Joe Coffman: The science dilemma – Opinion –

So, it turns out that red meat might not be the terrible, life-endangering threat we thought it was. Who knew?

After years of wagging their finger in our burger, a new report has been issued by the Annals of Internal Medicine (my favorite bedtime reading.) The report says that eating red meat (beef, pork, etc.) may not be as bad for your system as previously thought.

“It’s a form of patriarchy if we just tell people they should eliminate or reduce their meat consumption,” said Bradley Johnston, the lead study author. “We don’t believe that there should be broad public health recommendations, almost like scare tactics, for the population as a whole.”

Red meat lovers took this news with particular delight. Will this result in a huge uptick of visits to McDonald’s and Burger King? Will supermarkets experience over run meat departments? Will the surge in red meat eating decimate the cow herds in this great country to the point that people will deal in black market burgers, imported from some Third World cow farm, bypassing the protective hand of the USDA?

Probably not.

The anti-red-meat-eating forces are firing back already, claiming that this new study is flawed, and that consumption of red meat (or overconsumption) leads to heart disease and other bad things. I don’t expect this argument to be settled anytime soon.

While red meat consumption has taken a dip in recent years, it is because of personal preference, driven by a seemingly confusing scientific report like we are seeing now. People like what they like, and they are loathe to change just because some smarty pants in a lab coat says it’s bad for them. We prefer to take the “it can’t happen to me” approach to life.

This human condition doesn’t bode well for the climate change/warming/doomsday-is-coming group. When people figure out the cost of all the changes the climate crowd is demanding, the brakes will be pushed firmly. “You can have my cellphone when you pry it from my cold, bloody hands!” will be the cry. (Apologies to Charlton Heston)

It doesn’t help that whenever they have a convention to discuss how to get rid of carbon guzzling vehicles, the parking lot is crowded with limos and SUVs from the celebrities and stars who flew in their private jets. It smacks of a “good enough for thee, but not for me” attitude.

Science has an image problem in the non-scientific community. Like everything else in our country right now, it is divided between those who see science as immutable and the final word on most any subject, and those who are, in the eyes of the scientific community, “deniers.”

This is a problem for science. It looks to the non-scientific people (and there are many of us) as though it keeps changing its mind.

If you don’t like the conclusions of the latest study measuring the environmental impact of not chewing your jello, just wait, a study correcting it is coming soon.

Caffeine was bad for you, then it was OK. Salt was the bane of high blood pressure, then it didn’t matter, then it was evil again. I’m not sure what the current thinking is on how much salt to put on my fries. Oh yeah, fries aren’t good for you either … so far.

Everywhere you look, “science” says something is out to get us. Your cellphone is going to give you cancer, along with being an electricity guzzling global heat inducer. Your over-the-counter Zantac is out to kill you, and don’t even get me started about that car you’re driving.

Meanwhile, things that we use and abuse kill more of us on a regular basis than most anything else. We died in automobiles to the tune of 37,000 people in 2017. That’s nearly 102 people per day. Alcohol-related deaths are estimated at 88,000 people per year, according to the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism. That figures out to about 241 people per day.

I realize that science is constantly evolving, constantly checking on itself, challenging its conclusions and correcting the mistakes of previous studies. It would be nice to hear that a little more, rather than the oft repeated “the science on this is settled!”

— Joe Coffman is a Holland resident. Contact him at