There is a growing polarization of “fact-based opinions” that have created opposing camps of pragmatists and theorists.
A growing number of my social and, yes, even scientific beliefs, are grounded in subjective evaluation rather than fully vetted empirical evidence and validated studies. Into which camp do you fall?
These “fact-based opinions” are typically gleaned from anecdotal information I’ve gathered from various sources, especially:
- Friends and family. Remember the old days (the 20th century) and the trial-and-error methods of your grandmother, well before Grandma Google moved into our homes and psyche, tantalizing us with her local gossip and hearsay?
- Reports, news, articles permeating numerous information outlets. These have crept into our lives and been accepted as near-truths, which is the new standard for credibility in the 21st century.
As much as I try to resist, these days my 20th century mind has become very selective in accepting the type of information I find and then labeling it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
In past columns, I’ve written about the overwhelming conclusions of multiple studies on the health benefits of a moderate consumption of wine.
Two glasses a day for men and one a day for women provides antioxidants and other compounds (polyphenols) that aid in preventing diseases, protecting against premature aging and providing overall health benefits.
I’ve also written on the deleterious effects of wine consumption. Certainly, all alcohol is potentially harmful to our overall health and for the unintended social consequences of excessive drinking. A number of studies have proven the negative effects of alcohol consumption, even at lesser levels than recommended. The British national health overseer urges consumers to eliminate consumption of wine, or, limiting it to one or two glasses per week.
While valid studies surely abound, I’ve read numerous “respected reports” of control groups consisting of small groups that draw conclusions concerning entire age groups and genders. I’ve read numerous reports conducted over months, not years, that draw universal conclusions. I’ve read numerous reports involving disease-afflicted volunteers that draw conclusions on every individual that walks the earth, sick or healthy, young or old.
In a perverse way, several reports are similar to those pervasive opinion polls we are perpetually exposed to. Any topic, any issue, any political figure will inevitably foment multiple polls – and multiple conclusions. And multiple controversies. And embraced or rejected by the public to align with each person’s private viewpoints or preferences.
For me, there hasn’t been a convincing long-term study that provides indisputable evidence of the health impact of wine consumption – until recently.
Last week, the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new study, one of the largest ever. As reported by The New York Times, this government agency will undertake a $100 million trial to determine the impact of wine consumption on the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and death in 8,000 volunteers, age 50 and up in 16 countries over a six-year period.
A lofty goal, much needed in the face of conflicting reports in the infosphere that currently exists.
Well, perhaps not. Here a few details that give pause for concern:
- A significant portion of the funding — $68 million – has already been pledged to a unit of the NIH. The funding source? Not the government, but five of the largest alcohol producing companies in the world (who reportedly will have no influence on the trials).
- The trial consists of certain participants abstaining and others consuming one alcoholic beverage of their choice per day. Will the study discern the difference in the effects of wine, beer, a shot or a cocktail? Is one glass the correct quantity to determine the impact on health? What of the higher absorption rates of women that may influence the outcome?
- The participants must have, or be at, a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Does this reduce the efficacy of the results across a broad population?
Will this be the study from which definitive, reliable, scientific conclusions may be drawn? Or will it be another in a long string in which truth is in the mind of the beholder?
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.