Experts and Education

      30 Comments on Experts and Education

I’ll be spending tonight trying to finish up a system for one of those companies that hired me as a programmer despite my glaring lack of credentials, so this will be relatively short.  But my post(s) about experts and college degrees sparked a lot of comments, so I want to toss a few more of my own thoughts into the mix.

I went to college and I’m glad I did, but I haven’t used my degree for much of anything.  I worked at a small magazine for four years, and the degree in journalism no doubt helped me land that job, but journalism classes didn’t turn me into a writer.  Writing turned me into a writer.  I switched my major to journalism after I’d already landed a job with the college paper as a features reporter — and I landed that job because I applied for it shortly after winning a campus fiction contest sponsored by the newspaper.  My major at the time was psychology.

Since leaving college, I’ve had a strange assortment of jobs.  Some freelance writing, playing bass in a couple of bands, acting in commercials and industrial films (long before I took an acting class), composing music for a few industrial films (all through MIDI tracks; I don’t read music and have no formal training), several years of standup comedy, software trainer, and finally computer programming — again, self-taught.

Given my work history, it’s no surprise I don’t believe the only way to develop a skill or acquire useful knowledge is to attend classes.  And history agrees with me.  I mentioned Thomas Edison in my post.  Others have pointed out that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are college dropouts.  Same goes for Alexander Graham Bell, whose early interests were art and music and who, according to his biographers, used to entertain his family and their guests with vocal impressions.  I guess he was just a comedian for awhile.

Much as I admire Thomas Jefferson, I believe the greatest American who ever lived was Benjamin Franklin.  I can’t think of anyone else who succeeded in so many fields:  printer, author, humorist, diplomat, statesman, scientist, and of course inventor.  In addition to inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, he was one of the top theorists and researchers of his day in the new field of electricity.  And he managed all this despite completing just two years of school.  (I’m currently reading his autobiography.)

All that being said, I’m not knocking formal education.  If I wanted to work in particle physics, I’d sure as heck attend a university and work towards a PhD.  Nor would I undergo an operation performed by a surgeon who hadn’t finished medical school, an internship, and residency. You get the idea.

My beef is with people who seem to believe experts with degrees should never be challenged by what my brother referred to as “the non-anointed.”  That’s utter hogwash.  Science belongs to everyone.  Math belongs to everyone.  Logic belongs to everyone. 

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned my college physics professor who told us, “Learn math.  Math is how you know when they’re lying to you.”  He said that as a guest lecturer in a humanities class.  This was a guy with PhDs in both physics and chemistry, but you’ll notice he didn’t tell us, “Learn math and then get a PhD, and then you’ll finally be worthy of questioning the experts.”  Nope … he was telling us that if we can do the math and apply some logic, then we can question the conclusions.

And we should.  If average citizens don’t question the experts, we’re all screwed.  Just look where the expert advice to eat a lot of carbohydrates and avoid fat has gotten us.  Look what happened when experts told us corn oil was good for our hearts.

If you tell me 5+5 =11, I don’t care if you have a PhD, I’m going to disagree.  If you tell me people with gray hair have a disproportionate number of heart attacks and that gray hair must therefore cause heart disease, I’m going to point out that we’re probably looking at an association, not a cause.  If you tell me a study proves that whole grains prevent diabetes and I discover while reading the study that whole grains replaced white flour in the subjects’ diets, I’m going to suggest that maybe it was removing white flour that made the difference. 

It doesn’t take a genius IQ to find the flaws in a lot of nutrition “science.”  It just requires mathematical literacy and perhaps some ability with Excel.  The American Heart Association tells us our LDL should be below 130 to prevent heart disease.  When I plugged their own data into Excel, I found that people with LDL below 130 account for more than their share of heart disease.  When I plugged the World Health Organization’s worldwide population data about cholesterol levels and heart disease rates into Excel and ran the CORR function, I found nothing except a very slight negative association (meaning lower cholesterol was correlated with a slightly higher rate of heart disease).  The math is what the math is.  If you disagree with my conclusions, do it with math.  Whether or not I have a medical degree is immaterial. 

And that’s what some of the experts with degrees (and their awe-struck followers) can’t stand, especially in today’s digital age:  we can call them out publicly.  We can find and call attention to the errors in their data or logic.  Knowledge and publishing have been democratized.  When they react to criticism by hiding behind their degrees instead of defending their conclusions, you should be very, very suspicious.

That’s exactly what happened when Denise Minger ran the numbers on T. Colin Campbell’s data to show his conclusions don’t hold up.  She didn’t even claim that plant-based diets aren’t superior — in fact, she said specifically that her numbers didn’t prove anything conclusive about diets and health.  She merely pointed out that Campbell’s data doesn’t prove anything either.  Toss in a variable here and there that Campbell left out, and some of his ballyhooed correlations disappear or start going in the other direction.

Campbell reacted by saying he sincerely doubted a young woman working in her spare time could have performed such a sophisticated analysis (then who did, Dr. Campbell, and what does that have to do with anything?), that she probably doesn’t fully comprehend the research, and that he’s too busy to answer her anyway.  Boil it down, and you get this:  I’m a researcher with a PhD and she’s 23-year-old, so don’t listen to her.

And of course Campbell’s True Believers have been jumping all over every blog that praised Minger’s analyses, acting like Taliban members who heard someone diss Allah, and all saying pretty much the same thing:  Do Not Question The Master.  Here’s an excerpt from one I received today:

So for those of you who choose to discredit the science and want to believe your bologny, it is for one reason and one reason only because you like to eat dead parts of animals, because you do not want to believe the truth, because you want to keep eating animal products. Go ahead and do what you want. I am so sick and tired of people like you trying to discredit the truth and having the large corporations obviously coining the billions of dollars from you, go ahead! You can all spend your lives taking medications being owned by the pharmaceutical industry. Keep making the cruel corporations rich, keep supporting the pharmaceutical industry. But, leave the truth alone!!!

So the only reason to question Campbell’s math would be a desire to eat dead parts of animals and support big pharma.  Can’t argue with that logic.  Here’s another:

It is not appropriate for a critic like Ms Minger to publish a technical critique of a scientific work without first subjecting it to evaluation by her peers through a peer-reviewed study because the public is not as equipped to analyze it as well as trained professionals. It is not appropriate to scribe equal credibility to her statements and those of the author either. If and when she does that I will be happy to read her critique and compare it to the original work and the peer review.

Ah yes, I’m sure Ms. Minger would have no problem convening a scientific committee to peer-review a blog post, so please don’t strain your brain reading her analysis until that happens.  And why exactly is it “inappropriate” for her publish a critique?  Once again, the math is what the math is.  A blessing by The Council of Elders doesn’t morph it from blasphemy into truth. 

Minger ran the same statistical calculations that Campbell ran, using his down data.  She merely pointed out correlations within his data that he chose to ignore.  Rather than thinking, the commenter is sticking his head in the sand … after hiding behind Campbell’s degree and some nonsense about how “the public” isn’t equipped to evaluate her work.  (Hey, that’s weird … she’s a mere member of the public, and she did quite an analysis of The Master’s work.)  In fact, despite all the comments posted on this blog by Campbell True Believers, I have yet to read one that disputes her math. 

Perhaps it’s because math is how you know when they’re lying to you.  And math belongs to all of us … brilliant 23-year-old bloggers and PhDs alike.


30 thoughts on “Experts and Education

  1. k_the_c

    Jefferson and Franklin are the pillars of this country. Jefferson the academi and Franklin the engineer.

    “Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains… it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.” –Joe Keohane, “How Facts Can Backfire,” Boston Globe, July 11, 2010

    The fundamental problem is most people have not been trained to argue in a philosophical sense. They know how to get emotional and yell. But, they don’t formally understand logic and logical fallacies.

    “I am educated. The fact that I didn’t do it in school is utterly irrelevant… There are good scientists. Some day I hope to meet one. There are honest scientists. Some day I hope to meet one. There are brilliant scientists. Some day I hope to meet one.”
    –Arthur Jones, Inventor of Nautilus exercise machines.

    Many of his observations about weight training have been verified and published recently in various peer review scientific journals (

    Those of you who have figured out how to control your insulin with info from Fat Head and this blog and are looking to optimize your exercise routine, take a look at book Body by Science and Slow Burn by the Eades.

    High intensity training was advocated by a man with only a 9th grade education. He invented exercise machines specifically for HIT because understood that muscles did not have constant strength through its full range of motion. And now, the scientific community is just recently catching up and recognizing Arthur Jones’ observations about weight training may be the most effective and safest way to exercise.

    Man, I remember my first Nautilus workout. That was intense indeed.

  2. Levi

    People who defend Campbell based on his degrees engage in a logical fallacy called “argumentum ad verecundiam” or “appeal to authority.” In other words, an authoritative figure makes a claim, therefore, it must be true and cannot be refuted. Of course, the opposite, that you are a comedian and therefore don’t know what you are talking about, is a logical fallacy known as “argumentum ad hominem.”

    Exactly right.

  3. LeonRover

    I agree with you on so many points.

    I got into computing by tinkering with a 6 hole paper tape machine while on college vacation. I went into the game later with my majors in maths and physics. But here’s the thing: a buddy of mine, a so-called literary type with a law degree left his firm after one year and became a top-shot programmer. I learned very early that your college education does not matter so much as having come thro’ with a trained mind.

    My stepson became a drop-out. He decided to join a little start-up. He was invited as he learned his way about the web while geeking around college. When asked my advice, I related the story above and told him he could always go back to college later and take his math degree – after all, I had gotten my Master in Stats in between my day job as a programming and rock-climbing at the weekend. Ten years later, he cannot get a promotion in Google, ‘cos he never got ANY degree: it is “Human Resources” policy. His solid achievements and successes – and he had ’em – do not count. He is now back in school getting his bit of paper.

    It is the training in logic that is the important thing: your example on the substitution of wheat for white flour is a telling parable. Which was the causative effect – REMOVAL of a source of damage, or ADDITION of a source of health? It is another example being fooled by a figure ground perception.

    I find people like Franklin both frightening and humbling at the same time. I hope the biography mentions his political achievements in France as well as his scientific reputation in England. Personally, I see him a cultural European.

    Were there more modern day Americans like Franklin, there might be less schizoid attitudes in Europe to America.

    As ever, love your post is wide-ranging, astute, au point, but above all, WELL WRITTEN.

    Thank you, it has made my early morning here in Dublin.

    It’s disappointing to learn that Google, a company full of computer geeks, would place limits on someone for lack of a degree.

    I hope see Dublin someday when I finally visit the land of my great-grandparents.

  4. Jo

    I’ve not seen or heard about any of Campbell’s supporters using math or science to critique Denise Minger’s work, which after all is in the public domain and open to experts and non-experts alike to dismantle and challenge.

    Why do we believe that experts are immune from emotion, bias and greed? They are human beings! In fact many youngsters come out of the higher education system with an arrogance that should put fear into our souls (or at the very least distrust).

    I agree, very disappointed to hear about Google -shame on them. They are turning away people with talent and who can think out of the box.

    Exactly … nothing is preventing “profesionals” from critiquing Minger’s logic or math.

  5. Laurie

    Richard Feynman was on the panel that investigated the 1986 ‘Challenger’ disaster. Feynman had letter soup after his name, had won a Nobel prize and was reportedly also a brilliant teacher. He ticked off other experts for his deceptively ‘simple’ illustration, in a glass of ice water, why the ‘O-ring’ material stiffening in the cold caused the explosion. It’s best to look for a less complex answer first. It very well might NOT be there, but if it was there all along- we miss it at our peril.
    The ‘experts’ are screaming that the causes of increases in heart disease, ‘diabesity’, cancer, etc. can’t possibly be from the relatively new ‘foods’ like cereal grains (thanks for nothin’ Post and Kellogg), corn, soy and other Frankenstein vegetable ‘oils’, and dramatic increases in table sugar consumption and the invention most recently of Frankenstein sugar- HFCS. We REALLY need a ‘Feinman moment’ and to look there FIRST.

    The shame of it is, the McGovern committee was offered exactly that argument. Dr. Peter Cleave told them it’s ludicrous to blame modern diseases on ancient foods, and we should be looking at modern foods as the cause.

  6. Alec

    I’m half way through reading “True Believer” now after hearing about in on this blog. It’s absolutely fascinating how these Campbell fanatics act exactly like how Eric Hoffer describes true believers in the book. Thanks for the recommendation, and keep up the great work on the blog, even though you are just some comedian. I also requested your movie through my local library and it just came in- can’t wait to watch it.

    They’re definitely True Believer types, reacting to dissenting opinions exactly as Hoffer described. If they argued against Minger on their own blogs, I wouldn’t think much of it … but since they’re clearly seeking out every blog where Minger’s work was praised and posting comments more or less shouting “Stop Lying! Stop Lying! Campbell knows all!” I’d say these people are not interested in merely letting truth bubble up to the surface. In another century, they’d have someone on the rack right now.

  7. Dave

    “If I wanted to work in particle physics, I’d sure as heck attend a university and work towards a PhD”

    Probably, but not because your PhD training would necessarily teach you anything of much use for doing particle physics. It’s nearly impossible to get inside the ivory tower unless you take the route of getting a degree, doing postdoc, etc. The real purpose of this is social, rather than educational. You need to make connections, work for the right people, etc. Building academic “credentials” requires more social skills than scientific.

    I was the lead scientist in discovering the galactic gamma-ray halo. Just about the only thing from my formal PhD education that was of any use for this discovery was the mathematical foundation I had been taught. That laid the basis for me to learn the more advanced math I used in our analysis, nearly all of which was self-taught. Indeed, I had to unlearn some things, particularly about statistics. Statistics taught to scientists is somewhere between useless and wrong.

    Statistics, as learned and applied by most scientists, has little utility in answering the actual scientific questions those scientists are trying to answer. They tend to be best at providing contradictory evidence (hard to push a theory that implies a strong correlation when you can find none in the data), or in supporting hypotheses that have no plausible alternatives. For example, the standard method used to decide whether or not a gamma-ray source was “real” as opposed to background fluctuations was formally wrong, but wound up “working” (in hand-waving fashion) because the alternative hypotheses were strongly ruled out by prior knowledge. For instance, it might have been possible that there was some interaction of cosmic rays with the telescope structure that mimicked a source. But this kind of thing was exhaustively tested before the telescope was launched, to the point where the plausibility of such a hypothesis was slightly higher than the one where “gremlins did it”.

    You don’t get to “calibrate” human populations for observational nutrition studies, and have a very large set of plausible hypotheses as a result. About the only thing statistics is good for here is ruling out classes of hypotheses. Again, if your data shows a very strong and significant correlation between variables, those hypotheses which do not predict that correlation are correspondingly downgraded. Beyond that, it’s hard to say much without either including more detailed information (e.g. about the biochemical details of metabolism, a la Gary Taubes) or injecting a lot of ad hoc hypotheses (a la T. Colin Campbell). What Denise Minger has really done here is show that Campbell’s assertions receive very little support from the data, leaving only his ad hockery.

    So it would seem that all T. Colin Campbell’s formal training and “credentials” have bought him is the ability to make ad hoc nonsense sound like scientific evidence. And you don’t need a PhD to tell the difference, just a little math and some common sense.

    Nice to know even the PhDs in physics end up teaching themselves what they really need to know. I’m putting “ad hockery” in my list of favorite terms.

  8. Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

    Tom, you’re still missing an obvious point about one of your critics: “It is not appropriate for a critic like Ms Minger to publish a technical critique of a scientific work without first subjecting it to evaluation by her peers through a peer-reviewed study …”

    Even supposing that this were true, what makes The China Study a “scientific work”? Was The China Study peer reviewed? If not, then it’s a just work of popular non-fiction. (Well … allegedly non-fiction.)

    Why should the critique require a higher standard of proof than the original claim?

    Good point, although Campbell generated several peer-reviewed papers from the same data.

  9. Tracee

    Great point, one we should all take to heart. I’d like to add a very important 3 letter word to your four letter word (Math). That is “Why”. Anyone with a five year old will tell your that we are programmed to ask “Why” constantly. I think there’s a very good reason for that. That simple three letter word may play an important part in survival of the human species. I have a five year old who drives me batty, asking me “Why” about 100 times a day. And here’s the deal though. If I hadn’t asked the same thing myself of the expert opinion that “Diet does not work for atuism”, my child would not be driving me up a wall today with questions. I would have a non-verbal autistic child instead of a chatty mild PDD one. It turns out he had major gluten issues and so did I. I dug in medical journals, and there’s plenty of stuff in there a lot of experts seem to overlook about a lot of things.

    Here’s another thing that gets me. Many of the folks who do figure some of this out for themsleves blame alot of our misgiven “expert” advice on corporate greed. Now, I do agree, but here’s where they lose me. They think socialized medicine will step in and save them. Being uneducated and letting “experts” tell you what to think makes you a sitting duck no matter what kind of system you have. Coorporations and governments get away with this because we choose to stay ignorant.
    Save yourself, don’t expect an “expert” or government beaurocrat to do it for you. Always ask “Why” and always do the math.

    I of course agree wholeheartedly. Put the government in charge of an industry, and all you do is give corporations a single decision-maker to bribe insteads of dozens or hundreds. Anyone who thinks the medical protocols in a socialized system won’t be subject to corruption is dreaming. Government reduces corruption to one-stop shopping. (“So happy you were able to join us on this yacht trip, Senator. Hey, did we mention we’ve come up with a new drug that ought to be prescribed to every single American with diabetes?”)

  10. your older brother


    Is it just me? I mean, that first critique you quoted there from your “fan mail” just completely creeped me out. They used “the truth” three times in one paragraph. I was thinking “shouldn’t they have capitalized it?” You know, like Dr. Campbell is the Truth, and the Light, and the Way, yada, yada, yada.

    Seriously, it made my hair stand on end.


    It’s the True Believer mentality, and yes, it’s creepy.

  11. gallier2

    If you want more of the strange grasp of reality they have look at Dave Dixon’s take on the Campbellistas, really awe inspiring…

    especially if you follow up on the comments in

    Campbell’s response was interesting. He chides her for using univariate correlations — which Campbell himself did, and which she did in turn specifically to show the weakness of using them to draw conclusions, then chides her for not considering confounding variables — which she not only considered, she showed how Campbell’s own correlations can disappear when possible confounding variables are added to the mix. The bottom line is that he will never, ever change his conclusions, no matter how much evidence to the contrary he sees.

  12. Monty

    What annoys me the most about the whole thing is that many Campbellites seem to really think they are on the side of science. I really did not know much about Campbell or the China Study before Stephan at Whole Health Source linked to Minger’s blog, but I have got more and more annoyed each time Campbell opens his mouth. I don’t really care what his nutritional advice is, but the way he has abused science at every turn and encourages his followers to abuse science is a disgrace for someone who at one time actually was a scientist.

    He needs to re-read his own responses and the comments from followers and think about how he would feel if these same people were using the same logic to defend Creation “Science”. He has become so concerned about spouting his Truth that he has forgot what science is all about.

    No amount of analysis or science will change his mind at this point. He couldn’t possibly admit to being wrong without committing professional suidice. And it’s clear from his writings that he was sold on the plant-based diet long before The China Study, so he teased the correlations that fit what he already believed.

  13. labrat

    Hey Dr Campbell. I am not a mouse, I am not Chinese and I don’t eat purified protein chow.
    Got any expertise for a living, breathing American human? Didn’t think so.

    Okay, I have a degree in analytical chemistry but I am not an expert in vodoo science ie: epidemiology. I can say that I like my data really clean. I really don’t care if the majority of a population ate X and there is more disease Y in that population. Please demonstrate that the folks that ate X got Y. That’s what’s missing in your China Study, regardless of what Denise (God I love that girl) comes up with.

    Show me a population where people who eat a whole-foods paleo diet are all sick, and then I’ll start listening to Campbell.

  14. MikeC

    Regarding education, I once heard an amusing line, and it appears to have a bit of truth to it…

    “The A students work for the C students. The B students work for the government.”

    I think that does have some truth in it.

  15. Bullinachinashop

    Next time someone tells you you’re not qualified to talk nutrition without a degree, just suggest they rent Lorenzo’s Oil. One dedicated father saved countless children with salad dressing.

  16. Richard Tamesis, M.D.

    The great thing about science is that it is fundamentally a very democratic discipline. Anyone, given the right tools, should be able to access the same data and determine for themselves whether the conclusions arrived at by others can be replicated or not. Denise Minger did exactly that and revealed to the world how poorly done Campbell’s analysis was, but she went further and asked everyone not to just take her word for it but to verify her conclusions as well by running their own anaylsis from the same data. She is, in fact, the true scientist, a scarce resource in a very gullible society prone to following false prophets preaching pseudoscience.

    She’s even posted links where other people can download her spreadsheets. Doesn’t sound like someone with anything to hide.

  17. Ned Kock

    Well said Tom. And even relatively advanced math supports most of Denise’s conclusions:

    That dataset for the China Study looks pretty good. It needs to be properly analyzed. When it is, I think it will yield some real gems!

    I read both of those posts this week, and I appreciate you taking the time to examine the numbers on your own. (Of course by now, you’ve heard that Campbell can’t be wrong since he has a PhD and all.)

  18. Jonathan

    I wouldn’t get an operation from someone without medical training and a degree but I wouldn’t get one from a doctor with training and a degree that cut the wrong leg off of someone or left equipment in someone. A degree or training doesn’t remove the element of human mistakes and misunderstandings.

  19. Michele

    It seems to me that this post was ‘peer’ reviewed by the bloggers who linked to her post. Denise’s post was very interesting and well presented.

    Could she be wrong – maybe, but I doubt it. The numbers made sense to me and I really don’t need a another person with a PhD to prove that her analysis was correct. Like a lot of the readers of this blog, I don’t trust a souce simply because there is PhD at the end of their name.

    I truly believe that it is up to all of us to educate ourselves about nutrition. I don’t think that there is an objective source in the nutritional main stream that we can rely on to do our research for us. This need for knowledge is why I read so many books/blogs, listen to podcasts and watch sarcastic nutritional parody. (By the way – Thanks for the laughs you have given me on this quest.)

    I graduated college with Communications degree and I pull data for a living. College was useful, but it is a piece of paper that shows that I can reach a goal and it can’t replace all of the work experience that I have gained in the past 17 years.

    Denise’s post is so stunning, because she is young. However, young does not equal stupid. The only word that I could think of at the end of her post was, “WOW.” It is obvious that she put a lot of time into this and I can’t believe that we all are able to gain all of this insight while sitting at home.

    As to getting my nutritional advice from a comedian – I wonder how many of your critics get their ‘news’ from Daily Show With Jon Stewart?

    Anyone who simply dismisses Ms. Minger because of her age and lack of a PhD is most likely afraid to actually check her calculations.

  20. PHK

    A lot of people seem to dismiss Sally Fallon also for the same reason (lack of degree in any related field).

    i heard that a lot of body builders have figured out low carb by experience. cause they push to their bodies hardest. most of them have no degree in medical science.

    When I was in high school, the body-builders I knew all went pretty close to zero carb to get cut. They knew it worked.

  21. Walter Norris

    The book “The Science of Fear” makes a point about poor knowledge of statistics leading people to make bad decisions – specifically putting themselves at greater risk to a avoid a risk they believe is large, but in fact is tiny.

    If you have been out to Fabius Maximus’ blog he recently reported that an Admiral in congressional testimony floated the idea that climate research should be done by the CIA (since its a threat to national security) that way there would be no debate (its classified, but trust us the evidence is indisputable) and anyone staging another climate gate could be prosecuted.

    Isn’t the obesity epidemic a threat to national security? After all those obese young men are not effective combat soldiers. Once this genie gets out of the bottle there will be no putting it back in.

    That’s a scary proposition.

  22. Geoff

    Just watched the movie…very awesome. I’d started low-carbing because of muscle building and started taking in more protein. Through out my research I’ve found that low carbing is the way to go. I think the hardest part has been getting the propaganda and guilt out of my head that eating that plate of sausage and bacon (not a fan of eggs) is actually better for me, than the poor guy getting the bagel. Anyway awesome job…I have a plate of meatballs calling me.

    Enjoy those meatballs, and I’m glad you liked the movie.

  23. your older brother

    “The great thing about science is that it is fundamentally a very democratic discipline. Anyone, given the right tools, should be able to access the same data and determine for themselves whether the conclusions arrived at by others can be replicated or not. ”

    I’d like to politely ask the doctor to reconsider his word choice. I agree with the point he’s making, but not the adjectives, and words are important.

    “Democracy” is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Or two Department of Agriculture nutritionists and a stand-up comedian voting on the best guidelines for his kids’ school lunches.

    Ms. Minger’s dissection of Campbell’s data is not an exercise in democracy, it’s an exercise in individual liberty. I’m sure none of the mainstream nutritional establishment would’ve voted to commit resources to Minger’s effort.

    Don’t mean to be a crank, but so many of our current problems seem to flow from our exaltation of democracy as some virtue unto itself. It can be as much a tool of tyranny as guns and gulags. “Hey, so you’re chapped that we’re taking half of what you earned to spend on things that you’re morally opposed to. But it’s okay — we voted on it!”


    Agreed. I used “democratized” in the sense of control devolving to the people, but we’re not talking about a majority-rules democracy in science here.

  24. Walter Norris

    Is my last comment on “Don’t Listen to Me” still waiting moderation?

    I don’t have any awaiting moderation. Once in awhile the spam filter blocks a genuine comment, usually because of multiple links embedded or certain words and phrases common to spam. Sorry if that happened. I used to double-check that folder, but it means going through hundreds and hundreds per day to find the occasional genuine comment, so I gave up.

  25. Walter Norris

    I just tried to post it again here since it would apply here as well. Looks like it dod not work so I’ll try again. If there is a duplicate, it is unintentional. That’s why I asked if it was still waiting moderation to avoid a duplicate post. I’m not putting titles in quotes this time to see if that was the problem. If that makes this hard to read, sorry.

    I seconded the recommendation of Mistakes Were Made. I also recommend the books Predictably Irrational and its sequel.

    If you want to learn how to avoid being manipulated by compliance specialists, read Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion. The author, Robert Cialdini, is a Ph.D. Psychologist who started the research after being sold a candy bar by a boy scout, despite his not liking candy bars.

    I went looking in today’s spam folder, and there it was, along with another comment from you. Sorry; I don’t know why they ended up there. Nothing in the message that would trigger a spam filter that I can see.

    Predictably Irrational was excellent. I read that some months ago. I’ll check out Cialdini’s as well.

  26. Dan

    Don’t dispute her math? If you have no subtance to your arguments…attack!!! Discredit your opponent. Of course, I’m sure that’s all their fat-starved brains can think of. 🙂

  27. Arlo

    As already alluded to, there is no way either Campbell or his “followers” (read: veg*ns) will change their minds. As someone else brought up “Mistakes were made”, there’d be too much cognitive dissonance going on.

    For the veg*ns, it’s ideological. On the one hand they have this solid feeling ideology of no suffering. It’s healthy, they’re saving themselves, animals, the very world. Any chink of doubt might start fraying their ideology. It’s much easier to put up defenses like, “You guys only eat meat because you are addicted to it.”, or to turn to conspiracies like, “You’ve all be brainwashed by big industry and big pharma”. Dissonance solved.

    For Campbell, to admit that he might be wrong would not only be professional suicide, but he’d have to admit to himself that all that time and effort of his life’s work was a waste. “I spent my life doing this, and I was wrong???”. And what if a vegan diet IS harmful… it’s the same as the whole medical community. Who is going to go back and say, “Sorry about all the heart-attacks, strokes, weight gain, inflammation, etc… but we were wrong”. It just won’t happen. Ego’s would be devastated.

    As you said, we need all the “little people” pushing out contrary views if they make sense. We have less ego wrapped up in our work compared to the big players and are more likely to take an even view of things. Hopefully. 🙂

    And once people start tossing around terms like “animal murderer!” it’s pretty clear we’re talking about a religious belief, not a health matter.

  28. KD

    I think it’s telling that Campbell chose to go with the “I’m too busy, just trust me on this one” route. It seems that people who really, really, really believe they’re correct will spend a lot of time trying to prove it, regardless of how busy they are or how much time they should be spending on it. Who among us hasn’t stayed up past our bedtimes to work on something we feel passionate about? For example, Denise and Ned. They have far, far less at stake in being correct than Campbell should, yet they’re the ones arguing so carefully. For me, then, the fact that he’s not willing to revisit his study and go over exactly why he thinks he’s right just shows me that he knows he’s wrong or was sloppy, not just ignorantly wrong. Then again, he sure looks like he eats how he talks, so maybe my whole theory is gone.

  29. Trenton

    My favorite quote lately:

    “It’s a shame that we live in a society that embraces the educated idiot, yet shuns the intellectual autodidact.”

    Isn’t it fair to assume, that someone who investigates a subject because of their own personal prerogative, would be better qualified as an expert than someone who learns something because they have to. When I go to do research on something, my only motivation is my desire to know as much as I can about that particular subject. Most in scholastic environments, I would argue, only research topics because they have to do a research paper or something like that. I would argue that autodidact ism is more valuable than scholastic education, that is, until you actually try to use it in the real world. I guess the degree is a necessary evil, (regardless of what the degree is in.)

    As far as your fan listing of critiques, you should practice inserting the latin “sic” when you quote them, so you can draw attention to their ignorant or otherwise careless grammar and spelling. I’m pretty sure “bologny” is not a corrected spelling of the word.

    I like your quote. I don’t use [sic] because I figure people will spot the errors if they’re paying attention.


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