The Farm Report: If You Order A Spring Project Right Now, We’ll DOUBLE Your Order!

If you’re a longtime follower of the blog, you can probably look at the photo above and guess that Chareva and I are starting another spring project. You’d be right. I found this a bit surprising because we already have a spring project: fencing in the entire back of the property to give the dogs a big ol’ space to explore.

But as you can see from the photos of the rooster and two of our punk-rocker hens, the current chicken yard isn’t exactly a grassy paradise anymore. They need fresh ground. They also need not to get killed when we move them to fresh ground, which means getting the old chicken yards up to snuff. So we added a spring project to our spring project.

Let me back up and report on the progress of Spring Project #1 first. Some weeks ago, we took a break from that project to give the dogs a bigger yard. Actually, we gave them a bigger yard again. When this ginormous tree fell, it destroyed the fence that penned in the side yard.

To keep the dogs out of the now-open side yard, we quickly threw up a barrier that looked like it was designed by Jethro Clampett.  It was a (ahem) “temporary” fix that’s been in place for months.

Now that we’re flush with t-posts and cattle panels and other fine fencing materials, we decided to spend a day constructing a fence that pens in most of the side yard again, minus the section covered by the ginormous tree. (Cutting that tree into firewood will be yet another project later this year.)  The dogs now have a bigger area to roam while we prepare a huge area to roam.

With that mini-project out of the way, we returned to fencing in the back of the property. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a line of t-posts running along much of our property line, but the jungle had grown up and around it. So the first task for me was getting out the chainsaw and hacking down spindly trees and not-so-spindly vines clinging to them.

Then I cut the trees into firewood. The logs will need to sit in the barn until next winter, of course.

In the picture above, Chareva is standing pretty much at the corner of the property. Over the next weekend, we managed to put up cattle panels all the way to that corner. The shot below is from the corner, looking back towards the creek where this project started.

The next section of the fence will run along the property behind the house. If you squint, you might see the line of t-posts that have been sitting there since we bought the place. Or you might not, thanks to the spindly trees and vines.

Clearing the area around the t-posts required a combination of the chainsaw and The Beast.

That’s as far as we got before Chareva reminded me the chickens need fresh ground. So we set aside Spring Project #1 for Spring Project #2.

As you may recall, the current chicken yard was an emergency project back in 2017 when our chickens kept disappearing and I couldn’t figure out how the @#$% a critter was getting inside to kill them. (Turned out he was living under the coop, in case you missed that one.)

Because it was the third chicken yard we built, we finally got it right. No critter has ever gotten inside. But security aside, it’s just a much more pleasant space. In the old chicken yards, despite my efforts to raise the nets, I had to stoop over. Trust me, it’s no fun trying to manhandle a bucking tiller while half-crouched. When we built the newest yard, it finally occurred to us to stack one fence on top of another, string paracord across the whole yard, and raise the nets nice and high.

We’ve also gotten smarter about our building techniques. Back when we built the first two chicken yards, I thought I’d figured out a great solution for raising poles: stick the pole in a bucket of concrete, let the concrete dry, then dig a hole and bury the bucket. Brilliant!

Later it occurred to one of us (probably Chareva) that we could simply pound a t-post into the ground, then strap the pole to the t-post with plumber straps. We don’t lose a foot of the pole’s height underground, and it’s easy to move … just pull up the t-post.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

So the start of Spring Project #2 for me was digging up the old poles. I may have uttered a few ancient curses known only to small-time farmers, but I don’t remember.

To tighten plumber straps to t-posts during our previous projects, I originally used a screwdriver. I did that more times than I’d like to admit. At some point last year, it occurred to me that a 5/16” socket fits nicely over the nut that tightens the strap.  (In my defense, that stupid nut also has a slot for a flat-head screwdriver. Coulda fooled anyone.)  So I began using a socket wrench, which was somewhat more efficient.

For this project, it finally occurred to me that I should be using a cordless drill. Okay, it occurred me to after Chareva mentioned I should be using a cordless drill and called her brother Alex to ask which kind of cordless drill to buy. I bought the one he told her to buy. Alex is young enough to be my son, but he’s already spent more time using tools than I’ll spend in my lifetime.

Ahhhhh, the joy of using the right tool for the job. Tightening a plumber strap with a socket wrench goes something like this: crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank.

With the cordless drill, tightening a plumber strap goes something like this: zzziiip.

Thanks to zzziip, we got all the poles for the outer perimeter up in no time.

The next job was adding that second level of fencing. I couldn’t remember exactly how we went about it in 2017, so I decided to just re-engineer the whole process. I suggested a couple of plans requiring ropes, scaffolding, pulleys, winches and a diesel-powered engine.

Chareva proposed simply resting the new fence against the existing fence, clipping them together, then flipping up the new layer. She even waved around some fancy tool that would squeeze little metal rings into place to clip the fences together. It looked like this:

In my head, I did several calculations involving the weight and length of the fence, the strength of the clips, the current wind velocity, etc., and explained to her why trying to flip up a long, wobbly fence almost certainly wouldn’t work.  We’d need at least a six-person crew to hold the thing in place and keep it from flipping back down.

She said she wanted to try anyway, and because I’m a good husband, I decided to indulge her.

So after she finished clipping the fences together, we flipped the new fence up and into position. I prepared myself for the sound of those little clips snapping apart and the sight of the new fence falling down and rolling itself up.

It ended up looking something like this:

In my defense, one of the clips did snap. Really, it did. On that section of fence, anyway. When she clipped together the next 45-foot section of fence and we flipped it up into position, nothing snapped.  After each section was flipped up, Chareva secured it to the poles with aluminum ties. My job was to hold the ladder.  And not say anything.

For the rest of the weekend, any time I disagreed with her about anything, she simply said, “Fence clips.”

And we still have a project and a half to go.

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My Heart’s All A-Flutter! The Anointed, The Wisdom Of Crowds, And Another Stupid Study

Years ago, I read an interview with a researcher who said something like, “If you want to study the migratory patterns of squirrels and you name your proposed study The migratory patterns of squirrels, you won’t get funding. But if you name your proposed study How global warming is impacting the migratory patterns of squirrels, you will get funding.”

By this point, it’s safe to say something similar applies to the world of nutrition studies. If you want to get funding, you need to propose a study named something like Low-Carb Diet Is Linked To [Some Bad Thing]. The Anointed and their pals in the Save The Grains Campaign have apparently decided that the best use of scientific (ahem) “research” is to scare people away from low-carb and ketogenic diets. So we keep seeing one stupid study after another claiming to find a link (sort of) between some ailment and a low-carb (sort of, but not really) diet.

The latest came out last week and generated headlines like Low-carb diets linked to atrial fibrillation (news-medical.net), Low-carb diets linked to heart rhythm issues, study says (New York Post) and Low-Carb Diets Linked to Higher Odds for A-Fib (US News). In case you didn’t quite grasp that a low-carb diet will kill your heart, some articles featured a graphic like this:

Boy, that’s scary. Best reach for the bread as quickly as possible.  Here are some quotes from the news-medical article:

Low-carb diets are all the rage, but can cutting carbohydrates spell trouble for your heart? People getting a low proportion of their daily calories from carbohydrates such as grains, fruits and starchy vegetables are significantly more likely to develop atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common heart rhythm disorder, according to a study being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session.

The study, which analyzed the health records of nearly 14,000 people spanning more than two decades, is the first and largest to assess the relationship between carbohydrate intake and AFib. With AFib, a type of arrhythmia, the heart doesn’t always beat or keep pace the way it should, which can lead to palpitations, dizziness and fatigue. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than people without the condition. It can also lead to heart failure.

And a quote from USA Today:

Keto, Paleo, Atkins — there’s no shortage of low-carb diets to try, but new research suggests that over time, living low-carb can raise your risk of a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, or a-fib.

And a quote from The New York Post:

Carb-crunching weight loss trends like keto, paleo and the old-school Atkin’s diet are linked to a higher chance of developing atrial fibrillation, according to new research to presented March 16-18 at the American College of Cardiology‘s 68th annual Scientific Session.

Well, there you have it: a low-carb or ketogenic diet can cause atrial fibrillation. Obviously, the researchers noticed this among people following ketogenic diets, the Atkins diet and paleo diets. Thank goodness they reported their finding in time to save our hearts.

But wait … let’s put on our Science For Smart People hats and ask some questions about this study:

Q: Is this a clinical study or an observational study?

To answer that, let’s quote from the news-medical article again:

Researchers drew data from Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC), a study overseen by the National Institutes of Health that ran from 1985-2016.

Study participants were asked to report their daily intake of 66 different food items in a questionnaire. The researchers used this information along with the Harvard Nutrient Database to estimate each participant’s daily carbohydrate intake and the proportion of daily calories that came from carbohydrates.

It’s an observational study based on food questionnaires — which are so unreliable, some people report a total calorie intake that would cause unpleasant side-effects … such as starving to death. As a reminder, here’s what a food questionnaire looks like:

Over the last 12 months, how often did you eat the following foods? (Ignore any recent changes.)

Whole milk (4%), NOT in coffee, NOT on cereal: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than ½ cup | ½ to 1 cup | more than 1 cup.

Breads or dinner rolls, NOT INCLUDING ON SANDWICHES: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 slice or roll | 1 or 2 slices or rolls | more than 2 slices or rolls.

Ground beef in mixtures such as tacos, burritos, meatballs, casseroles, chili, meatloaf: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 3 ounces | 3 to 7 ounces | more than 7 ounces.

People simply don’t count and measure and remember their meals accurately enough to answer a food questionnaire honestly. So they take a wild-ass guess. We can already dismiss this study and go home. But let’s continue anyway …

Q: What was the actual difference?

We’ll quote from the news-medical article again:

Of the nearly 14,000 people who did not have AFib when they enrolled in the study, researchers identified nearly 1,900 participants who were subsequently diagnosed with AFib during an average of 22 years of follow-up.

Participants reporting low carbohydrate intake were the most likely to develop AFib. These participants were 18 percent more likely to develop AFib than those with moderate carbohydrate.

I did a bit of number-crunching in Excel. According to what the researchers are telling us, 13.5 out of every 100 people on a moderate carbohydrate diet developed AFib over the 22 years. In the “low” carbohydrate group, an 18 percent increase would translate to roughly 15.3 people out of every 100. We’ll call it an extra two people out of every 100 over a 22-year span.

But that’s within the study group. Doing a bit of research online, I found that roughly 3.4 out of every 100 adults over age 35 has AFib. If the incidence increased by 18% for people on a “low” carbohydrate diet, the number would be 4.0 out of every 100 adults. So the actual difference is less than one person in a hundred.

There’s a reason I’ve been putting “low” carbohydrate in quotes, however, which leads to our final question:

Q: Compared to what?

This is where it gets fun. Remember what the news articles told us:

Keto, Paleo, Atkins — there’s no shortage of low-carb diets to try … Low-carb diets are all the rage, but can cutting carbohydrates spell trouble for your heart? … Carb-crunching weight loss trends like keto, paleo and the old-school Atkin’s diet are linked to a higher chance of developing atrial fibrillation …

Now let’s look at what the researchers actually compared:

Researchers then divided participants into three groups representing low, moderate and high carbohydrate intake, reflecting diets in which carbohydrates comprised less than 44.8 percent of daily calories, 44.8 to 52.4 percent of calories, and more than 52.4 percent of calories, respectively.

Yup, the “low” carbohydrate diet was anything less than 44.8 percent of daily calories. Boy, doesn’t that sound just like your ketogenic or Atkins diet?

I guess the researchers took their cue from Harvard’s Dr. Frank Sucks … er, Sacks: just raise the bar on what “low” carbohydrate means until you get the association you want to find, then alert the media to the dangers of skipping bread and cereal. Here’s what this crop of researchers had to say:

“The long-term effect of carbohydrate restriction is still controversial, especially with regard to its influence on cardiovascular disease,” cardiologist and lead study author Dr. Xiaodong Zhuang tells News-Medical.net reports. “Considering the potential influence on arrhythmia, our study suggests this popular weight control method should be recommended cautiously.”

I’ll be cautious, Dr. Zhuang. I promise I won’t start consuming a diet that’s 44 percent carbohydrate. I’ll stick with 15-20 percent.

The Anointed obviously believe they can scare us away from low-carb diets with crappy studies. That’s because they still believe information flows like this, as I explained in my recent speech on Diet, Health and The Wisdom of Crowds:

From The Anointed on high, down to us little people below. But that’s not how it works anymore. Information flows like this now:

To underscore the point, here are some comments people left on the news-medical article online:

My wife and I went on the keto diet about 2 years ago and she lost 50 lbs and her heart atrial fibrillation went way completely…I read all kinds of negative so-called studies on the keto diet but we have experienced nothing but great health improvements!

First off this is a questionnaire study (horribly inaccurate) and low carb is anything under 45% of calories from carbohydrates. A ketogenic diet is at most 10% of energy from carbs.

My diabetes went away and so did my high blood pressure. They’re always trying to trick us into going back to the pill farm.

Another day, another shady anti-keto story. Ho-hum. Could it be that big corporations that sell carb-laden food products are panicking over the popularity of the keto diet

Everybody in the study was consuming a high carb diet, less than 44% is still high, keto is 5-10%. The only conclusion from this “study” is that possibly high carb diets cause AFib (1900/14000 = 13.5%), as there are no participants in a low carb diet.

The moment I read the carb % breakdown as well as this being an observational study I new it was the same garbage we have been reading about for years.

This is getting really absurd and annoying. There is nothing wrong with Keto.

Just another ploy to get people to stop doing Keto.

While eating carbs /sugars I would go into atachacardia more than once a month (freaky and terrifying). I’ve been strict keto for 9 months, down 50lbs, no joint pain, and no episodes of fluttering!! Don’t believe this.

They just can’t fool us like they used to, because in the internet age, we can share our experiences with each other like never before … which is why the information also flows like this now:

And when studies like this hit the news, that’s the proper response.

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Fat Head Kids … The Kindle Version

Fat Head Kids is finally available for Kindle … and it’s just $9.99.

Here’s the link for Amazon U.S. … and for Amazon U.K. … and for Amazon Australia.

When we released the printed book back in 2017, I thought we’d have a Kindle version ready fairly soon. Nope. I was quite focused on getting the film version done, so Chareva’s time was taken up with creating illustrations I could animate in After Effects.

When she did turn her attention to creating a Kindle version, it was more work than either of us anticipated. When creating the printed version in Adobe InDesign, she designed quite a few two-page spreads. She also created graphics specifically to wrap text around them.

A Kindle doesn’t know what a two-page spread is. And while it’s theoretically possible to wrap text around an image, we discovered it doesn’t work so well in practice. People can change both the font and the font size on their Kindle readers – not to mention choose to view pages vertically or horizontally – which makes the placement of a wraparound graphic relative to the text unpredictable.

Consequently, Chareva had the privilege of laying out the book in Adobe InDesign all over again, pretty much from scratch. She had to take the graphics from her two-page spreads and break them up or otherwise redesign them to work as in-line graphics.

I may be biased, but I went through the book using my iPad’s Kindle Reader, and I think she did a terrific job of re-creating the feel of the printed version within the limitations a Kindle imposes on the layout.

We’ve heard the printed version is difficult to come by in some countries because of shipping costs or other restrictions. I believe the Kindle version will be close to the equivalent of $9.99 U.S. pretty much everywhere – with no shipping costs, of course.

If you haven’t picked up the book yet, consider giving the Kindle version a look.

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Tweedle Dee And Twitter Dumb

      51 Comments on Tweedle Dee And Twitter Dumb

To borrow a phrase from Forrest Gump, Twitter is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.

For example, there’s a particular troll on Twitter who automatically dislikes anything I tweet or write here on the blog – and yet he follows me on Twitter and reads the blog, presumably as some form of penance. Among other odd attacks, he once took to lecturing me about my writing style. I replied that I don’t take writing advice from a guy with a blog hardly anyone reads and who can barely scare up a following on Twitter. At that point, he accused me of writing controversial tweets simply to gin up retweets.

Oh, if only I were blessed with such powers of prediction. I have no idea which tweets are going to generate a buzz. I’m reminded of an interview I read years ago with songwriter Paul Simon. He explained that he’s written songs he was convinced were sure-fire hits, only to see them barely dent the charts, while other songs he considered far from his best became chart-toppers. Nobody can predict what’s going to be popular, he explained.

When I tweeted a link to my post about the Harvard study on push-ups and CVD risk, I honestly didn’t expect much beyond the usual number of replies, retweets, etc. Wrong. Lots and lots of people wanted to comment on or argue about that one.

I’m all in favor of Twitter debates, of course. I just wish people who apparently can’t comprehend plain English would remain on the sidelines. As the number of arguments grew, someone with a sense of humor commented that sooner or later, people on Twitter would be accusing me of saying I’m against push-ups.

Yes, that would fit the usual Twitter pattern. Fortunately, it wasn’t the Full Twitter Pattern. To be the Full Twitter Pattern, it would have to go something like this:

  • A few people post tweets accusing me of being against push-ups.
  • Other people chime in to demand I apologize for my anti-push-up stance.
  • Still other people who can do a lot of push-ups decide I’m belittling them and offer to meet me anytime, anywhere and kick my ass because I’m obviously a wimp who can’t do 40 push-ups.
  • Someone eventually tweets that Donald Trump doesn’t do push-ups either.
  • Someone else then tweets that she saw me wearing a MAGA hat while working outdoors on the farm.
  • Celebrities and celebrity wannabes, anxious to demonstrate their moral superiority, tweet that my anti-push-ups attitude is obviously racist, and I don’t do push-ups as a way to flaunt my white privilege.
  • Someone else then points out that the Harvard study’s leader author is named Justin Yang, and I’m clearly belittling the study and telling people not to do push-ups because I don’t like Asians.
  • Reza Aslan posts my picture and tweets Honest question: have you ever seen a more punchable face?
  • Kathy Griffin tweets (in all caps) YOU KNOW THIS RACIST MOTHERF@#$%*R WOULDN’T HESITATE TO DOXX ON YOU, SO SOMEBODY POST HIS REAL NAME AND ADDRESS! – presumably so the forces of good could show up at my door to express their goodness by engaging in physical violence and/or making life a living hell for my family.
  • CNN and The Washington Post jump into the fray with articles about a growing movement of extremists who are racist, sexist, homophobic and opposed to push-ups, identifying me as a leader of the movement.
  • After people blessed with both consciences and brains post clips of my previous tweets to prove I’ve never actually stated any opposition to push-ups, CNN and the Washington Post write new articles explaining that the situation is “more nuanced” than originally believed.
  • Finally, CNN, the Washington Post and other fine examples of journalist ethics write commentary explaining that while the story about my racist, sexist, anti-push-up tirade may not have been factually true, their rush to judgment was entirely understandable — because the real issue here is that people believed the story could have been true, which is a sad, sad, sad indication of how many Americans have become racist, sexist, homophobic and opposed to push-ups in just the past three years.

The Full Twitter Pattern didn’t happen, of course. But most of us who post on Twitter eventually run into what I’m now calling the Four Types of Twitter Dumb:

1) Those who argue about something you didn’t actually say – but they’re convinced you did for no apparent reason.

Now and then I reply to arguments with something like I’m sorry you struggle with reading and comprehension. That’s because Twitter Dumb will argue vigorously against a point you never made – and continue arguing against the point you never made even after you explain you never made it.

Let’s suppose you post a tweet about the benefits of eating meat. The odds are pretty good Twitter Dumb will show up and demand to know why you’re opposed to eating vegetables.

So you reply that you’ve never opposed eating vegetables. Twitter Dumb will never, ever admit making a mistake (see type #4), so he’ll reply that you’re obviously opposed to eating vegetables. After shaking your head and wondering how this opinion ever found its way into Twitter Dumb’s brain, you ask Twitter Dumb to please cite the post or tweet where you expressed this obvious opposition to vegetables.

Twitter Dumb will, of course, ignore that direct challenge – Twitter Dumb routinely ignores direct challenges that would prove him wrong. Instead, Twitter Dumb will begin firing off tweet after tweet with links to articles about the benefits of eating vegetables … thus continuing to argue against a position you never took. If you are silly enough to reply, the stream of pro-vegetable tweets will go on for days.

After I tweeted a link to my Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds speech, Twitter Dumb showed up to argue vigorously against my “anti-vaccination views.” I explained to Twitter Dumb that I’ve never taken a stance on vaccinations either way. Twitter Dumb replied that I gave that speech at a Weston A. Price event, so therefore I’m obviously an anti-vaxxer. Twitter Dumb then continued to berate me for all the children who were going to get sick and die because of my endorsement of anti-vaxxers. Recognizing what I was dealing with, I ended blocking Twitter Dumb in that case.

When I tweeted about the Harvard push-ups study, a surprising number of people replied that by gosh, my criticism was unfounded because Harvard never actually claimed push-ups prevent heart disease. That true. It’s also true that I never claimed that Harvard claimed push-ups prevent heart disease. Harvard did claim, however, that they’d demonstrated the number of push-ups men can perform is a useful assessment of CVD risk – which simply isn’t true if you look at their data.

I explained this to Twitter Dumb, who nonetheless continued to insist I’d unfairly criticized the study … because by gosh, Harvard had never claimed push-ups prevent heart disease, so why the heck was I criticizing them?

2) Those who argue that nobody should listen to you if you don’t have an impressive-sounding title.

Anytime I criticize a study, the odds are pretty good Twitter Dumb will show up and tweet something like, Oh yeah, I’m really going listen to a comedian instead of doctors and PhDs. Amazingly, every time Twitter Dumb makes this comment, he thinks he’s making it for the first time and is being rip-roaringly clever.

Of course, I’m not “just” a comedian. I’m also a software engineer who deals with math and logic for a living. Observational studies put out by Harvard aren’t sacred scrolls that can only be decoded by wizards with the magic keys. Anyone with access to the study can review the numbers and see if they support the researchers’ conclusions.

As I’ve tried to explain to Twitter Dumb many times, math and logic don’t care about the title of the person who employs them. My degree is in journalism, which means according to the Title Is Everything crowd, I shouldn’t be working as a programmer. And yet I am — because my employers care about my actual abilities, not my college degree.

So when Twitter Dumb points out that I’m “just” a comedian, I reply that if my critique is wrong, he can easily prove it by citing the mathematical or logical mistake in my analysis instead of comparing titles.

Twitter Dumb never accepts this challenge. Instead, Twitter Dumb offers replies like this (which I’ve quoted directly): That title usually comes with LOTS of applicable education that was earned.

Ah, I see. A Harvard PhD has LOTS of applicable education that was earned, and therefore his conclusions must be correct even if actual data says otherwise.

I’ve often wondered where this desire to simply believe people with impressive titles comes from. I can only conclude that it’s a form of insecurity. Some people simply want the authorities to be correct … because if the authorities can be wrong, we have to accept the burden of thinking for ourselves.

Unfortunately, history tells us authorities are indeed often wrong, and sometimes intentionally dishonest. As I’ve mentioned before, my college physics professor told us to learn math no matter what our career plans were, because “math is how you know when they’re lying to you.” Granted, I was in his class more than 40 years ago, but I’m pretty sure didn’t tell us our math could only be correct if we acquired a fancy title first.

3) Those who are wrong but can’t persuaded they’re wrong because they have the logical-thinking capacity of a turnip.

Twitter Dumb showed up several times to insist the Harvard push-up study is meaningful because the guys who could do more than 41 push-ups had far fewer heart attacks than the guys who could do 10 or fewer. I tried explaining several times that after adjusting for age, the difference was not statistically significant. It says so right there in the study. That tells us the capacity to do push-ups was mostly just a marker for age.

Twitter Dumb replied several times by pointing (again) to the raw data. Terms like “adjusted for age” and “not statistically significant” apparently don’t mean anything to Twitter Dumb, who kept repeating that push-ups are obviously a good way to assess cardiovascular risk, just as Harvard told us, because the guys who could do more push-ups had fewer heart attacks.

So I pointed out that among the men who could do 21-30 push-ups, the rate of cardiovascular events was 2.3%, while among the group that could do 31-40 push-ups, the rate of cardiovascular events was 3.5%. If we believe the data is solid and meaningful, that means men who can do 31-40 push-ups have a 50% higher risk of heart disease than men who can only do 21-30 push-ups. Does anyone actually think that’s true? No, of course not. But you can’t pick and choose which chunks of data you want to believe and which ones you don’t. The data is either meaningful, or it isn’t.  In this study, it clearly isn’t.

When I pointed out the 50% higher CVD rate among men who could do 31-40 push-ups vs. those who could only do 21-30, Twitter Dumb replied that he didn’t believe me. The reason? The authors of the study didn’t point out the difference themselves.

Ah, I see. Researchers who claim they discovered push-ups are a useful tool for assessing CVD risk didn’t point to the numbers that negated their claim. I guess that means the numbers don’t exist, even though they’re in the study tables for anyone to read. That’s Twitter Dumb logic for you.

This study reminded me of an observational study I once saw comparing meat consumption and cancer. In that study, cancer went up as meat consumption went up … but as meat consumption continued going up, the cancer rate went down. So what are we supposed to believe? That eating meat causes cancer unless you eat a lot of it?  No, the logical conclusion is that meat had no effect on cancer either way.  The numbers were just noise.

Same thing with the Harvard push-up study. If the rate of cardiovascular disease goes down, then sharply up, then sharply down again as men could perform more push-ups, that tells us push-ups are not, in fact, a useful measure of cardiovascular risk.

None of this logic had any effect on Twitter Dumb, who kept pointing to the (not statistically significant) difference in cardiovascular disease between the highest and lowest push-up groups.

4) Those who argue endlessly and absolutely refuse to admit they’re wrong even if you prove it.

Sometimes Twitter Dumb keeps arguing because he has the logical-thinking capacity of a turnip (see above). In fact, someone following one back-and-forth argument finally chimed in and replied to Twitter Dumb with Jesus effing Christ. You are literally too stupid to enter this discussion.

Heh-heh … yes, sometimes Twitter Dumb is like the tone-deaf person who can’t be convinced he sings off-key – because he’s tone deaf and therefore can’t hear that he’s off-key, so he refuses to believe he’s off-key. Illogical people can’t be convinced that they’re being illogical – because it takes a logical mind to recognize illogical thinking.

But other times, Twitter Dumb is actually an intelligent person who simply refuses to admit he got it wrong. He’s a walking, talking, tweeting example of the phenomenon described in the wonderful book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): once some people have taken a public position, they will defend it to the bitter end, even when proven wrong.

I don’t understand that mindset. Nobody knows everything there is to know about a subject, so everyone makes mistakes. The smart move is to admit those mistakes and move on. It’s not all that difficult to say, Sorry, looks like I got it wrong, thanks for pointing out the error.

I’ve been listening to Principles, written by Ray Dalio, who runs one of the world’s most successful investment firms. I’m not planning to become a Wall Street investor, but I wanted to know how this extraordinarily successful guy thinks.

Early in his career, Dalio lost a fortune (his money and his clients’ money) by being too confident in his own calculations. He had to lay off everyone at the firm, become its sole employee, and borrow money to stay afloat. That taught him a valuable lesson: always be willing to be proven wrong. In fact, he surrounds himself with people who are expected to challenge his strategies, his calculations, and his beliefs. All of his employees undergo training to learn to embrace having their beliefs challenged by others — which happens at regular company meetings.

Twitter Dumb would never make it as an employee of Dalio’s firm. When Twitter Dumb is proven wrong, absolutely and positively, he’ll either disappear from the conversation without admitting his mistake, or attempt to change the subject and continue arguing.

As you may recall, a doctor once chimed in on Twitter to deny that “hard-working, professional” dieticians would recommend pancakes to diabetics. I replied that a hard-working, professional dietician in a hospital had served pancakes (but no butter) to my diabetic father-in-law as a “heart-healthy” meal – a meal that caused his blood sugar to blow past 400.

Well, that’s just one dietician, the doctor insisted. It’s not typical.

So I tweeted direct quotes from articles by dieticians advising diabetics to eat 12 to 15 servings of “heart healthy” starchy foods per day. I also screen-capped menus from a bunch of hospitals – menus designed by hard-working, professional dieticians. The menus listed sugary cereals and pancakes under the “heart healthy” section. I tweeted one screen cap after another in my replies to the doctor. I suggested several times he just admit he’d gotten it wrong.

Nope. First he tried to turn it into an argument about whether I’d properly vetted the menus. (Apparently I was required to fly to the cities where the hospitals are located and check the menus in person.) Then he tried to turn it into an argument about whether I’d needlessly insulted the entire profession of dieticians. But he never admitted his original position – dieticians don’t serve pancakes as a “heart healthy” meal – was wrong, despite the proof. He finally disappeared from the conversation.

He’s a doctor, and (I hope) not dumb. But he’s Twitter Dumb. Twitter Dumb will never admit being wrong.

I’m grateful for social media because it’s enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish. Debates and disagreements among thoughtful people are part of the process that allows the good ideas to rise to the top. I did, in fact, hear from a couple of thoughtful people who disagreed with my take on the Harvard push-ups study. They weren’t Twitter Dumb.

I guess if we want the benefits of social media, we have to take the downside as well.  Hearing regularly from Twitter Dumb is one of the downsides.

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Pushups And Heart Attacks: The Usual Harvard Nonsense

I recently came across yet another example of why observational studies tend to suck. You’ve probably seen the headlines, like this one from USA today: Men Who Can Do More Than 40 Push-Ups Far Less Likely To Develop Heart Disease.

Let’s take a look at the article:

Here’s one way to predict your heart health: get down and give me 41. A new study finds that men who can perform at least 40 push-ups in one attempt are much less likely to suffer from heart disease within the next 10 years.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health say their report is the first to show how push-up capacity is linked to heart disease. They found that middle-aged men who can log more than 40 push-ups in a single try have a 96% reduced risk of developing the potentially deadly condition and other related ailments, such as heart failure, compared to those who can complete no more than 10 push-ups.

A 96% reduced risk?! Okay, guys, get on the floor and start doing push-ups! Having strong pecs and triceps obviously prevents heart disease!

I was of course suspicious when I saw this study came from the Harvard School of Public Health, which we ought to rename Meaningless Observational Studies R Us.  Sure, it’s a good idea to stay in shape, and exercise no doubt protects against heart disease to some extent. But a 96% reduction based on the ability to do more push-ups? Something doesn’t smell right.

In a speech I gave many years ago, I highlighted the weakness of observational studies by pointing out that men who are bald are much more likely to suffer a heart attack than men sporting a full head of hair. If we applied Harvard School of Public Health logic, we would assume baldness somehow causes heart disease. Eventually, we’d end up with products like this:

But of course, the reason bald men have more heart attacks is that men lose their hair as they get older. They’re also more likely to suffer a heart attack as they get older. So baldness is “linked” to heart disease. I suspected the push-up study was based on similar nonsense. If we dig into the data, we might find the “link” exists because younger men can do more push-ups. I’m sorry to say I was right.

Here’s more about the study from USA Today:

For their study, the authors reviewed health data from 1,104 active male firefighters taken annually from 2000 to 2010. At the start of the study, the average participant was about 40 years old with an average body mass index of 28.7. The firefighters were tasked with performing as many push-ups as they could, and their treadmill tolerance was also tested.

By the end of the study period, 37 participants suffered from a heart disease-related condition — and 36 of those men weren’t able to log more than 40 push-ups in the initial test.

The average participant was 40 years old. Uh-huh … now let’s look at a table from the study giving us more detail on those participants:

Well, how about that? The average participant may have been 40 years old, but the mean age of the firefighters who could do more than 40 push-ups was 35. Among those who could do 10 or fewer push-ups, the mean age was 48. Big shock. Men lose their ability to do push-ups as they age. If we start with a group of 35-year-olds and another group of 48-year-olds, which group is going to suffer more heart attacks during the next 10 years?

But that’s only part of what makes this a meaningless study. One of the greatest risk factors for suffering a heart attack is smoking. Take a look at the figures I highlighted at the bottom of the chart. Among the men who could do more than 40 push-ups, just 6.7% were current smokers when the study began. Among those who could do 10 or fewer push-ups, 24% were current smokers. Or to use a related bit of data, among the more than 40 push-ups group, 69% were non-smokers when the study began. Among the 10 or fewer group, only 45.3% were non-smokers.

In the study itself, the authors of course state they applied regression models to account for age and BMI, blah-blah-blah. Interestingly, they don’t mention applying a regression model to account for smoking. Or perhaps they did, but chose not to mention the results.

In any case, just balancing for age and BMI presents a different picture:

Even after adjusting for age and BMI, we observed an independent association of push-up capacity with CVD outcomes. Increased capacity was associated with a lower risk for CVD outcomes, with the comparison of the 21- to 30-push-ups group vs the 0- to 10-push-up group being statistically significant (hazard ratio, 0.25; 95% CI 0.08-0.76), although the other group comparisons did not reach statistical significance.

Adjust for age and BMI (again, no mention of adjusting for smoking), and the only significant difference in push-ups vs. heart disease is between the 10 push-ups or fewer group and the 21 to 30 push-ups group. So much for that 96% reduction in heart attacks for men who can do more than 40 push-ups vs. men who can’t do more than 10.

This study doesn’t actually tell us diddly about the ability to do push-ups versus the likelihood of developing heart disease. It simply tells us that younger men and men who don’t smoke are less likely to develop heart disease during the next 10 years.  And by the way, they can also do more push-ups. Duh. And yet in the media articles, we get quotes like this:

“Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” says the study’s first author, Justin Yang, an occupational medicine resident at the school.

No, your findings provide evidence that observational studies from Harvard are usually meaningless garbage dressed up as science.  It’s a wonder anyone keeps funding these turkeys.

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On the Aligned Life Podcast With Dr. Devin Shea And Rachel Freeman

I was recently a guest on the Aligned Life Podcast with Dr. Devin Shea and Rachel Freeman.  We talked about Fat Head Kids, of course, and other topics.  You can listen to the episode here.

Rachel warned me in an email that the audio at their end had some little pops, but my answers were unaffected.  Sure, I heard a few pops in the audio, but you can clearly hear their comments and questions, so no big deal.

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