Archive for the “Random Musings” Category
In the previous three posts, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech or the wide-open discussion and debate free speech enables:
1. They believe they are very, very smart.
2. They believe the rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are therefore easily fooled and led astray.
In comments, a reader posted a link to an excellent blog post by Charles Hugh Smith that makes the same point:
Perhaps what has failed here is the narrative that everything fails and falls apart if it isn’t centrally managed and curated, a narrative that inevitably leads to censorship under the guise of “protecting you, the easily confused sheep, from these nasty wolves.”
Censorship then enables another, much more well-organized and centralized pack of wolves (the ruling elites) to prey on the obedient sheep at their leisure, without fear of any disruptive dissenting narratives.
What the ruling political elites and their mainstream media shills fear is a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas.
I’ve got to start reading his blog. Sounds like my kinda guy.
Whether The Anointed like it or not, that chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas is happening. Thanks to the internet and social media, the information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates. The rest of us are now communicating directly with each other. The results haven’t been good for The Anointed, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in his essay The Intellectual Yet Idiot (his term for The Anointed):
What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.
… With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.
My, my, my … with the great unwashed masses rebelling and trusting their own instincts, or their grandmothers, or each other, or bloggers and podcasters whose ideas and advice they’ve found useful, how are The Anointed supposed to protect people against their own stupidity? (As you may recall, The Anointed believe anyone who defies them must be stupid, or evil, or perhaps both.)
One way or another, The Anointed believe they must coerce people who disagree with them into shutting the hell up. As we saw in our last post, demanding retractions of critiques and opinions they don’t like is one favorite tactic.
Another favorite tactic is to personally attack the messenger, as opposed to arguing against what the messenger has to say. That’s where the “anyone who disagrees with us must be evil” attitude shows itself. Yelling “racist!” over disagreements that have nothing to do with race is certainly near the top of The Official Anointed Playbook. So are comments like this, uttered by our ol’ buddy Dr. David Katz while responding to the Nina Teicholz critique of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines:
The report does take into account sustainability, something that the committee noted was not traditionally in their purview. “Ms. Teicholz seems inclined to ignore that altogether; perhaps she does not care whether there is anything for the next generation to eat or drink, but I suspect most of us do,” Katz noted.
Got that? If Teicholz argues that the guidelines aren’t based on good science, well then by gosh, it means she doesn’t care if our kids and grandkids end up starving and dying of thirst – a looming disaster the U.S. Dietary Guidelines would of course prevent. Gee, she must be a terrible, terrible person. Best not listen to anything she has to say.
When demands for retractions and personal attacks fail, there’s always the final option: bring the rebellious naysayer up on charges. Initiate some kind of prosecution, preferably one with the threat of real punishment attached.
As you probably recall, a state board threatened to prosecute blogger Steve Cooksey for promoting a low-carb, paleo diet for diabetics on his Diabetes Warrior blog. Here are some quotes from a Carolina Journal article about that incident:
The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.
Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”
Hmmm, certainly sounds like a case of The Anointed feeling threatened by a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas. After all, there are plenty of bloggers and health professionals in the world promoting the low-fat diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. Are they afraid people will try Cooksey’s advice and discover it actually works? Yes, I think that’s part of it.
In South Africa, The Health Professions Council of SA brought Professor Tim Noakes up on charges for a tweet – that’s right, A TWEET! — in which he advised a young mother (in response to her question) to wean her baby onto high-fat, real foods. The sane response there would have been to send out tweets and press releases explaining why HPCSA disagrees with Noakes. But we can’t expect The Anointed to behave sanely when there’s a risk ordinary people might come to believe their advice is wrong.
Meanwhile, in the land down under, The Anointed initiated another prosecution. Here are some quotes from ABC in Australia:
Gary Fettke is an orthopaedic surgeon and an advocate of a low carbohydrate diet.
He said he became passionate about nutrition after amputating limbs of diabetic patients whose diets were a big part of the problem.
“What I’ve been advocating for some years is cutting sugar down, particularly all the refined sugars in the diet,” he said.
“Over time that’s evolved, and it’s evolved to what I call low carb, healthy fat.
“It’s just eating lots of vegetables, pasture-fed meat and the right amount of oil in the form of things like nuts, avocado, cheese, olive oil and fish.”
Geez, that sounds really, really dangerous. Humans never would have survived and evolved on a wacky diet like that.
According to Dr Fettke, an anonymous complaint from a dietician at the hospital sparked an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Two and a half years later the watchdog found he was working outside his scope of practise and was not qualified to give specific nutritional advice, and he was ordered to stop speaking about the low carbohydrate, high fat diet.
“The committee does not accept that your medicine studies of themselves provide sufficient education or training to justify you providing specific advice or recommendations to patients or the public about nutrition and diet, such as the LCHF lifestyle concept,” it read.
Now, stop and wrap your head around that last statement. Dr. Fettke isn’t qualified to give nutrition advice because he’s just a doctor? Have you EVER heard of a doctor who recommends a low-fat diet with lots of healthywholegrains! being prosecuted anywhere in the world? Of course not. Dr. Fettke summed it up nicely himself:
“You go to your cardiologist and he tells you what to eat, you go to a neurosurgeon and he tells you what to eat, gastroenterologist and all of them, by definition, don’t have a major training in nutrition and yet they’re all giving advice. You cannot push a way of eating onto a person. All I’ve ever done is told patients that there is a choice, that there is an option that’s out there.”
Ahh, but The Anointed don’t want the great unwashed masses to know about options. That could lead to a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas – which would of course be very, very bad. No, The Anointed much prefer something like this:
AHPRA has released a statement reaffirming that it expects medical practitioners to provide appropriate dietary advice to patients.
And “appropriate” means whatever The Anointed say it is.
That’s why we can never stop fighting these arrogant morons.
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In part one, we looked at why The Anointed don’t like wide-open discussion and debate:
1. They believe they are very, very smart.
2. They believe the rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are therefore easily fooled and led astray.
In part two, we quoted from an essay by Dr. David Katz that proves the points made in part one. Social media is endangering our health by allowing everyone to shout health advice into an echo chamber, ya see — and once the inferior brains of ordinary folks are filled with bad information, there’s no room left for good information.
Okay, that’s not exactly how Katz put it, but pretty close. Here’s the exact quote:
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.
If I’d begged The Anointed to please provide an example of how they believe they’re very, very smart and the rest of us aren’t, they couldn’t have provided a better one. I’m guessing Katz doesn’t limit his reading for fear his big ol’ brain will reach full capacity and become incapable of absorbing and evaluating new information. No, that’s only a risk for the rest of us.
He’s an egomaniac, but at least Katz plans to battle what he considers bad information with what he considers good information — provided by the usual gang of goofs who’ve been trying for decades to convince everyone that animal foods will kill us, while grains and soy will save us. He calls his gang of goofs The True Health Initiative, and apparently their mission is to rush out and fill inferior brains with advice Katz likes before advice he doesn’t like occupies all the available space.
Other members of The Anointed aren’t willing to risk having their advice bounce off a brain that already runneth over with advice they don’t like. The only way to prevent that disaster, of course, is to shut down people who argue that The Anointed are wrong. Let’s look at a recent example.
Back in September 2015, the British Medical Journal published a report titled The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific? The report was written by Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise. The upshot of the article: uh, no, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines aren’t based on good science. You can read the BMJ piece online, but here are some quotes from a Newsweek article on the report:
A new report published in BMJ on Wednesday suggests the latest U.S. dietary guidelines up for review are not based on sufficient and up-to-date scientific research of crucial topics, such as saturated fats and low-carbohydrate diets, and may even be fraught with industry biases.
The last time the committee members drew up guidelines—in 2010—they used the Nutrition Evidence Library that was established by the USDA, which provides systematic analyses of research on various nutrition subjects, such as sodium and sugar intake. But the committee that worked on the 2015 guidelines didn’t use that system for more than 70 percent of the topics, including some of the most controversial, according to Nina Teicholz, a New York City–based journalist and author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, who wrote the BMJ report.
In the report, the committee states that there is a “strong” association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease. However, Teicholz says, the review of the science behind saturated fat consumption didn’t include research from the last five years, including several notable papers that don’t demonstrate a link between high saturated fat consumption and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
She says the committee’s review of different kinds of diets—including low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean-style, healthy vegetarian—is also deeply flawed. In the BMJ report, Teicholz says that in some instances, the committee based their conclusions on limited research or poorly designed studies, such as a single clinical trial of 180 people with metabolic syndrome, which found the Mediterranean diet was most effective for weight loss.
Okay, you get the idea. Teicholz pointed out what she considers several flaws how the Dietary Guidelines Committee came up with their recommendations. And since her report was published in the BMJ, it carries some weight. After all, doctors read the thing.
Naturally, The Anointed weren’t happy. Here’s what our buddy Dr. David Katz had to say, as quoted in MedPageToday online:
“The DGAC report is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts,” Katz wrote.
“The notion that the opinion of one journalist with a book to sell is any way a suitable counterpoint to the conclusions of a diverse, multidisciplinary, independent group of scientists who reviewed evidence for the better part of 2 years and relied upon knowledge and judgment cultivated over decades is nearly surreal,” Katz added. “It is a disservice to the readership in both cases.”
I’m almost starting to like Katz. Whenever I need an example of how The Anointed think, he delivers. Notice what his (ahem) “argument” boils down to: THE LITTLE PEOPLE AREN’T QUALIFIED TO QUESTION US, SO NOBODY SHOULD BE LISTENING TO THEM!
The BMJ report is just the “opinion” of one journalist, ya see. Weird thing is, I could have sworn Teicholz cited a whole lot of facts in her critique of the dietary guidelines, not just opinions. That’s why BMJ was persuaded to publish the report. And while The Anointed would love for us all to be swayed by impressive-sounding credentials (conferred by The Anointed themselves, of course), the truth of a statement does not depend on who utters it. Facts are facts – and that’s a fact.
But when facts – or even opinions – are embarrassing to The Anointed, some of them just can’t resist the urge to stifle the opposing voices. Enter the Center for Science in the Public Interest. (Those of you who’ve seen Fat Head are free to yell “This is a job for THE GUY FROM CSPI!”)
Soon after the Teicholz report appeared, CSPI demanded that BMJ retract it. Now, stop and think about that. Katz insisted Teicholz was expressing her opinion in the BMJ article. If that’s true, it means The Guy From CSPI was demanding the BMJ stifle an opinion. Well, that’s just awesome. We The Anointed hereby declare a ban on opinions we don’t like.
But if it’s not an opinion piece, then any dispute comes down to facts. If The Guy From CSPI believes the dietary guidelines are correct, he is of course free to argue in favor of them. If he believes Teicholz doesn’t have facts and logic behind her arguments, the proper response is to reply with facts and logic to dispute her arguments.
But then, we’re talking about CSPI here – the organization that threatened to boycott a nutrition conference unless Teicholz was disinvited. So obviously The Guy From CSPI isn’t a fan of defending his arguments in a debate. He’d rather just prevent people who disagree with him from being heard. So he demanded a retraction of the BMJ report, and attempted to apply pressure by having 100 members of The Anointed sign a petition.
Now for the good news, in case you haven’t already heard: After weighing the evidence (including reports by two independent reviewers), BMJ announced that it stands by the Teicholz report and will not retract it. Here’s part of the announcement by the editor of BMJ:
We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’
Neither Teicholz nor The BMJ are new to criticism. Healthcare is rife with controversy and the field of nutrition more so than many, characterised as it is by much weak science, polarised opinion, and powerful commercial interests.
Weak science? You betcha. Polarized opinion? Of course. When so-called experts promote nonsense based on weak science, opinions should become polarized. That’s why The Anointed are so big on creating consensus: if opinions are polarized, it means people are daring to question them and (egads!) perhaps even insisting they’re wrong. They want those people to shut up.
More on that in the next post.
A reader pointed out that Dr. David Katz was among the 180 anti-fat warriors (not 100) who signed the CSPI demand for a retraction, which means he’s an even bigger jackass than I thought — and that’s saying something. Remember, he described the Teicholz report in BMJ as “the opinion of one journalist with a book to sell.” That means he, along with The Guy From CSPI and the other anti-fat warriors, was demanding BMJ retract an opinion.
So here’s what this boils down to: Teicholz wrote a report saying U.S. dietary guidelines — which still promote anti-saturated-fat hysteria — aren’t based on rigorous science. Then the same group of goofs who’ve been pushing anti-saturated-fat hysteria decades demanded BMJ pull her critique. This isn’t about protecting public health. It’s about protecting their own reputations and interests.
And speaking of having something to sell, Dr. Katz has written several books promoting a low-fat diet (I don’t if he compared his writing in those books to Dickens or Milton), and of course he has a financial interest in NuVal, a system for ranking the healthiness of foods according to his own opinions. So the Teicholz piece was a threat to his own bottom line.
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In our previous episode, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of freedom of speech or of concepts like The Marketplace of Ideas or The Wisdom of Crowds. Two of their most dearly-held beliefs are:
1. They are very, very smart.
2. The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.
Consequently, The Anointed don’t view wide-open debate and discussion as opportunities for the best ideas to be discovered and bubble up to the top. They view them as opportunities for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be fooled and led astray.
Let’s look at a perfect example of what I’m talking about: a recent Huffington Post essay by Dr. David Katz, the guy who developed the NuVal system for ranking the healthiness of foods – a system recently dropped by some big grocery-store chains. Here are some quotes from Katz:
Misinformation is very much in season. Disclosures since the presidential election about massively disseminated misinformation, some of it inadvertent, some of it willfully manipulative, have come fast and furious. In fact, in the aftermath of the recent revelations about fake news, we are being invited to add “post-truth” to our lexicon.
So Dr. Katz is very upset about fake news. That’s pretty danged funny, considering he was caught writing reviews of his own novel under a fake name and comparing himself to John Milton and Charles Dickens. Apparently his definition of fake news is limited to “post-truth” he doesn’t like.
For the record, I think we can all agree we’d prefer not to be exposed to fake news. But of course, fake news isn’t new. In the years that I’ve been paying attention, “news” stories that turned out to be largely or completely fabricated have been printed or aired by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CBS and NBC. The Washington Post even ran a piece recently titled Fake News? That’s A Very Old Story, which recounts how fake news has been around since the founding of the country.
But since the Katz essay is about health advice, I wondered why he opened with a complaint about fake news in the recent election cycle. Then it hit me: he’s trying to draw a parallel between health advice he doesn’t like and wacko stories claiming the Clintons were involved in child-sex rings. If one is bad, the other must be equally bad, ya see. Nice try, Doc.
I’ve written several posts and given a speech about how the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to turn the tide against the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains! nonsense coming from the Axis of Incompetence: the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, partly because I remember the bad old days.
In the 1980s, I was a staff writer and editor for a small magazine called Family Safety & Health. Researching a health article was a process I called “round up the usual suspects.” Something about heart health? Get in touch with the American Heart Association. Diabetes? The American Diabetes Association is your go-to source. Cancer? Call the American Cancer Society. Anything else, start with government health agencies and go from there.
Information flowed from The Anointed at the top, through a handful of gatekeepers, then down to the rest of us. So I, like every other health writer in those days, wrote articles about the wonders of whole grains and the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol. I didn’t know any better because I didn’t have access to contrary evidence and opinions. For The Anointed, those were the good old days.
Now the gatekeepers have been swept aside. I consider that a net positive. Dr. Katz, as a member of The Anointed, of course disagrees:
The social media that served as the currents in which false and misleading election-related news were swept far and wide pose three particular threats to health related information.
The first is that very problem, the unfettered promulgation of information that is just plain wrong. The second is that misinformation is far more pernicious than ignorance. Ignorance is that proverbial empty vessel; a knowledgeable health professional can fill it. But it’s hard to fill a cup that already runneth over- and that’s the scenario that misinformation creates.
And lastly, the third is the very problem we’ve had since the radio was first invented: static. At some level of background noise, the worthiest signal is indiscernible as such. Our ability to deliver a message, any message, depends now, as ever, on the signal to noise ratio.
Let me interpret that: @#$%!! All those @#$%ing bloggers and podcasters are somehow drawing big audiences and convincing millions of people that saturated fat isn’t bad and grains aren’t good! People no longer just accept what The Anointed tell them! This is very, very bad!
Cyberspace is the ultimate, ecumenical echo chamber. Everyone can shout into it, and every shout has the same chance to echo from the megaphones of the sympathetic.
Well, that’s true to an extent. Social media has created a vastly wider and more diverse Marketplace of Ideas. Are some of those ideas garbage? You bet. For all I know, there may be more lousy dietary advice pinging around cyberspace than good advice.
That’s not the point. The point is that good advice – advice that actually works — is now accessible to people who never would have seen it in the pre-internet days. That’s where The Anointed and fans of the Marketplace of Ideas disagree. The Anointed believe if everyone can shout into an echo chamber, everyone will have equal influence. That’s nonsense. It’s like believing everyone who produces a product will have an equal share of the market. Despite what The Anointed think, people aren’t stupid. They gravitate to the products and the advice that prove beneficial.
You may recall the story of my co-worker whose wife suffered from migraines for years. Doctor after doctor failed to prescribe the magic-pill cure. But then a friend-of-a-friend suggested she try giving up grains – because he’d read on the internet that grains can trigger migraines. So she tried giving up grains and voila! – no more migraines. She found relief because of knowledge shared on the internet.
Now, given what the internet is, I suppose someone else might have suggested she rub her eyeballs with orange caterpillars. That would have been junk advice. But here’s the thing: she would have recognized it as junk advice based on the results. That is, after all, largely what the Wisdom of Crowds is about: knowledge gained from experience and then shared with that big ol’ crowd.
The Anointed, by contrast, put far more faith in little groups of experts – with expertise defined by them, of course, and largely consisting of earning degrees by attending classes taught by other members of The Anointed. This is nothing new, by the way. Eric Hoffer, author of the terrific book The True Believer, wrote this in the 1950s:
The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.
Back to Katz on people shouting into that darned echo chamber:
This is an enemy not only to medicine, but to everything in any way related to science, for science demands the filter of genuine understanding, actual expertise, and evidence.
Once again, that’s pretty danged funny, considering it’s coming from a guy whose NuVal system ranks sugar-laden chocolate soy milk as a far healthier option than a turkey breast. I’d like to see the evidence supporting that ranking. Unfortunately, NuVal refuses to explain its scoring system because the information is “proprietary.” In other words, we just made this @#$% up because it’s what we believe.
Having defined the problem – too darned many voices yelling health advice into that social-media echo chamber – Katz then lays out his solution:
In my particular purview- lifestyle medicine- I have felt compelled to develop a new method to confront this New Age challenge. If the noise is irrevocably greater than ever before, so, too, must be the signal. The True Health Initiative pools the voices, currently, of well over 300 leading experts from over 30 countries to make the case that we are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens; that the fundamentals of a health-promoting diet and lifestyle are the stuff of decisive evidence, and global consensus.
Sorry, Doc, but I’m going to have to disagree. When you tell people eggs will kill them and sugar-laden soy milk is a healthier option than a turkey breast, I’m pretty sure you are clueless about the basic care and feeding of Home sapiens – none of whom enjoyed a nice, sweet glass of chocolate-flavored Silk Soy Milk until modern industry made such garbage possible.
I looked up the members of those (ahem) “experts” Katz is putting together to combat the social-media echo chamber. I didn’t recognize most of them, but here are some we all know:
Keith Thomas Ayoob … whom I’ve referred to as “Ayoob the Boob” because he thinks the saturated fat in coconut oil will kill people.
Dr. Neil Barnard … yup, the vegan nut-job whose group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine puts up billboards warning people that consuming animal products will kill them.
T. Colin Campbell … author of The China Study, which attempted to prove (through cherry-picked associations) that eating meat is the main driver of disease.
You get the idea. Katz is assembling a team of the same old anti-fat, anti-cholesterol, anti-meat goofs who have been part of the problem for decades. Talk about an echo chamber.
To his credit, Katz is at least trying to combat what he considers bad information with what he considers good information. The members of The True Health Initiative will be shouting into the very echo chamber Katz dislikes. Since I believe the Marketplace of Ideas works, I predict the market won’t be kind to them. No amount of shouting from the usual suspects will convince people who’ve seen their health improve after going low-carb, gluten-free or paleo to take a giant step backwards.
Other members of The Anointed aren’t satisfied with shouting into the echo chamber. They’d rather prevent people who disagree with them from shouting in the first place … or writing, or tweeting, or whatever. We’ll pick up that subject in the next post.
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The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech. Sure, they pay lip-service to the idea now and then, but when you watch them in action, it’s clear they don’t much like wide-open discussions and free-wheeling debates. You may recall, for example, what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, was invited to be part of a nutrition panel at the National Food Policy Conference: members of the Center For Science in the Public Interest and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee threatened to boycott unless she was disinvited … which she was.
I wrote at the time that the CSPI weenies were afraid Teicholz would kick their asses in a public debate. I still believe that’s part of the explanation, but recent events (which I’ll cover in later posts) got me thinking there’s more to it.
To explain, let’s start by quickly summarizing the Wisdom of Crowds concept: when ordinary people share their experiences, ideas and insights with each other, the right answers tend to eventually bubble up to the top. Notice that the Wisdom of Crowds doesn’t mean the majority is always correct, and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s ideas are good ideas. It simply means that when ideas and information are freely exchanged within that big ol’ crowd, the good ideas tend to take hold.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. are based on a similar concept. The Founders believed in what’s often called the Marketplace of Ideas. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that it’s safe to tolerate error of opinion where reason is left free to combat it. Fredrick Siebert put it quite nicely in Four Theories of The Press:
Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.
Notice what both the Wisdom of Crowds and the Marketplace of Ideas have in common? That’s right … they’re based on faith in ordinary people. Given access to lots of information and competing ideas, most people will come to the correct conclusion most of the time. So people who believe in the Wisdom of Crowds view the prospect of debate and discussion with an attitude of Bring it on! I’ll make my case, you make yours, and we’ll see who wins.
The Anointed, by contrast, view wide-open debate and discussion as a threat. Why? I used to think it’s because they know their Grand Plans are based on flimsy or non-existent evidence. As Thomas Sowell points out in both The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, The Anointed tend to fall in love with bold, new, exciting ideas. They don’t like waiting for solid evidence to support their bold, new, exciting ideas, and are quite adept at ignoring or dismissing evidence that their bold, new, exciting ideas are wrong. So I figured they’re hostile to debate out of simple fear someone will prove them wrong.
But that doesn’t jibe with a fundamental trait of The Anointed: their extreme confidence in themselves and their ideas. So after noodling on it for awhile, I decided their hostility towards debate and discussion is rooted in two of their most dearly-held beliefs, which are:
1. They are very, very smart.
2. The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.
Therefore, The Anointed aren’t afraid they’ll be proven wrong – heck, they don’t believe it’s possible for them to be wrong. Rather, they’re afraid the rest of us are too stupid to discern how right they are. When we hear lots of contrary opinions, we (unlike The Anointed) don’t have the intelligence to weigh the evidence and come to the correct conclusions. So as far as The Anointed are concerned, an open debate is nothing more than an opportunity for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be led astray.
That’s why so many of them long for the good ol’ days when a relatively small number of information gatekeepers decided what most of us see and hear. That’s why so many of them are angry about the emergence of talk radio, social media, blogs, and other forms of what they derisively call the “pajamas media.” (I’m not wearing pajamas at the moment, in case you’re wondering.) The information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates, which means the Marketplace of Ideas is a vastly larger and more diverse marketplace than it once was.
That’s what allows the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish. But The Anointed don’t believe in the Wisdom of Crowds, so they consider all that debate and discussion a problem. We’ll look at how they (ahem) “solve” that problem in the next couple of posts.
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I don’t have much time to sit down and read an actual book. When I do read the old-fashioned way, it’s usually a book someone sent me to review on the blog. Hey, I like reading and reviewing those books, but I don’t want to be limited to them. There are more fascinating books that have already been published than I could read in a thousand years … and while I plan on living to a ripe old age, a thousand years seems overly optimistic.
Since driving to and from work takes a big chunk of each week, I make the commute useful by listening to books I don’t have time to sit and read. My Audible.com library online shows that I’ve downloaded 25 books so far this year. Yup, that sounds about right, a book every other week or so. I like a variety of genres: history, economics, psychology, and of course fiction. I’m a big fan of mysteries by Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly.
I rarely listen to books on diet and health, but I often find myself connecting ideas from audiobooks to the topics I cover on the blog. (I also find myself slapping the steering wheel and grumbling aloud when a fiction writer refers to foods like bacon and eggs as “artery-clogging.” Kellerman does that on a fairly regular basis.)
Last week, I posted Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay about what he calls the Intellectual Yet Idiot – a description very much like Thomas Sowell’s description of The Anointed, the term I adopted for the blog. These are the people who think they know better than the rest of us and thus feel qualified to impose their Grand Plans on us. Think U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
Based on recommendations from readers in comments, I listened to three of Taleb’s books in the past year: The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and Antifragile. I don’t remember exactly which idea came which book, but I do remember that much of what he wrote applies to health and the health sciences.
One reason Taleb is so critical of the Intellectual Yet Idiot types is that (as he explained in all three books) human beings don’t know what they don’t know and are thus lousy at predicting future consequences. They don’t consider the rare or black-swan event that can cause everything to blow up or go sideways. So they make Grand Plans and 10-year forecasts that are nearly always wrong – way wrong.
As he explained in one of the books (I believe it was Antifragile), that’s why he considers centralization (especially a big, centralized government) dangerous. Centralization amplifies mistakes. Instead of small groups experimenting with their own ideas and producing results others can learn from, we get one plan and one set of results for everyone – often bad results.
Once again, think about those Dietary Guidelines. Back in the day, people decided which foods were good for them based on something like the Wisdom of Crowds. They learned from their grandmothers, their coaches, their friends, and perhaps their doctors – most of whom were speaking from experience.
Then for some reason, The Anointed decided we needed a national nutrition policy. Medical protocols, school lunch programs, nutrition labels on foods, you name it, they were all based on federal guidelines that told us saturated fat is bad, cholesterol causes heart disease, and grains are good for us. Those guidelines were a mistake – and centralization amplified the mistake. The national policy produced a national disaster for health.
Taleb also has rather a lot to say about education and experts. Many of us believe (because we were taught to believe) that most scientific knowledge comes from academics toiling in universities. They produce the pure science, then tinkerers and entrepreneurs put that pure science to practical use.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, according to Taleb. More often, it’s the tinkerers who produce new knowledge. They tinker and tinker and find something new that works. Then the academics come along and figure out why it works. Then they run off and write their papers. As Taleb explains, it’s not necessary to understand exactly why something works to know that it does, in fact, work. For example, the guys who invented the jet engine couldn’t explain the physics. They just knew they’d tinkered their way into something that worked. Academics figured out the physics of the thing later.
I of course related that back to diet and health while listening. Think of all the dietary wisdom our ancestors carried with them. They knew they should feed their growing kids saturated fats and cholesterol. They knew they should eat fermented foods. They knew they should eat organ meats. If you asked your great-grandmother which foods make people fat, she probably would have blamed sugar and flour, not butter and lard.
Could these people cite scientific papers to support their beliefs about diet? Not likely. But they knew what works. I believe that’s an important lesson for all of us: it’s more important to find and adopt what works than to read all the science.
The “settled” science, is of course, often wrong. Taleb points out several examples in his books. I was reminded of further examples in two books by David McCullough, The Wright Brothers and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were master tinkerers. They were also geniuses. When they began designing their first airplane, they consulted the established books on physics and aeronautics. They were dismayed to discover that much of the “settled” science was clearly wrong. It didn’t hold up to their own tests and measurements. So they had to toss the books and tinker their way into finding what worked.
The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by another genius named John Roebling. The bridge was a mammoth undertaking, and when Roebling submitted his plans, some society of learned engineers in New York City published a long article explaining why his design would never work. The bridge would fall down, you see. The experts cited plenty of science to explain why.
The bridge not only didn’t fall down, it now easily withstands the weight of countless cars and trucks – despite being designed for pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. The society of learned experts was wrong, despite their scientific citations.
Does that remind you at all of current dietary science?
Another book that reminded me of diet and health topics despite not being about diet and health was Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini. (I know, the title makes it sound like a book on marketing and sales. Trust me, it’s more about psychology.)
One major point the authors make is that warning people about a problem without also providing a solution that works is pointless – unless your goal is to make people depressed. In fact, if you regularly offer warnings without workable solutions, people will just avoid you.
That made me think of all the morons who believe we can fat-shame people into losing weight. Doctors need to more aggressive in telling people they’re overweight, ya see (according to some health official the U.K., if memory serves.) We need to make it socially unacceptable, blah-blah-blah.
Warning people that being overweight will kill them doesn’t provide a solution. Telling them to just cut calories or go on low-fat diets also isn’t a solution for most of them. So if health officials convince doctors to be more aggressive in telling people to lose weight (i.e., engage in white-coat fat-shaming), what do think will happen? Well, studies have already shown what will happen: people who can’t lose weight will stop going to the doctor to avoid the lectures. Someone please inform Meme Roth.
The book also explains that many people are persuaded by what the authors call social proof. If everyone else seems to believe something, they’ll believe it … even if logic and experience should tell them otherwise.
I think it’s safe to say that social proof had a lot to do with the low-fat diet craze. The government experts told us we should be on low-fat diets, major media began promoting the idea, and eventually everyone seemed to believe it. Watch reruns of TV shows from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I guarantee you’ll hear references to arterycloggingsaturatedfat! I’ve noticed at least a dozen of those references while watching Seinfeld reruns.
I like to think of myself as someone not persuaded by social proof, but apparently I am – or at least I was then. I kept trying low-fat diets, despite feeling lousy and not losing any weight. Everyone says this is a healthy diet, so it must be a healthy diet! I hope I’ve become less easily persuaded as I’ve gotten older. I’ve certainly become more skeptical of experts and authorities.
But I also believe social proof can work both ways. Not everyone has the time or inclination to experiment with different diets or look into the research, so many just follow the herd. If the herd is moving towards paleo, or low-carb, or gluten-free, that’s not a bad result.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to leave the office and drive home while listing to a Jonathan Kellerman novel. I hope he doesn’t make any cracks about bacon and eggs clogging our arteries.
I’ll be taking Thanksgiving week off from both work and blogging. Jimmy and Christine Moore will be visiting, and when I’m not socializing or playing disc golf with Jimmy, Chareva and I will put in extra time on the book. I’ve asked The Older Brother to take over the Fat Head chair if the mood strikes him.
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Geez, time flies. Blink twice, and it’s another birthday.
In two years, I’ll be 60. I remember when 60 sounded old. Maybe it is, but I predict I won’t feel old. I’m 58 today, and I feel better than I did at 35. No arthritis in the shoulder, no psoriasis on the back of my head, no bouts of mild asthma, no gastric reflux, no belly aches, no restless legs or mysterious backaches at night.
I should probably send Morgan Spurlock a thank-you card. Super Size Me annoyed me, which inspired the idea for Fat Head, which led to me learning a lot more about diet and health than I’d ever planned to know. None of this — the film, the blog, the little farm in rural Tennessee, the upcoming book — was what I envisioned 20 years ago, which just proves the universe had better plans for my life than I did.
We had the family celebration on Saturday night. Tonight I’m just going to kick back and watch Monday Night Football and enjoy feeling alive and healthy and optimistic about the next 50 years.
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