the anthony dobranski blog


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Amish barn poo and the undoing of damage

I am loath to question scientists, who are vastly more informed than I am about their field of study. But even the smart can be unwise.

A recent New York Times opinion essay, breathlessly titled “A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic,” described a search for allergy cures in the dust and offal in Amish farms.

The core idea, known commonly as the hygiene hypothesis, suggests modern cleanliness has so reduced our exposure to mild diseases and parasites, that our immune systems have grown overactive and under-regulated. Amish children, exposed to the stimuli of farm and field, have much lower rates of allergic sensitivity. If we can find the factors behind the difference, we can stop allergies before they start.

This isn’t quackery. Serious science based on these ideas has already recast our understanding of autoimmune diseases like MS and lupus. Still, no direct mechanism for what might change our allergic sensitivity is known. It is finally an assumption, not a theory, that we are missing a readily-accessible rural lack.

One should question whether the desire for a quick, reproducible, lucrative solution colors the theorizing of our scientists. Continue reading