Scientists and Bumble Bee Watchers
In sixth grade science class we were told that it was impossible for a bumble bee to fly, according to all of the knowledge available in aerodynamics at the time. When you measured the size of the bumble bee’s wings, computed the speed of the wings and weighed the bumble bee, mathematically it was impossible for the creature to fly.
There was an old chiropractor who was fond of saying that there were two kinds of people in the world, researchers and bumble bee watchers. There was not much research proving that he, as a chiropractor, could make asthmatics better. Yet his office was full of asthmatics who had gotten better. He would say, “I don’t pay much attention to science; I watch bumble bees.”
It turns out that after some advances in high speed photography new calculations were able to be made. Scientists were able to see that the wings of the bumble bee fill up like a parachute on the down stroke—greatly increasing the surface area of the wing. They were able to plug the new surface area into the calculations and declared that the bumble bee could indeed fly—much to the relief of bumble bees all around the planet.
Working in natural health care is an exercise in following research and looking at bumble bees. In asthma, for example, there is a fair amount of research that shows that a good diet, antioxidants, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids can all help improve symptoms. Many of us are getting results with giving betaine HCl, improving digestion, adrenal support and chiropractic adjustments, even though there is not a lot of research to support it.
People who are locked into the medical model are fond of saying things like, “The research just isn’t there; you really need to be more scientific.” That statement is often enough to make many of us feel that we are somehow less than our medical brethren. We shouldn’t feel that way; much of medicine is not very scientific. I usually just respond, “I will if you will.” Also, for what it is worth, “uproven” does not mean “unscientific”.
Most of the medical journals sell ads to drug companies, so you are not going to see a lot of research that says natural health care is good and drugs are dangerous. Take statins, for example. Statin medication is a $25 billion per year industry. Yet if you look at the research, the drugs really don’t do a lot to prevent heart attacks. In most studies, the death rate in the placebo group and the statin group is about the same. One interesting development is the dramatic increase in the number of people developing heart failure. The drugs destroy coenzyme Q 10, and we know that low coenzyme Q 10 levels are related to heart failure. We also know that one of the side-effects of statins is muscle destruction. Since the heart is a muscle, it is obvious to the bumble bee watcher that the medication is at least contributing to this problem. The researchers just haven’t gotten there yet; it may be unfair to say that the presence of statin ads in the journals keep this from happening. Still, it is not very scientific to ignore this other information.
There is a difference between science and research. Anecdotal information, clinical observations, statistics and other information are part of science. Science forms theories based on earlier observations. If you know that research shows a strong correlation between oxidative stress and asthma symptoms, and you know that poor digestion leads to oxidative stress, it is not much of a stretch to expect that improving digestion will get your asthma patients better. Research is a way of focusing on a single thing and determining if your observations mean anything. Science incorporates lots of sources of information, including (but not limited to) research. Truth is truth, whether the research has caught up or not. Unproven does not mean unscientific. Bumble bees flew long before we could prove it was possible.