Scientists: The Human Body's 'Normal' Temperature Isn't Really 98.6 Degrees


What can our body temperature tell us about the role of science in modern life? A whole lot, as it turns out.

A new report from the Journal of Internal Medicine has found that the average body temperature is 97.7 Fahrenheit, almost a degree lower than the temperature we thought was supposed to be the lodestar of what human body temperature ought to be.

Furthermore, one’s temperature varies significantly throughout the day, according to one of the study’s authors.

“A temperature of 99 at six o’clock in the morning is very abnormal, whereas that same temperature at four o’clock in the afternoon can be totally normal,” Jonathan Hausmann of Boston Children’s Hospital told Wired.

Wired also noted that “there’s no single number for normal. It’s slightly higher for women than men. It’s higher for children than adults. And it is lowest in the morning.”

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As for fever, the study says that a fever only starts at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The study was conducted with a smartphone app connected to oral thermometers.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the notion that 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37 degrees Celsius, if you’re into that sort of thing) has been challenged since the 19th century. However, it’s mostly persisted as established science until recently.

So, what’s our point here? Well, for starters, science is a process that continually revises itself — at least, when it works and it’s not politicized.

Do you think we ought to be more skeptical of scientists?

There are things that change, and the larger the model the less sure we can be about it. When it comes to human temperature — something that we should have come to some conclusion about a long time ago — there’s still significant room for revisal. And just because a scientist says something doesn’t make it true.

We’ve seen this on so many issues. Remember the anti-fat craze of the 1980s? Nobody would eat eggs because they were bad for you. Now they’re not. Carbohydrates were supposed to be better than fats. Now they’re not.

Even salt — a food almost all of us could categorize as bad — is now considered more or less OK.

So, when liberals come back at conservatives with “SCIENCE” as an all-caps response to an issue, perhaps they would do well to listen to The Economist, who reported in 2013 that scientific research was doing “too much trusting and not enough verifying — to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity.”

“Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis. A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated,” the article read.

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“Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 ‘landmark’ studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties.”

If you’re going to have a “March for Science” — as the left has — you have to be sure that you know what science is. Yes, science and technology have done wonderful things for us. But as we’ve seen, they can go bad when it’s used as a cudgel for political causes.

After all, in a world where 98.6 degrees can’t even be trusted, there’s a lot we don’t know.

Science as a process ought to be trusted. Science as a fixed thing — and scientists who promote it — shouldn’t be.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture