It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is after all a specialized discipline and one that most people consider a dismal science. But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance. — Murray Rothbard, economist
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about economics. It’s a post about the strange combination of ignorance and arrogance. As I’ve told my wife more times than she’d probably prefer, it doesn’t bother me much when people are arrogant but well-informed, and it doesn’t bother me much when people are ignorant but humble. But when ignorant people are arrogant, that gets me riled.
Long before I became fascinated by nutrition science, I became fascinated by history and economics. I’m not sure exactly how many books I’ve read on economics, but it’s easily more than 20. I certainly don’t know everything about the subject, but I know more than most people by a long shot.
I saved the quote from Murray Rothbard because over the years, I’ve been amazed at how many people I’ve encountered who are exactly like he described: never took a class in economics, never read a book on economics, but are nonetheless full of loud and vociferous opinions on everything from the economic effects of tax rates to the cause of high oil prices. They know what they know, and by gosh, they don’t need to bother with any research to keep knowing what they know, because they already know it — and anyone who disagrees must be an idiot. (This attitude was rampant in Hollywood.)
Since creating this blog and putting my YouTube clips online, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in discussions about health and nutrition: once some people form an opinion, they are incapable of changing their minds. I can more or less understand why researchers whose reputations or grants are tethered to a particular theory will cling so tightly to it. As described brilliantly in the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), they engage in mental cherry-picking of the evidence to convince themselves they are Doing the Right Thing. It’s not good for science, but at least their opinions are based on research, even if the research if flawed or incomplete.
What I don’t understand are laymen who have nothing at stake professionally, yet form strong opinions about diet and health without looking at any research whatsoever, then go ballistic if those opinions are challenged by someone who, heaven forbid, might actually know something they don’t. One of the Fat Head clips I uploaded to YouTube is titled Why You Got Fat and explains how insulin drives fat storage. That clip recently drew this comment:
you know what would really make your body stop storing fat??? if you got off your lazy f@#$% asses and did something!!
Ignorance and arrogance combined … my favorite combination. For some reason, challenging the simple “eat less, move more” advice for losing weight seems to bring these goofs out of the woodwork. Some people just know it’s all about counting calories — in my experience, they’re usually people who’ve never had to lose weight, and therefore consider themselves experts in how it all works. Since they’re thin, that proves they know how to be thin … MeMe Roth comes to mind.
I kept my reply to the arrogant ignoramus short:
Glad to see you’ve done so much research on the biochemistry of weight loss. If only I’d spoken to someone with your deep understanding of metabolism and endocrinology before shooting the film, I might have gotten it right.
Agreeing with arrogant ignoramuses is my preferred method for dealing with them, and has been for well over 24 hours.
The way I see it, anyone who challenges your current beliefs with logic or evidence is an opportunity, not a threat. When I sent the first cut of Fat Head to Dr. Mike Eades, he replied with a long email telling me which parts he liked, but also informed me some parts were scientifically incorrect. It never would’ve occurred to me to dig in my heels and tell him I already know what I know, so that’s it, and he must be wrong. I asked him to explain why those parts were wrong and point me to the evidence. He did. I learned valuable new information precisely because he disagreed with me.
But arrogant ignoramuses don’t see it that way. They believe changing an opinion, no matter how uninformed that opinion might be, can cause paralysis below the neck, or erectile dysfunction at the very least, and must be avoided at all costs.
I’ve tried replying to their comments with logic or evidence, but they have this amazing ability to shrug it off and go on repeating themselves. So I’ve ended up engaging in what my wife calls (by way of encouraging me to stop) Arguing With Idiots. It’s pointless, as last night’s online debate eventually convinced me. Here are some highlights, with the opponent’s comments in italic, mine in plain text:
If carbs and so evil than why are so many chinese and japanese and indians, who eat white rice on a daily basis, thinner and healthier than americansky?
Their thinness is partly hereditary; Asians have higher levels of osteoporosis because their bones are thinner. Thin-boned people also tend to be more resistant to becoming obese. As for the carbs, they actually consume fewer of them than a typical American. They eat rice, yes. We consume rice, pasta, french fries, donuts, sodas, frappucinos, bagels, breakfast cereals, deli sandwiches, Snickers bars, Little Debbie Snack Cakes and ice cream.
they consume fewer? Hmmm, eating LESS seems to be the determining factor, hein?
If only it were as simple as that. By eating fewer carbs and (especially) a lot less fructose, they are less likely to become insulin resistant and therefore less likely to go into fat-accumulation mode. It’s not just about how much you eat; it’s about the hormonal changes produced by what you eat. If hormones signal your body to store more fat, yes, you will likely eat more because you’re storing more calories and therefore running short of fuel for your cells.
how about the nutrition professor who lost 27 pounds eating mainly junk food?
He averaged 173 carbohydrates per day, which is less than half of what a typical American consumes. By his own estimation, he reduced his carb intake by over 100 grams per day on the “junk” diet. His food log is online, so I ran the numbers. “Mainly junk food” was media hype. He ate many meals consisting of steak, chicken, protein shakes, etc., then tossed in some donuts and twinkies. It wasn’t a junk food diet, it was a diet that included some junk food.
So on one hand you say sugar and carbs are evil, but when I point out about this nutrition professor you counter by saying that he simply was not eating too many carbs, which is exactly what I have been saying. You can eat anything: as long as you less calories than you need, you will lose weight!
No, I’m saying if you restrict calories AND keep your insulin low enough to allow your body to burn fat, you’ll lose weight. Professor Haub ate twinkies and donuts but still consumed a LOW number of carbohydrates while restricting calories, same as I did in my documentary. That means his insulin likely dropped. If insulin stays high, your body reacts to calorie restriction by slowing your metabolism, eliminating or reducing the calorie deficit. That’s why so many diets fail.
Right, he restricted CALORIES. If i eat 100% sugar everyday, but only eat 500 calories I will lose weight.
Duh, do you think? First off, that’s 125 carbohydrates, second, your body would suck up every calorie so there’d be no need for insulin to convert carbohydrates to fat and store them, which is what happens on high-carb diets, and third, you’d also become sick and lose muscle mass.
So you admit that to lose weight, you need to eat less calories?
Go to YouTube, search ‘Taubes science weightloss,’ watch the lecture on the actual science, pay close attention to the sections about populations where food intake was low, malnutrition was rampant, yet a high proportion of adults were obese. Then see if you still believe it’s all about simply counting calories.
then why do all scientists disagree with taubes, who is a journalist?
Really, all the scientists disagree? That must be news to the many scientists whose articles I’ve read, whom I’ve interviewed or corresponded with, who agree very much with Taubes. As for him being “just a journalist,” he’s a journalist with a degree in physics from Harvard and a master’s in engineering from Stanford. He’s won the science writer of the year award twice. Try coming up with something besides a weak appeal to authority to prove your point.
many of them do. the majority. sugar is bad for you, no doubt, but taube’s takes his reasoning too far. and he doesn’t have a masters in engineering.
This is like talking to a child. Yes, he has a master’s in aerospace engineering and another in journalism. Look it up. If you’re more psychologically comfortable deciding you already know how metabolism and fat accumulation work than with looking into the actual science, be my guest. I really don’t care if you choose to stick with your current beliefs.
not just my beliefs, but the beliefs of the majority of nutrition scientists.
Well, that explains the fabulous success rate of the diets they’ve designed. Nearly 2% lose weight and keep it off — can’t argue with those credentials! Like I said, if you want to simply declare that already know how metabolism works and avoid looking into the science for yourself, I don’t really care.
[Yes, this is the point where I should've stopped replying to the ignoramus. Took me a while longer to wise up.]
you thesis is completely wrong. plenty of people eat carbs and sugar and are thin. it’s because they simply don’t eat more than they need. you even admitted it, so i am not even sure what point you are trying to make
Yes, because plenty of people are what they call “metabolically gifted,” which means they don’t become insulin resistant. Most people don’t fall into that category. Plenty of people smoke two packs per day and never develop lung cancer, so I guess to your way of thinking, that proves smoking isn’t a cause of lung cancer.
No, you are wrong. There may be mulitple ways to lsoe weight, but eating less calories will result in weight loss. I didn’t see any fat people in the concentration camps.
You didn’t see any healthy people in concentration camps either. If you starve people, duh, they’ll lose weight. They’ll lose muscle mass and eventually digest their own organs, too. That isn’t the point. The question is whether you can burn body fat without sacrificing your muscles and wrecking your metabolism simply by restricting calories without changing your hormonal balance, and the answer is no. That’s why people who starve themselves on diets usually end up fatter.
you don’t have to starve yourself; you can just eat less. instead of eating and 8 inch grinder and bag of chips for lunch, you can eat a 6 in grinder and an apple.
[At this point, I began to realize I was talking to wall and decided perhaps the smart move would be to just agree with him.]
Thank you for sharing your superior biological knowledge with me. I appreciate it. You’re right and I’m wrong. Weight loss is purely about counting calories, hormones have nothing to do with it, diabetics don’t become emaciated and die without insulin, and there’s never been a poor population that became obese despite living on less than 2000 calories per day. None of that ever happened. You’re clearly correct, and I thank you.
So how do devout hindus who don’t eat meat and eat rice and lentils and such be healthy? or are they really unhealthy?
If you consider having one of the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes in the world, “healthy,” okay, yeah. You might want to do some research on this stuff before popping off.
[Oops, my mistake... I backslid and actually replied.]
Indians have a high rate of heart disease and diabetes?? Where is your source? Remember, I am stalking about people from India, not Native Americans. Also, what group of peolple were obese despite eating less than 2000 calories a day?
[I was trying to figure out how he decided I believe Native Americans are Hindus, then reminded myself to just agree with him.]
You’re correct, I simply made up the statement that people in India have high rates of heart disease and diabetes. I admit it here and now. Same for the obese populations who live on little food. As you’ve surmised, I don’t actually put any research into my documentaries, speeches, or blog posts. I thank you for sharing your superior knowledge of biology, endocrinology, metabolism, and Gary Taubes’ resume. Your beliefs are 100% correct and I urge you to keep them.
So you can’t provide one source to back up the claim about heart disease in India?
Like I said, I don’t actually do any research. I just make stuff up, as you’ve surmised. Do a little Googling and I’m sure you’ll instantly confirm your belief that heart disease, obesity and diabetes are low in India.
Oh yes, the good old “Google it for yourself and find out!” You made a claim that Indians suffer high rates of diabetes and heart disease. It is up to you, the claimant, to provide proof. All I am asking for is one link to a study that support your claim. You made the claim. So provide support for your claim.
Like I said, the claim was pure drivel, all made up. I do no research whatsoever. So instead of troubling yourself with spending, say, 20 seconds doing Google research, I urge you to cease your relentless open-mindedness and try very hard to simply accept that you already know everything. I know it’ll be difficult, but try, man, try.
You made the claim. I am waiting for evidence for you claim. If it only takes 20 seconds to retreive, then it should be no trouble for you.
You’re right. I suddenly feel an overwhelming need and obligation to convince you. Please sit there staring at your screen, and I’ll provide you with sources as soon as I can. Do not leave your chair until you hear back from me.
[At that point, I went to the kitchen for a small dish of almonds and then watched Sunday Night Football. I enjoy a good debate with people who've actually done a bit of research and can back up their beliefs, but no more arguing with idiots. That's my rule.]