Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Theories, Experiments & Conclusions

Have you ever noticed what sports magazines—generally speaking—have in common? Well, they almost always come up with new research and experiments leading to new conclusions that would absolutely demolish earlier claims by experts of the old school. Y'know, things like drinking 8 glasses of water per day used to be good for you, but that is no longer true today based on new evidence; that when running marathons, "drinking to thirst" is better than "drinking ahead of thirst"; that when weight training, doing 3 sets of 10 reps each is no longer considered the best thing to do for best results.

I think there is a kind of expectation from the audience to see something new in sports magazines. Otherwise, there is no point to keep buying the monthly issues—simply buy a few months', and then those could be recycled over and over again, forever! Therefore, for the magazines to keep selling, there must be something new in them in each issue!

That's just one part of the story. The other part of the story is that I suspect the people who conduct those experiments have more or less made up their mind as to the conclusions that they can—and should—draw from their experiments. I'm convinced that even scientists of the best breed can sometimes fall victims to their own theories. That is human nature, you see.

Take the porn star as an example. I think even before she so much as lifted a scalpel or forceps when conducting the autopsy on Teoh Beng Hock, she had already had the theory of murder in her mind; and the autopsy was just a means to find the evidence to prove her theory. And if there is any hint in the slightest degree that can lean towards murder, then that will immediately leap to her eye; whereas the other facts that would rule out murder would be in danger of not even getting noticed.

If, for example, I have a theory that beer contains a very small amount of women's hormones, how should I conduct an experiment to prove my theory? Well, maybe I would find a couple of healthy men and separate them into 2 groups. I would let the first group drink a glass of plain water per 10 minutes each and make an observation of any effect on them. Then I would let the other group of men drink a glass of beer per 10 minutes each and also observe if there is any effect at all. At the end of that experiment, my report might look something like this:

"1) Those who consumed plain water were observed to remain normal in terms of behavior, except that the frequency of visits to the toilet is seen to have increased.

2) Those who consumed beer were observed to gradually talk a lot of nonsense and gradually lose their ability to drive.

3) The conclusion is that beer contains a very small amount of women's hormones, of which when sufficient amount is present in the body, the feminine characteristics will become apparent."

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk presented by a sports scientist from Singapore. Although he was not a doctor, he had been conducting research and experiments for some years related to sports in general, but perhaps more for running sports. In fact, he was also an avid runner himself.

It was an interesting talk to say the least, but as in the case of many sports magazines, I couldn't help but notice that quite a major part of what's discussed was to break a lot of myths about running sports.

According to him, in one of those experiments conducted, it was shown that when running marathons it is better to "drink to thirst", and not "drink ahead of thirst." He went on to explain that the recommendation to "drink ahead of thirst" had its origin in sports drink producers in the States, trying to boost up consumption of their products. So experiments were conducted in such a way to somehow arrive at the conclusion of "drink more of our products", though not in so many words.

Well, I am not a sports scientist, and I don't claim to know more than the speaker. But to me, drinking a more or less fixed amount of liquid—especially sports drinks—in a given workout time, even ahead of thirst, had always worked well for me. There were times in the past when I experimented with "drinking to thirst", and I got caught with severe cramps. And of course the terrible thing about cramps is that once you get them, the race is practically over!

So I must admit that I have doubts about the experiment conducted to conclude that "drinking to thirst" is superior to "drinking ahead of thirst". After all, each individual may be different physiologically, and may react differently to the timing of hydration. I'm not suggesting that all sports scientists are like the "porn star", but I would suggest that runners do what works best for them, even if what they're doing may not accord well with the findings of new "research and experiments."

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