A Guide to Flawed Studies with Richard Feinman

May 29, 2015

Richard David Feinman is Professor of Cell Biology (Biochemistry) at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center  in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Feinman’s original area of research was in protein chemistry and enzyme mechanism, particularly in blood coagulation and related processes.

His recent book “The World Turned Upside Down. The Second Low Carbohydrate Revolution” describes how “How the science of carbohydrate restriction arising from a rag‑tag collection of popular diets defeated the powerful low‑fat army and became the default approach to health.”

The whole book oozes wisdom and dry wit decades in the making, but for this interview I decided I wanted to talk about part two: "Policy and the mess in nutrition". Chapter 16 begins a discussion of flawed medical studies and how you can spot them. 

My take away from the interview:

  • Start with a solid review paper with lots of authors, e.g. this one.
  • Drill down from there into the citations.
  • Look at the pictures (figures) first. Pictures tell you the author is trying to teach and not snow you.
  • It’s not OK to omit a citation.
  • Habeas corpus datorum - “show me the body of the data”.
  • Does the data support the conclusions?
  • There is no gold standard for scientific studies; it depends on what question you’re trying to answer.
  • The first 25 pages of biology textbooks are a good place to build the prerequisite knowledge. Older editions are cheaper and perfectly fine for this purpose. All universities offer a great degree in biology, so find out what the accompanying textbook is.

During the interview, Richard mentions Lippincott Illustrated Reviews: Biochemistry and the book I have is Marks' Basic Medical Biochemistry.

Also of tremendous value to me as an education tool, Bryan Walsh's Metabolic Fitness Pro training course and the Khan Academy chemistry module.


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