Winter 2017

Staying True to the Science

A message from the acting director of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Integrity. It’s a personal value and a professional standard that guides the work of the HNRCA. It’s essential to our efforts to advance nutrition science in this time of exciting biomedical breakthroughs. It reminds us that we must reassess old findings while embracing new ideas.

Integrity is vital in our current environment of fake news and social media that thrive on sensational clickbait headlines—I only wish there were eight super foods that allow you to defy aging! HNRCA standards demand rigor in our work and a resolute commitment to reporting the complexities of our scientific research. We must have the courage to challenge assumptions that may have guided past research, as our Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory recently did in reexamining the Glycemic Index.

Maintaining our integrity and a reputation for producing trusted evidence-based research is also critical as we prepare for changes in Washington. A new administration always brings some uncertainty, and this year will be no exception.

I’m hopeful that nutrition science will benefit from the strong foundation created last year by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture when they released the National Nutrition Research Roadmap. We are also hopeful a first-ever strategic plan for nutrition produced by the National Institutes of Health this year will continue to guide the innovation and outstanding research that is the hallmark of the HNRCA.

As interim director of the HNRCA, I find myself thinking about the ethos of the center and what differentiates us from other research organizations. Much of my thinking is reflected in the book Everyday Practice of Science by Frederick Grinnell, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

I recommend this outstanding little book to anyone interested in what really drives scientists—at the personal, organizational and societal levels. Written by a biochemist, it pulls back the curtain and reveals the many nuances and ambiguities of science. I have to agree with Dr. Grinnell that science is not as logical and absolute as people imagine—but that is exactly what makes this work so exciting and fun.

Grinnell writes that a good scientist must be “open to the possibility of being wrong” and offers the Louis Pasteur observation that “chance favors the prepared mind.” Maintaining our integrity and balancing these two axioms will help the HNRCA prepare for any change that lies ahead.

Sarah Booth, Ph.D.

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