Comment | Published:

Language, numeracy and logic in microbiome science

To deliver precision therapeutics, microbiome-based medicine will require precision of language, logic and numerical accuracy. Epidemiological lessons of the past suggest that attempts to link almost everything in modern life with the microbiome as a risk factor for disease, without rapprochement with plausible mechanisms, will generate controversy rather than consensus.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Change history

  • 12 June 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.

References

  1. 1.

    Gostin, L. O. Language, science, and politics: the politicization of public health. JAMA 319, 541–542 (2018).

  2. 2.

    Parker, W. The “hygiene hypothesis” for allergic disease is a misnomer. BMJ 349, g5267 (2014).

  3. 3.

    Bloomfield, S. F. et al. Time to abandon the hygiene hypothesis: new perspectives on allergic disease, the human microbiome, infectious disease prevention and the role of target hygiene. Perspect. Public Health 136, 213–224 (2016).

  4. 4.

    Orwell, G. Politics of the English language. University of Washington https://faculty.washington.edu/rsoder/EDLPS579/HonorsOrwellPoliticsEnglishLanguage.pdf (1946).

  5. 5.

    Hooks, K. B. & O’Malley, M. A. Dysbiosis and its discontents. mBio 8, e01492–17 (2017).

  6. 6.

    Ma, B., Forney, L. J. & Ravel, J. Vaginal microbiome: rethinking health and disease. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 66, 371–389 (2012).

  7. 7.

    Barton, W. et al. The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level. Gut 67, 625–633 (2018).

  8. 8.

    Hill, C. et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 11, 506–514 (2014).

  9. 9.

    Rosner, J. L. Ten times more microbial cells than body cells in humans? Microbe 9, 47 (2014).

  10. 10.

    Skrabanek, P. The emptiness of the black box. Epidemiology 5, 553–555 (1994).

Download references

Acknowledgements

F.S. and C.H. are supported, in part, by research grants from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), including a centre grant (Number SFI/12/RC/227).

Author information

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Fergus Shanahan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark
Fig. 1: Model demonstrating comparisons of abundance between microbiomes.