While looking at the relationship of the Mediterranean diet to Dementia, it was difficult to avoid looking at the ‘Seven Countries Study‘. When I did, something became very obvious to me. The Seven Countries Study had generated an unusual amount of interest compared to many of the other areas of science which I was familiar with. This interest included follow-up studies, books, debate and public interest. The longitudinal nature of the main study, spanning 50 years was also unusual and required prolonged commitment.
This got me thinking to something else I have written about – Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions‘.
Kuhn writes that when there is no debate within an area of science, that this becomes an inactive area. The body of associated knowledge now simply becomes a tool for use in research rather than the centre of a field of active research.
The ‘Seven Countries Study’ continues to provoke debate. A body of work has emerged which is critical to conclusions drawn about the study. This got me thinking a little further. This is exactly what Kuhn had talked about. Why was this such a good example of Kuhn’s principles?
Then I realised – diet is very important to people and is reflected in the food industry. Therefore there is a lot of ‘energy’ on both sides of the debate, enough to keep the debate going for a long time. The debate can hinge on extremely technical details, such as a critique of the design of a study. Given the wider interest in the outcome of the debate, the research design becomes quite closely scrutinised. This scrutiny occurs not just within the scientific community but beyond.
Science is not just a feature of the scientific community but is part of the fabric of society.
** I refer to diet not as a literal driver of science but as a force behind a significant and influential body of research. This study has involved a multinational, multicentre longitudinal study which has generated further studies and which may have influenced the design of other healthcare studies.
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