The Anointed and Free Speech, Part Two

      36 Comments on The Anointed and Free Speech, Part Two

In our previous episode, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of freedom of speech or of concepts like The Marketplace of Ideas or The Wisdom of Crowds.  Two of their most dearly-held beliefs are:

1.   They are very, very smart.
2.   The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.

Consequently, The Anointed don’t view wide-open debate and discussion as opportunities for the best ideas to be discovered and bubble up to the top.  They view them as opportunities for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be fooled and led astray.

Let’s look at a perfect example of what I’m talking about:  a recent Huffington Post essay by Dr. David Katz, the guy who developed the NuVal system for ranking the healthiness of foods – a system recently dropped by some big grocery-store chains.  Here are some quotes from Katz:

Misinformation is very much in season. Disclosures since the presidential election about massively disseminated misinformation, some of it inadvertent, some of it willfully manipulative, have come fast and furious. In fact, in the aftermath of the recent revelations about fake news, we are being invited to add “post-truth” to our lexicon.

So Dr. Katz is very upset about fake news.  That’s pretty danged funny, considering he was caught writing reviews of his own novel under a fake name and comparing himself to John Milton and Charles Dickens.  Apparently his definition of fake news is limited to “post-truth” he doesn’t like.

For the record, I think we can all agree we’d prefer not to be exposed to fake news.  But of course, fake news isn’t new.  In the years that I’ve been paying attention, “news” stories that turned out to be largely or completely fabricated have been printed or aired by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CBS and NBC.  The Washington Post even ran a piece recently titled Fake News? That’s A Very Old Story, which recounts how fake news has been around since the founding of the country.

But since the Katz essay is about health advice, I wondered why he opened with a complaint about fake news in the recent election cycle.  Then it hit me: he’s trying to draw a parallel between health advice he doesn’t like and wacko stories claiming the Clintons were involved in child-sex rings.  If one is bad, the other must be equally bad, ya see.  Nice try, Doc.

I’ve written several posts and given a speech about how the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to turn the tide against the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains! nonsense coming from the Axis of Incompetence: the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, partly because I remember the bad old days.

In the 1980s, I was a staff writer and editor for a small magazine called Family Safety & Health.  Researching a health article was a process I called “round up the usual suspects.”  Something about heart health?  Get in touch with the American Heart Association.  Diabetes?  The American Diabetes Association is your go-to source.  Cancer?  Call the American Cancer Society.  Anything else, start with government health agencies and go from there.

Information flowed from The Anointed at the top, through a handful of gatekeepers, then down to the rest of us.  So I, like every other health writer in those days, wrote articles about the wonders of whole grains and the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol.  I didn’t know any better because I didn’t have access to contrary evidence and opinions.  For The Anointed, those were the good old days.

Now the gatekeepers have been swept aside.  I consider that a net positive.  Dr. Katz, as a member of The Anointed, of course disagrees:

The social media that served as the currents in which false and misleading election-related news were swept far and wide pose three particular threats to health related information.

The first is that very problem, the unfettered promulgation of information that is just plain wrong. The second is that misinformation is far more pernicious than ignorance. Ignorance is that proverbial empty vessel; a knowledgeable health professional can fill it. But it’s hard to fill a cup that already runneth over- and that’s the scenario that misinformation creates.

And lastly, the third is the very problem we’ve had since the radio was first invented: static. At some level of background noise, the worthiest signal is indiscernible as such. Our ability to deliver a message, any message, depends now, as ever, on the signal to noise ratio.

Let me interpret that:  @#$%!!  All those @#$%ing bloggers and podcasters are somehow drawing big audiences and convincing millions of people that saturated fat isn’t bad and grains aren’t good!  People no longer just accept what The Anointed tell them!  This is very, very bad!

Cyberspace is the ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber. Everyone can shout into it, and every shout has the same chance to echo from the megaphones of the sympathetic.

Well, that’s true to an extent.  Social media has created a vastly wider and more diverse Marketplace of Ideas.  Are some of those ideas garbage?  You bet.  For all I know, there may be more lousy dietary advice pinging around cyberspace than good advice.

That’s not the point.  The point is that good advice – advice that actually works — is now accessible to people who never would have seen it in the pre-internet days.  That’s where The Anointed and fans of the Marketplace of Ideas disagree.  The Anointed believe if everyone can shout into an echo chamber, everyone will have equal influence.  That’s nonsense.  It’s like believing everyone who produces a product will have an equal share of the market.  Despite what The Anointed think, people aren’t stupid.  They gravitate to the products and the advice that prove beneficial.

You may recall the story of my co-worker whose wife suffered from migraines for years.  Doctor after doctor failed to prescribe the magic-pill cure.  But then a friend-of-a-friend suggested she try giving up grains – because he’d read on the internet that grains can trigger migraines.  So she tried giving up grains and voila! – no more migraines.  She found relief because of knowledge shared on the internet.

Now, given what the internet is, I suppose someone else might have suggested she rub her eyeballs with orange caterpillars.  That would have been junk advice.  But here’s the thing: she would have recognized it as junk advice based on the results.  That is, after all, largely what the Wisdom of Crowds is about: knowledge gained from experience and then shared with that big ol’ crowd.

The Anointed, by contrast, put far more faith in little groups of experts – with expertise defined by them, of course, and largely consisting of earning degrees by attending classes taught by other members of The Anointed.  This is nothing new, by the way.  Eric Hoffer, author of the terrific book The True Believer, wrote this in the 1950s:

The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.

Back to Katz on people shouting into that darned echo chamber:

This is an enemy not only to medicine, but to everything in any way related to science, for science demands the filter of genuine understanding, actual expertise, and evidence.

Once again, that’s pretty danged funny, considering it’s coming from a guy whose NuVal system ranks sugar-laden chocolate soy milk as a far healthier option than a turkey breast.  I’d like to see the evidence supporting that ranking.  Unfortunately, NuVal refuses to explain its scoring system because the information is “proprietary.”  In other words, we just made this @#$% up because it’s what we believe.

Having defined the problem – too darned many voices yelling health advice into that social-media echo chamber – Katz then lays out his solution:

In my particular purview- lifestyle medicine- I have felt compelled to develop a new method to confront this New Age challenge. If the noise is irrevocably greater than ever before, so, too, must be the signal. The True Health Initiative pools the voices, currently, of well over 300 leading experts from over 30 countries to make the case that we are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens; that the fundamentals of a health-promoting diet and lifestyle are the stuff of decisive evidence, and global consensus.

Sorry, Doc, but I’m going to have to disagree.  When you tell people eggs will kill them and sugar-laden soy milk is a healthier option than a turkey breast, I’m pretty sure you are clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens – none of whom enjoyed a nice, sweet glass of chocolate-flavored Silk Soy Milk until modern industry made such garbage possible.

I looked up the members of those (ahem) “experts” Katz is putting together to combat the social-media echo chamber.  I didn’t recognize most of them, but here are some we all know:

Keith Thomas Ayoob … whom I’ve referred to as “Ayoob the Boob” because he thinks the saturated fat in coconut oil will kill people.

Dr. Neil Barnard … yup, the vegan nut-job whose group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine puts up billboards warning people that consuming animal products will kill them.

T. Colin Campbell … author of The China Study, which attempted to prove (through cherry-picked associations) that eating meat is the main driver of disease.

You get the idea.  Katz is assembling a team of the same old anti-fat, anti-cholesterol, anti-meat goofs who have been part of the problem for decades.  Talk about an echo chamber.

To his credit, Katz is at least trying to combat what he considers bad information with what he considers good information.  The members of The True Health Initiative will be shouting into the very echo chamber Katz dislikes.  Since I believe the Marketplace of Ideas works, I predict the market won’t be kind to them.  No amount of shouting from the usual suspects will convince people who’ve seen their health improve after going low-carb, gluten-free or paleo to take a giant step backwards.

Other members of The Anointed aren’t satisfied with shouting into the echo chamber.  They’d rather prevent people who disagree with them from shouting in the first place … or writing, or tweeting, or whatever.  We’ll pick up that subject in the next post.


36 thoughts on “The Anointed and Free Speech, Part Two

  1. JMH

    I remember studying postmodernism in a university course called History of Ideas. Silly me, I thought I was studying history but it turns out I was studying the future. The progressives (I think the left were infiltrated with this nonsense) base their thinking and policy on the idea that there is no such thing as ‘reality’ and so a position is right or wrong because we say it is. They then martial science and PR to present this new reality to the stupid public. This is the reason that so many people are weeping, and protesting in the streets after Hilary lost is that they believe what they were told would happen if she lost – armageddon and world collapse. I find this all very heartening. Brexit and the Trump win (whether you agree with them or not) showed that enough people can think for themselves to vote despite the full weight of propaganda coming down on them. I expect to see that propaganda doubling down in the next 12 months. Fortunately many of us now know where to find alternative news (like this site) and can judge for ourselves what’s most likely to be a good source.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I had very mixed feelings about Trump, but seeing how the weenies reacted after his victory was quite amusing.

    2. Tom Welsh

      “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality ­ judiciously, as you will ­ we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
      – Ronald Suskind (American journalist) reporting the comments of a White House aide (later identified as Karl Rove) [“Without A Doubt” by Ron Suskind, The New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004].

  2. George Henderson (@puddleg)

    Thank you for reading that pompous, sententious, drivel so we don’t have to.
    Katz is more like a character from Dickens than the master himself. One who thinks that big and vaguely old-fashioned words emitted in long rumbling sentences loaded with the musty odour of ancient authority are more effective than facts and logical arguments.
    Just think how many facts could be included in the space it takes to store one of his all-too-frequent bombastic, fustian utterances.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Katz is indeed a perfect poster-boy for The Anointed. I’ve been saying for years they’re hostile to open discussion and debate, and he just proved the point for me. Stay tuned for more examples.

  3. Sandy

    Good lord…does he ever let up on the Pompous Purple Prose?! He clearly loves the sound of his own ‘voice’. Stephen King once described this as “Look Mama how beautifully I can write!” syndrome and that is exactly what I think every time I read something Katz wrote (though I try to keep that to an absolute minimum)
    It probably explains why he would write a novel, then praise it to the skies under a fake name. If you read his ‘review’ of his own book, it was a perfect example of Pompous Purple Prose from the first word to the last. He thinks ‘Look Mama how beautifully I can write’ but anyone who reads it thinks ‘Who is this idiot?!’ Sadly he seems to think that anyone who thinks ‘Who is this idiot?!’ belongs to an Evil Meat-Industry Funded CABAL headed by Nina Teicholz. Who is this idiot?!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, his opinion of himself vastly exceeds his actual accomplishments … which makes him a perfect example of The Anointed. As Thomas Sowell wrote, no matter how often The Anointed turn out to be wrong, their confidence in themselves and their ideas is never shaken.

      1. Brandon

        I was like that during high school. Took me until late in my university run to make me more open-minded.

        Maybe the anointed are just smart people who never realized they needed to grow up?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Probably that too. Unfortunately, given who Katz is putting together as his team of “experts,” I’d say they do believe sugar-laden soy milk is healthier than turkey.

  4. Desmond

    So I am reading this post while eating my eggs scrambled with spinach and cooked in bacon grease and palm oil. It reminded me of hearing how Dr. Katz actually proposed to implement his NuVal system for the food stamp program. Folks get more buying power for “healthier” foods (i.e. a higher NuVal score).

    It went something like this. One “credit” would buy…
    $1.00 worth of palm oil (a very bad food)
    $2.00 worth of eggs (a bad food)
    $3.00 worth of spinach (a good food)
    $4.00 worth of sweetened chocolate soy milk (you get the idea)

    It now occurs to me that, since the algorithm is a secret, it is easy enough for the soy milk company to make a “research grant” and later find their score improved. Or hire the right “consultant” to help them optimize the score. All hypothetical, of course.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Of course. It’s not as if the fine folks at NuVal would ever let money influence their scoring system.

  5. Brandon

    The funny thing is ‘very, very smart’ people are just as easily fooled and misled as everyone else on average.

  6. tw

    The minute you see: global consensus, you know it’s a quack.

    Anyone else find it ironic that he put this on the very medium that he laments?

  7. Bob Niland

    re: 1. They are very, very smart.

    That would require a novel definition of smart.
    Aisen: Negative Anti-Amyloid Trial Confirms Amyloid Hypothesis
    Refusing to give up on battered Alzheimer’s theory
    “We have a negative study that confirms a beneficial effect,” Aisen said
    Statin Skepticism Needs to Stop
    Using statins for primary prevention is a good idea for certain groups

    (Except that no data was provided, nor argument advanced, that their statin intervention improves outcomes – all cause mortality. They are just presuming that because statins shove markers around that they must therefore be the top line treatment for FH. FH conditions can be a tough challenge, but if I had one, a statinator is the last quack I’d seek advice from.)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup. It’s like believing I’ll avoid a heart attack if I move to a zip code where few people have heart attacks.

      1. Bob Niland

        re: It’s like believing I’ll avoid a heart attack if I move to a zip code where few people have heart attacks.

        Jack Kruse might actually take you up on that argument. (“Your zip code is more important than your genetic code.”)

        But to borrow a vacant skull meme: “It’s like believing I’ll avoid a heart attack merely self-identifying as a Blue Zoner {without changing anything else}.”

        1. George Henderson (@puddleg)

          Ta Da!
          The logarithm of the triglyceride/HDL-cholesterol ratio is related to the history of cardiovascular disease in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia.

          (Why they use the logarithm and not just the ratio itself is obscure to me, as it’s no doubt meant to be, but the inference is plain – insulin, particle size, and the fasting TG/HDL ratio proxy for these things are as, if not more, critiical in FH as they are for the rest of us.)

  8. Bonnie

    I used to write about food & recipes for a local paper. Unfortunately, I truly believed the “arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains!” garbage at the time – especially the “healthywholegrains!”. I wish I could go back & change what I wrote. At least I knew that sugar wasn’t a good idea.

    The right ideas do get around. Our local grocery store used to be very involved in fundraising for the ADA during November. When I was asked by the cashier if I wanted to donate anything, I said no, the ADA is trying to kill diabetics. This year they just had a collection cup in a not very visible spot & never mentioned the ADA at all. Progress!

      1. Rick Bauer

        Yep! I self-published a bodybuilding book for beginners back in 1990. The training is still sound but the dieting parroted the low-fat, high carb diet at the time.

  9. weasel

    “The cathedral and the bazaar” is the metaphor for the anointed vs the unwashed rest. Eric Raymond coined it in regard to software development but it is useful much more widely.


  10. Mark

    “This is an enemy not only to medicine, but to everything in any way related to science, for science demands the filter of genuine understanding, actual expertise, and evidence”.

    False. Unequivocally false. The scientific method is, at its most basic core tenet, simple observation. High schoolers do it. If I take an ice cube out of the freezer and place it on the bench, I’ll observe what happens. If I do that same experiment time and time again and I get the same result, I can say: “Put an ice cube on the bench and it will melt”. “Scientific” observation and conclusion.

    On another note, epidemiology needs to be moved from the ranks of science to the ranks of number crunching, cos that’s all it is.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, of course The Anointed like to think of science as something only they are capable of understanding.


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