Recent events have made it clear that our society is experiencing a pandemic of excessive alcohol use.
A recent nationwide survey found that one in three Americans aged 21 to 64 reported drinking more than eight drinks per week, which is almost two standard alcoholic beverages (one drink equals five grams of pure alcohol) for men and women, respectively.
That’s over half of all drinkers who report this much alcohol consumption! And remember, even one episode of heavy drinking can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Another study determined that nearly a quarter of young adults (ages 18–24) were binge-drinking at least once a month, often several times a week. For these individuals, a few nights out with friends means consuming enough alcohol to cause health problems.
It’s time to talk about the harms associated with too much alcohol
Given how common heavy drinking has become, we need to talk about the consequences. We must address not only the medical issues related to alcohol, but also the social ills caused by its overuse.
Alcohol impacts every part of our lives — from work to relationships to community engagement. When used responsibly, alcohol can be an integral part of life – but not anymore.
Drastic changes are needed to reduce alcohol intake and improve overall public health. Fortunately, research provides us with effective strategies and policies to do just that.
The impact of scientific research
Recent developments in science and technology have made it possible to find out what most people are using, how effective those products and services are, and whether they work better than alternatives.
This kind of knowledge is important because policymakers often rely on studies and surveys that only look at the effects of individual interventions such as drugs or medical practices.
These studies typically focus on how well one intervention works compared to nothing or another similar intervention — they’re not designed to compare one intervention with an alternative.
By comparing different treatments directly, you get more accurate information about which approaches work best. This helps us identify good strategies for improving health and reducing suffering in the world.
The limitations of scientific research
While there are many benefits to conducting rigorous, systematic studies that test if a particular intervention is effective, there are also drawbacks. One major downside is that these studies often rely on having large sample sizes in order to produce statistical significance.
This means we must have lots of participants or repeated testing needs to take place for us to get an accurate picture about the effectiveness of the intervention.
Both of these things can be very difficult to do because most interventions need quite a bit of time and/or money to conduct effectively.
Another limitation is that even when researchers do find significant results from their tests, they may not know what caused the effect — it could be due to chance alone.
It’s possible that people who participated in the study enjoyed the intervention so much that they both acted more like each other and performed better than those who did not, creating an inaccurate perception of how well the intervention works.
How scientific research affects public policy
Over the past century, there have been many calls to implement policies that are informed by science. These include recommendations about what foods are healthy, how much exercise is needed, and whether or not products contain enough health benefits to make them worth the cost.
Other studies find no clear benefit from different treatments, so they cannot be recommended beyond what we already know about them.
By studying the effects of these interventions when used in clinical settings, as well as investigations into their effectiveness in community-based trials, we get some insights into whether they work for people who use them regularly.
We also learn which ones appear to help most of those people and which ones seem to only help a few. This information can aid policymakers in deciding if investing more money in a treatment is worthwhile or not.
Popular misconceptions about scientific research
Overstated benefits of some products are common, especially among marketers who want to convince you that your current brand is not good enough.
Misunderstandings of science come in many forms, but one of the most prevalent is the perception that all studies find that brands work. This isn’t true! Only 5% of published health studies examine the effects of specific interventions such as diets or medications. The remaining 95% assess whether it is better to offer patients a certain treatment than nothing at all.
It is extremely difficult to do this kind of study because there is no control group (no more usual care) and even conducting a comparative evaluation can be challenging when doctors don’t agree on what normal care should be. This makes creating meaningful comparisons very hard!
So how can we know if offering patients a new intervention is helpful? We can’t. It may make them feel slightly better, but it could also have unwanted side effects. Or it might help some people, while having little effect for others. In fact, up to 98% of effective treatments remain undetected due to poor methodology.
This is why systematic reviews – which evaluate the evidence from all relevant studies — are so important. A review will identify the best available evidence for an issue, making sure to account for any biases in each study. When done properly, these findings can inform strong policies and practices in our society.
Systematic reviews aren’t just academic exercises either.
Examples of scientific research and its impact
Evidence-based policies are not new, but they have become increasingly common in various areas. For example, before the 1980s, most policymakers could be found making decisions with little or no guidance from sound science.
In those days, policy was largely made on past experience, intuition, or simply taking what seemed to work for someone else! But as we know, that does not always lead to the best outcomes.
It is why people often refer to “the need for change” when something seems to be working well at present, but not beyond that initial stage. Or how some things seem to survive long enough to gain popularity, only for them to lose out to more innovative rivals once they are able to move into better and wider markets.
Since the early 80s though, there has been an increasing emphasis placed on using the best available evidence to inform decision-making. This is now one of the main drivers behind many changes in our society, including public health interventions, workplace practices and procedures, and educational programs.
Some might even call it the default position nowadays!
If you ever find yourself arguing against such a policy because you would rather rely on personal experiences, intuitions, or beliefs instead, then you will need to produce convincing proof that this policy is not needed, or worse, may actually do more harm than good.
That is where studying the effects of previous policies comes in handy.
Ways scientific research is used today
Way back in 1879, when Thomas Edison was experimenting with moving pictures, he tested his device by projecting onto a wall what he called an “artistic still picture” — it showed a stick figure running across a screen. He gave this new technology a name that has stuck to this day: cinema.
Edison didn’t give much thought as to why people would want to watch a stick figure run across a screen for two minutes, but his invention soon proved very popular. And so did all future forms of watching movies.
Over the past 150 years, as society has shifted from using sticks and stones to use firearms as tools, movie theaters have adapted their equipment and methods to make showing films more comfortable for audience members.
These days, instead of having to put up with hard, uncomfortable seats like those at home, most movie theaters offer reclining or seat-shaped soft furniture where you can relax while watching a film. Some even have large screens so you don’t need to be close to them to enjoy the movie!
Another way movie theaters update their equipment to fit individual needs is by offering wireless headphones or earbuds. This allows you to listen to music or chat quietly without needing a separate speaker system.
The reason? People love listening to music while watching a movie. It seems almost natural to some cultures.
But beyond improving your movie night experience, these things are important for health.
Ways scientific research is used in the future
Recent developments using scientific research to inform public policy have seen scientists applying for, and being granted, positions in government. These experts are appointed to aid policymakers in making decisions by providing evidence-based solutions to problems.
For example, medical professionals with doctorates can be asked to help make health policies or recommendations. Environmentalists can be hired to assess potential hazards of new products.
These expert advisors typically are paid relatively little money, but their knowledge can be invaluable when helping policymakers reach good conclusions.
Another area where science plays an important role is ethics. For instance, ethical guidelines that regulate how pharmaceutical companies market their drugs and what information they should disclose to doctors and patients go through an established process that includes input from ethicists.
Key considerations in using scientific research
As discussed earlier, there are many reasons why policy influenced by science is needed. Science-based policies have been integral to our society and civilization as we know it.
One of the most important uses of scientific knowledge is for making decisions about health and wellness. We’ve seen how nutritionists and dieticians use science to advise people on what foods are or aren’t good for them and how much of each food they should eat.
We also talked about how medical professionals such as doctors and nurses rely on an understanding of biology and physiology to help prevent and treat disease.
When it comes to public policy, this idea extends beyond just helping individuals find optimal health but also improving the overall quality of life for all members of a community. This is particularly true when it comes to issues like access to adequate healthcare and safe, effective ways to manage chronic conditions.
There are several examples where rigorous studies have informed policy and practices that we now take for granted. For instance, smoking has serious long term effects on your health that are too often ignored. Before quitting can be considered, smokers must undergo counseling to address any underlying psychological factors that may play a role.
This article will focus on two areas where scientifically validated strategies and interventions exist: drug treatment and suicide prevention.