In our previous episode, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of freedom of speech or of concepts like The Marketplace of Ideas or The Wisdom of Crowds. Two of their most dearly-held beliefs are:
1. They are very, very smart.
2. The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.
Consequently, The Anointed don’t view wide-open debate and discussion as opportunities for the best ideas to be discovered and bubble up to the top. They view them as opportunities for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be fooled and led astray.
Let’s look at a perfect example of what I’m talking about: a recent Huffington Post essay by Dr. David Katz, the guy who developed the NuVal system for ranking the healthiness of foods – a system recently dropped by some big grocery-store chains. Here are some quotes from Katz:
Misinformation is very much in season. Disclosures since the presidential election about massively disseminated misinformation, some of it inadvertent, some of it willfully manipulative, have come fast and furious. In fact, in the aftermath of the recent revelations about fake news, we are being invited to add “post-truth” to our lexicon.
So Dr. Katz is very upset about fake news. That’s pretty danged funny, considering he was caught writing reviews of his own novel under a fake name and comparing himself to John Milton and Charles Dickens. Apparently his definition of fake news is limited to “post-truth” he doesn’t like.
For the record, I think we can all agree we’d prefer not to be exposed to fake news. But of course, fake news isn’t new. In the years that I’ve been paying attention, “news” stories that turned out to be largely or completely fabricated have been printed or aired by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CBS and NBC. The Washington Post even ran a piece recently titled Fake News? That’s A Very Old Story, which recounts how fake news has been around since the founding of the country.
But since the Katz essay is about health advice, I wondered why he opened with a complaint about fake news in the recent election cycle. Then it hit me: he’s trying to draw a parallel between health advice he doesn’t like and wacko stories claiming the Clintons were involved in child-sex rings. If one is bad, the other must be equally bad, ya see. Nice try, Doc.
I’ve written several posts and given a speech about how the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to turn the tide against the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains! nonsense coming from the Axis of Incompetence: the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, partly because I remember the bad old days.
In the 1980s, I was a staff writer and editor for a small magazine called Family Safety & Health. Researching a health article was a process I called “round up the usual suspects.” Something about heart health? Get in touch with the American Heart Association. Diabetes? The American Diabetes Association is your go-to source. Cancer? Call the American Cancer Society. Anything else, start with government health agencies and go from there.
Information flowed from The Anointed at the top, through a handful of gatekeepers, then down to the rest of us. So I, like every other health writer in those days, wrote articles about the wonders of whole grains and the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol. I didn’t know any better because I didn’t have access to contrary evidence and opinions. For The Anointed, those were the good old days.
Now the gatekeepers have been swept aside. I consider that a net positive. Dr. Katz, as a member of The Anointed, of course disagrees:
The social media that served as the currents in which false and misleading election-related news were swept far and wide pose three particular threats to health related information.
The first is that very problem, the unfettered promulgation of information that is just plain wrong. The second is that misinformation is far more pernicious than ignorance. Ignorance is that proverbial empty vessel; a knowledgeable health professional can fill it. But it’s hard to fill a cup that already runneth over- and that’s the scenario that misinformation creates.
And lastly, the third is the very problem we’ve had since the radio was first invented: static. At some level of background noise, the worthiest signal is indiscernible as such. Our ability to deliver a message, any message, depends now, as ever, on the signal to noise ratio.
Let me interpret that: @#$%!! All those @#$%ing bloggers and podcasters are somehow drawing big audiences and convincing millions of people that saturated fat isn’t bad and grains aren’t good! People no longer just accept what The Anointed tell them! This is very, very bad!
Cyberspace is the ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber. Everyone can shout into it, and every shout has the same chance to echo from the megaphones of the sympathetic.
Well, that’s true to an extent. Social media has created a vastly wider and more diverse Marketplace of Ideas. Are some of those ideas garbage? You bet. For all I know, there may be more lousy dietary advice pinging around cyberspace than good advice.
That’s not the point. The point is that good advice – advice that actually works — is now accessible to people who never would have seen it in the pre-internet days. That’s where The Anointed and fans of the Marketplace of Ideas disagree. The Anointed believe if everyone can shout into an echo chamber, everyone will have equal influence. That’s nonsense. It’s like believing everyone who produces a product will have an equal share of the market. Despite what The Anointed think, people aren’t stupid. They gravitate to the products and the advice that prove beneficial.
You may recall the story of my co-worker whose wife suffered from migraines for years. Doctor after doctor failed to prescribe the magic-pill cure. But then a friend-of-a-friend suggested she try giving up grains – because he’d read on the internet that grains can trigger migraines. So she tried giving up grains and voila! – no more migraines. She found relief because of knowledge shared on the internet.
Now, given what the internet is, I suppose someone else might have suggested she rub her eyeballs with orange caterpillars. That would have been junk advice. But here’s the thing: she would have recognized it as junk advice based on the results. That is, after all, largely what the Wisdom of Crowds is about: knowledge gained from experience and then shared with that big ol’ crowd.
The Anointed, by contrast, put far more faith in little groups of experts – with expertise defined by them, of course, and largely consisting of earning degrees by attending classes taught by other members of The Anointed. This is nothing new, by the way. Eric Hoffer, author of the terrific book The True Believer, wrote this in the 1950s:
The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.
Back to Katz on people shouting into that darned echo chamber:
This is an enemy not only to medicine, but to everything in any way related to science, for science demands the filter of genuine understanding, actual expertise, and evidence.
Once again, that’s pretty danged funny, considering it’s coming from a guy whose NuVal system ranks sugar-laden chocolate soy milk as a far healthier option than a turkey breast. I’d like to see the evidence supporting that ranking. Unfortunately, NuVal refuses to explain its scoring system because the information is “proprietary.” In other words, we just made this @#$% up because it’s what we believe.
Having defined the problem – too darned many voices yelling health advice into that social-media echo chamber – Katz then lays out his solution:
In my particular purview- lifestyle medicine- I have felt compelled to develop a new method to confront this New Age challenge. If the noise is irrevocably greater than ever before, so, too, must be the signal. The True Health Initiative pools the voices, currently, of well over 300 leading experts from over 30 countries to make the case that we are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens; that the fundamentals of a health-promoting diet and lifestyle are the stuff of decisive evidence, and global consensus.
Sorry, Doc, but I’m going to have to disagree. When you tell people eggs will kill them and sugar-laden soy milk is a healthier option than a turkey breast, I’m pretty sure you are clueless about the basic care and feeding of Home sapiens – none of whom enjoyed a nice, sweet glass of chocolate-flavored Silk Soy Milk until modern industry made such garbage possible.
I looked up the members of those (ahem) “experts” Katz is putting together to combat the social-media echo chamber. I didn’t recognize most of them, but here are some we all know:
Keith Thomas Ayoob … whom I’ve referred to as “Ayoob the Boob” because he thinks the saturated fat in coconut oil will kill people.
Dr. Neil Barnard … yup, the vegan nut-job whose group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine puts up billboards warning people that consuming animal products will kill them.
T. Colin Campbell … author of The China Study, which attempted to prove (through cherry-picked associations) that eating meat is the main driver of disease.
You get the idea. Katz is assembling a team of the same old anti-fat, anti-cholesterol, anti-meat goofs who have been part of the problem for decades. Talk about an echo chamber.
To his credit, Katz is at least trying to combat what he considers bad information with what he considers good information. The members of The True Health Initiative will be shouting into the very echo chamber Katz dislikes. Since I believe the Marketplace of Ideas works, I predict the market won’t be kind to them. No amount of shouting from the usual suspects will convince people who’ve seen their health improve after going low-carb, gluten-free or paleo to take a giant step backwards.
Other members of The Anointed aren’t satisfied with shouting into the echo chamber. They’d rather prevent people who disagree with them from shouting in the first place … or writing, or tweeting, or whatever. We’ll pick up that subject in the next post.
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The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech. Sure, they pay lip-service to the idea now and then, but when you watch them in action, it’s clear they don’t much like wide-open discussions and free-wheeling debates. You may recall, for example, what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, was invited to be part of a nutrition panel at the National Food Policy Conference: members of the Center For Science in the Public Interest and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee threatened to boycott unless she was disinvited … which she was.
I wrote at the time that the CSPI weenies were afraid Teicholz would kick their asses in a public debate. I still believe that’s part of the explanation, but recent events (which I’ll cover in later posts) got me thinking there’s more to it.
To explain, let’s start by quickly summarizing the Wisdom of Crowds concept: when ordinary people share their experiences, ideas and insights with each other, the right answers tend to eventually bubble up to the top. Notice that the Wisdom of Crowds doesn’t mean the majority is always correct, and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s ideas are good ideas. It simply means that when ideas and information are freely exchanged within that big ol’ crowd, the good ideas tend to take hold.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. are based on a similar concept. The Founders believed in what’s often called the Marketplace of Ideas. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that it’s safe to tolerate error of opinion where reason is left free to combat it. Fredrick Siebert put it quite nicely in Four Theories of The Press:
Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.
Notice what both the Wisdom of Crowds and the Marketplace of Ideas have in common? That’s right … they’re based on faith in ordinary people. Given access to lots of information and competing ideas, most people will come to the correct conclusion most of the time. So people who believe in the Wisdom of Crowds view the prospect of debate and discussion with an attitude of Bring it on! I’ll make my case, you make yours, and we’ll see who wins.
The Anointed, by contrast, view wide-open debate and discussion as a threat. Why? I used to think it’s because they know their Grand Plans are based on flimsy or non-existent evidence. As Thomas Sowell points out in both The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, The Anointed tend to fall in love with bold, new, exciting ideas. They don’t like waiting for solid evidence to support their bold, new, exciting ideas, and are quite adept at ignoring or dismissing evidence that their bold, new, exciting ideas are wrong. So I figured they’re hostile to debate out of simple fear someone will prove them wrong.
But that doesn’t jibe with a fundamental trait of The Anointed: their extreme confidence in themselves and their ideas. So after noodling on it for awhile, I decided their hostility towards debate and discussion is rooted in two of their most dearly-held beliefs, which are:
1. They are very, very smart.
2. The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.
Therefore, The Anointed aren’t afraid they’ll be proven wrong – heck, they don’t believe it’s possible for them to be wrong. Rather, they’re afraid the rest of us are too stupid to discern how right they are. When we hear lots of contrary opinions, we (unlike The Anointed) don’t have the intelligence to weigh the evidence and come to the correct conclusions. So as far as The Anointed are concerned, an open debate is nothing more than an opportunity for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be led astray.
That’s why so many of them long for the good ol’ days when a relatively small number of information gatekeepers decided what most of us see and hear. That’s why so many of them are angry about the emergence of talk radio, social media, blogs, and other forms of what they derisively call the “pajamas media.” (I’m not wearing pajamas at the moment, in case you’re wondering.) The information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates, which means the Marketplace of Ideas is a vastly larger and more diverse marketplace than it once was.
That’s what allows the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish. But The Anointed don’t believe in the Wisdom of Crowds, so they consider all that debate and discussion a problem. We’ll look at how they (ahem) “solve” that problem in the next couple of posts.
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Good to be back in the Fat Head chair after some time away. I spent a chunk of that time working with Chareva on the book and the film. Reading The Older Brother’s guest-host post reminded me of why we’re banging away on a project directed at kids. Perhaps we can convince a few of them to stop eating those carbage-laden “heart-healthy” school meals before they become fat, diabetic adults.
But there’s more to life than work, so I took an actual vacation as well. Jimmy and Christine Moore arrived the Sunday before Thanksgiving to spend the week in Franklin. That’s two years in a row, and I hope it’s now firmly established as an annual tradition.
They came bearing gifts – a lot of gifts: a printer, a Ninja coffee maker (which the girls love because it froths milk), various flavors of Quest bars, various flavors of Mark Sisson’s Primal Kitchen bars, Primal Kitchen oils, mayonnaise and salad dressings, walkie-talkies for the girls, a water purifier, and some Bulletproof coffee. Jimmy insisted the booty was supplied for free by his sponsors, but I happen to know he bought some of the stuff himself. He’s been showing gratitude for the success of the Keto Clarity books by buying gifts for both friends and occasional strangers. That’s the kind of guy he is.
I looked at the load of gifts and said all I could offer in return was a disc-golf course with no waiting and no green fees. He replied that it was a fair trade, and we began the tournament with three rounds on Sunday, four on Monday and five on Tuesday.
After those first three days, we had an Election 2016 situation: Jimmy won some games by a huge margin (nine strokes in one case), but I won several games by a stroke or two. So he had the better overall score, but I was ahead in the victory column. Or as I like to put it, he won the popular vote, but I won the electoral college. Jimmy considered staging a protest in downtown Franklin and possibly smashing some store windows to express his outrage at the result, but then remembered he’s an adult. He settled for threatening to demand a recount of all the strokes on the 17th hole.
You may have noticed the Cubs World Series Champions sweatshirt and hat I’m wearing. Those showed up as anonymous gifts on our doorstep awhile back, and I posted a note on Facebook thanking whoever sent them. Turns out it was Jimmy. I’m pretty sure his sponsors didn’t supply those.
There’s not much to do on the farm these days. Between the two flocks of chickens, we’re getting a few eggs per week. That’s because Chareva elected to let the chickens rest for awhile instead of encouraging egg-laying by heating the coops. Once we get winter temperatures, she’ll turn on the heat.
The ladies did, however, harvest some sweet potatoes from Chareva’s garden while Jimmy and I were busy in the front pastures, trash-talking and trying to beat each other in disc golf.
Hoping to get into Jimmy’s head before the next round, I pointed to the sweet-potato harvest and said something like Boy, those farm-fresh sweet potatoes are going to be delicious. Too bad you can’t eat them, huh, Mister Keto Clarity? Huh?
Turns out Mister Keto Clarity eats sweet potatoes during holiday weeks. Well, good. They were delicious, by the way. Everything we grow tastes better than the grocery-store version.
The weather for the week behaved so nicely, you’d think I bribed someone in Climate Control. We had 60-ish temperatures all the days we played disc golf. We’d planned to take Wednesday off to rest our arms, and that happened to be the only day it rained.
The rainy-day storm left us with an unexpected present:
Here’s how living on a little farm changes your attitude about things: Any other place I’ve lived, I would have viewed that fallen tree as a major pain in the arse, something I’d have to pay to have hauled away. When I noticed it on Wednesday afternoon, my first thought was Wow! Look at all the free firewood! Sure, I’ll have to get out the chainsaws and cut it up, but I’ve grown to enjoy that kind of work. The wood stove awaits the proceeds.
It did occur to me later that I had no idea the tree was dying and could topple. Given the size, it’s what folks who know about such things call a Widow-Maker. Any one of us could have been in that side field when the tree landed. So I’m thinking it’s time to have a tree expert pay us a visit and identify the other Widow-Makers on the property. I know from painful experience I can survive a whack on the noggin from a t-post hammer, but a tree punches in a much higher weight class.
Thanksgiving was a real treat this year. Jimmy and I played six rounds of disc golf while the ladies prepared a feast of turkey, ham, green-bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed cauliflower, dressing (made with gluten-free bread), cranberries, and three pies. (Before any of you other ladies get all righteously indignant about the division of labor, I should mention that we didn’t expect Chareva and Christine clean up the kitchen afterwards. I had my daughters do it.) Chareva’s mother gave me a bottle of single-malt scotch to say thanks for the help getting them settled into their new house, and I enjoyed some of that while watching football on Thursday night.
Jimmy and I played our final rounds of the 2016 Thanksgiving tournament on Friday. I finally put that popular-vote/electoral college controversy to rest by shooting some good rounds and dropping my average score. Our final average scores for the week were so close, I’d call the difference statistically insignificant … although I’m sure a Harvard nutrition researcher could perform a few math tricks and tease out an association or two.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be about gratitude, and I have many reasons to feel grateful. I’m thankful to have friends like Jimmy and Christine. I’m thankful Chareva’s parents found a lovely home just four miles down the road from ours. I’m thankful that at age 58, I can play 22 rounds of disc golf (which means walking about 26 miles up and down our hilly land) in a six-day span without feeling tired. I’m thankful to see the book coming together with Chareva’s excellent cartoons and graphics. I’m thankful The Older Brother fills in when I need a break from the blog.
And as always, I’m thankful to have intelligent and engaged blog readers who keep the conversation going. Happy Holidays, everyone.
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Hey there, Fat Heads!
Long time. Tom asked last week if I’d like to man The Big Chair while he and Jimmy have their Thanksgiving Disc Golf Death Match, to which I replied “About time! …um, I mean, sure, I could probably do that.”
It just so happened that last Friday, The Wife and I got to do our annual “Grandparents’ Breakfast” at The Granddaughters’ school.
[Previously known as The Grandkids, they’ve been assigned a new moniker as The Wife and I have been blessed with THREE grandsons since the last time I filled in here.
Grandson number one came as part of a package deal when The Middle Son got married on Dauphin Island this last May.
Yeah, I ended up back on Dauphin Island again. I’ve stopped saying I’m never going back, because Karma just loves a good practical joke. A co-worker suggested I just go ahead and buy a burial plot down there since that seems to be where I‘m going to end up!
Grandson number two was born in August to The Youngest Son and his fiancée, and numero tres showed up in September a week ahead of schedule for The Middle Son and his new bride.]
We were down to one grandkid as the older sister was home sick, but it was still a good time. Despite all of the changes we’re seeing as the Wisdom of Crowds starts to seep in to the culture regarding nutrition, I’m sorry to report that not much seems to have changed on the school menu front compared to the first time we did this a couple of years ago (see here). Bottom line is carbs are still cheap when you’re feeding a village.
I didn’t see the MyPlate poster this year, but this one was still on the wall:
Yep, remember when we were kids and constantly had to be watching out for our schoolmates keeling over from hypoglycemia?
Yeah, me neither. We didn’t really have to deal with it back in the day because one of the main causes, as stated on the poster, is from “too much insulin or diabetes medicine,” and kids didn’t have really have Type II diabetes back in the day. It was called “Adult Onset” because that’s when you got it.
So the Granddaughter picked out her breakfast, and we sat down to visit. We passed on the food offerings and just went for the coffee. Here she is with her plate:
So, a donut (obviously known not to be health food), a healthy box of orange juice, a healthy zero fat carton of chocolate milk, and a healthy wrapper of apple slices.
After leaving (and getting a McMuffin sans muffin top for breakfast), I went ahead and did a little research on the nutritional breakdown of our darling’s meal (sorry about the spacing!):
Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Protein (g)
Donut 260 31 14 3
Choc Milk 110 20 0 8
OJ 60 14 0 1
Apple Slices 35 9 0 0
TOTAL 465 74 14 12
est calories 296 126 48
% of total cal 64% 27% 11%
So WOW. Two things — the donut could just be the healthiest thing on The Granddaughter’s plate(!) as it’s at least got some fat for her brain. But not the good kind, I’m guessing. The other thing is that the composition of carbs, fat, and protein are pretty much right in line with the SAD nutritional guidelines. WINNING! Or, to put it in perspective, the public schools think this much sugar is about the right amount for a grade school kid’s breakfast:
(74 grams of sugar)
Sure, she could’ve skipped the donut, but the alternative would’ve been a bowl of cereal. No bacon and eggs on the menu.
I’m hoping maybe with the seismic political upheaval we’ve had that maybe we can start getting the Michelle Obama/The Anointed effect out of school menus. I don’t expect the kids are going to start getting meals like the Obama’s kids did at Sidwell, but it’s kind of sad to think that if we went back to when the Reagan administration got blasted for counting ketchup as a vegetable, it would be a yuuge improvement! I’m not hopeful, but after November 9th, who knows what the heck can happen, no?
Good to be back — see you in the comments.
The Older Brother
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I don’t have much time to sit down and read an actual book. When I do read the old-fashioned way, it’s usually a book someone sent me to review on the blog. Hey, I like reading and reviewing those books, but I don’t want to be limited to them. There are more fascinating books that have already been published than I could read in a thousand years … and while I plan on living to a ripe old age, a thousand years seems overly optimistic.
Since driving to and from work takes a big chunk of each week, I make the commute useful by listening to books I don’t have time to sit and read. My Audible.com library online shows that I’ve downloaded 25 books so far this year. Yup, that sounds about right, a book every other week or so. I like a variety of genres: history, economics, psychology, and of course fiction. I’m a big fan of mysteries by Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly.
I rarely listen to books on diet and health, but I often find myself connecting ideas from audiobooks to the topics I cover on the blog. (I also find myself slapping the steering wheel and grumbling aloud when a fiction writer refers to foods like bacon and eggs as “artery-clogging.” Kellerman does that on a fairly regular basis.)
Last week, I posted Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay about what he calls the Intellectual Yet Idiot – a description very much like Thomas Sowell’s description of The Anointed, the term I adopted for the blog. These are the people who think they know better than the rest of us and thus feel qualified to impose their Grand Plans on us. Think U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
Based on recommendations from readers in comments, I listened to three of Taleb’s books in the past year: The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile. I don’t remember exactly which idea came which book, but I do remember that much of what he wrote applies to health and the health sciences.
One reason Taleb is so critical of the Intellectual Yet Idiot types is that (as he explained in all three books) human beings don’t know what they don’t know and are thus lousy at predicting future consequences. They don’t consider the rare or black-swan event that can cause everything to blow up or go sideways. So they make Grand Plans and 10-year forecasts that are nearly always wrong – way wrong.
As he explained in one of the books (I believe it was Antifragile), that’s why he considers centralization (especially a big, centralized government) dangerous. Centralization amplifies mistakes. Instead of small groups experimenting with their own ideas and producing results others can learn from, we get one plan and one set of results for everyone – often bad results.
Once again, think about those Dietary Guidelines. Back in the day, people decided which foods were good for them based on something like the Wisdom of Crowds. They learned from their grandmothers, their coaches, their friends, and perhaps their doctors – most of whom were speaking from experience.
Then for some reason, The Anointed decided we needed a national nutrition policy. Medical protocols, school lunch programs, nutrition labels on foods, you name it, they were all based on federal guidelines that told us saturated fat is bad, cholesterol causes heart disease, and grains are good for us. Those guidelines were a mistake – and centralization amplified the mistake. The national policy produced a national disaster for health.
Taleb also has rather a lot to say about education and experts. Many of us believe (because we were taught to believe) that most scientific knowledge comes from academics toiling in universities. They produce the pure science, then tinkerers and entrepreneurs put that pure science to practical use.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, according to Taleb. More often, it’s the tinkerers who produce new knowledge. They tinker and tinker and find something new that works. Then the academics come along and figure out why it works. Then they run off and write their papers. As Taleb explains, it’s not necessary to understand exactly why something works to know that it does, in fact, work. For example, the guys who invented the jet engine couldn’t explain the physics. They just knew they’d tinkered their way into something that worked. Academics figured out the physics of the thing later.
I of course related that back to diet and health while listening. Think of all the dietary wisdom our ancestors carried with them. They knew they should feed their growing kids saturated fats and cholesterol. They knew they should eat fermented foods. They knew they should eat organ meats. If you asked your great-grandmother which foods make people fat, she probably would have blamed sugar and flour, not butter and lard.
Could these people cite scientific papers to support their beliefs about diet? Not likely. But they knew what works. I believe that’s an important lesson for all of us: it’s more important to find and adopt what works than to read all the science.
The “settled” science, is of course, often wrong. Taleb points out several examples in his books. I was reminded of further examples in two books by David McCullough, The Wright Brothers and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were master tinkerers. They were also geniuses. When they began designing their first airplane, they consulted the established books on physics and aeronautics. They were dismayed to discover that much of the “settled” science was clearly wrong. It didn’t hold up to their own tests and measurements. So they had to toss the books and tinker their way into finding what worked.
The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by another genius named John Roebling. The bridge was a mammoth undertaking, and when Roebling submitted his plans, some society of learned engineers in New York City published a long article explaining why his design would never work. The bridge would fall down, you see. The experts cited plenty of science to explain why.
The bridge not only didn’t fall down, it now easily withstands the weight of countless cars and trucks – despite being designed for pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. The society of learned experts was wrong, despite their scientific citations.
Does that remind you at all of current dietary science?
Another book that reminded me of diet and health topics despite not being about diet and health was Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini. (I know, the title makes it sound like a book on marketing and sales. Trust me, it’s more about psychology.)
One major point the authors make is that warning people about a problem without also providing a solution that works is pointless – unless your goal is to make people depressed. In fact, if you regularly offer warnings without workable solutions, people will just avoid you.
That made me think of all the morons who believe we can fat-shame people into losing weight. Doctors need to more aggressive in telling people they’re overweight, ya see (according to some health official the U.K., if memory serves.) We need to make it socially unacceptable, blah-blah-blah.
Warning people that being overweight will kill them doesn’t provide a solution. Telling them to just cut calories or go on low-fat diets also isn’t a solution for most of them. So if health officials convince doctors to be more aggressive in telling people to lose weight (i.e., engage in white-coat fat-shaming), what do think will happen? Well, studies have already shown what will happen: people who can’t lose weight will stop going to the doctor to avoid the lectures. Someone please inform Meme Roth.
The book also explains that many people are persuaded by what the authors call social proof. If everyone else seems to believe something, they’ll believe it … even if logic and experience should tell them otherwise.
I think it’s safe to say that social proof had a lot to do with the low-fat diet craze. The government experts told us we should be on low-fat diets, major media began promoting the idea, and eventually everyone seemed to believe it. Watch reruns of TV shows from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I guarantee you’ll hear references to arterycloggingsaturatedfat! I’ve noticed at least a dozen of those references while watching Seinfeld reruns.
I like to think of myself as someone not persuaded by social proof, but apparently I am – or at least I was then. I kept trying low-fat diets, despite feeling lousy and not losing any weight. Everyone says this is a healthy diet, so it must be a healthy diet! I hope I’ve become less easily persuaded as I’ve gotten older. I’ve certainly become more skeptical of experts and authorities.
But I also believe social proof can work both ways. Not everyone has the time or inclination to experiment with different diets or look into the research, so many just follow the herd. If the herd is moving towards paleo, or low-carb, or gluten-free, that’s not a bad result.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to leave the office and drive home while listing to a Jonathan Kellerman novel. I hope he doesn’t make any cracks about bacon and eggs clogging our arteries.
I’ll be taking Thanksgiving week off from both work and blogging. Jimmy and Christine Moore will be visiting, and when I’m not socializing or playing disc golf with Jimmy, Chareva and I will put in extra time on the book. I’ve asked The Older Brother to take over the Fat Head chair if the mood strikes him.
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Geez, time flies. Blink twice, and it’s another birthday.
In two years, I’ll be 60. I remember when 60 sounded old. Maybe it is, but I predict I won’t feel old. I’m 58 today, and I feel better than I did at 35. No arthritis in the shoulder, no psoriasis on the back of my head, no bouts of mild asthma, no gastric reflux, no belly aches, no restless legs or mysterious backaches at night.
I should probably send Morgan Spurlock a thank-you card. Super Size Me annoyed me, which inspired the idea for Fat Head, which led to me learning a lot more about diet and health than I’d ever planned to know. None of this — the film, the blog, the little farm in rural Tennessee, the upcoming book — was what I envisioned 20 years ago, which just proves the universe had better plans for my life than I did.
We had the family celebration on Saturday night. Tonight I’m just going to kick back and watch Monday Night Football and enjoy feeling alive and healthy and optimistic about the next 50 years.
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