: simply put, we don’t know. Despite discounting basic dietary knowledge and straying from the advice of thousands of medical professionals, she has lived an active 104 years.
Sullivan’s story illuminates a potential flaw in the way humans work: often we’ll base our core beliefs upon those who speak into our lives’, like family, friends, and teachers. Within this framework of trust, it can be easy to accept what someone says on account of both their impact on our lives’, and the personal accounts that will often be included as evidence for their ideas’. As an example, it’s likely that we’ve all heard an adult advise us when we were young, saying something along the lines of “don’t vote for this politician” or “never eat this type of food”. However, an important distinction to make in the evidence for how we shape our beliefs’ is whether or not they are based upon case-studies.
In layman’s terms, a case study is when a scientist studies one case–like an old woman drinking lots of Dr. Pepper–to measure results under specific scenarios. Put frankly, case-studies are terrible for drawing ultimate conclusions. Say if a case-study were done on Sullivan, an obvious conclusion would be that soft drinks were awesome for health, as she’s spry and has lived to be very old. But as any logical mind would conclude, based upon every piece of reputable data regarding soda beverages, they are most-definitely not healthy drinks to indulge in. There are perhaps cases where not wearing a seatbelt saved someone’s life, or that people awaking from comas has spontaneously been able to speak different languages; however, examine over-arcing, most-common-case-scenarios, and it’s obvious that not wearing a seatbelt is incredibly dangerous, and that comas are unlikely to act as effective French professors.
So with this in mind, are case-studies always useless or detrimental? No; case-studies are extremely useful thanks to their emphatic nature. Scenario: your Grandpa sits you down and talks about his own horrible experiences with drugs, which nearly drove him to the grave, and passionately begs you to always avoid them. Then later, when you’re trying to watch Youtube, your entertainment is interrupted by a scientist in some cheesy ad proclaiming “neuron-impairing pharmaceutical devices are definitely a public health risk”. Now, which of those two events are more likely influence whether you pop a zanex or not?
Case-studies are excellent teaching tools; however, they are poor research methods. Rather than simply accept that coffee kills, incorporate the search engine that’s on your phone and see what actual scientific studies, which lack bias and are determined from potentially hundreds of trials, have to say.
Thank you for reading.
If you’re interested in more of my ideas, feel free to follow me. If you disagree with any of the points I’ve made, or have something interesting to add, I’d appreciate if you’d leave a comment voicing your opinion. Here are some sources for my paper:
Dr. Pepper lady: http://www.abc15.com/news/local-news/water-cooler/elizabeth-sullivan-104-year-old-woman-drinks-3-dr-pepper-sodas-each-day
Daily sugar intake recommendation:
Soft drink consumption dangers:
Note: Technically speaking, case-studies refer soley to actual scientific research circumstances, and my using the term to include examples of personally-founded advice from individuals is an extension of the term’s origin.