Thursday, September 29, 2011

Announcement For My Fellow Cultists

Attention all fellow cult members, this week we are having a discount on black robes and candles, please contact your closest cell member for details.

First Richard Nikoley relates how his father (who happens to have the world's coolest name), was told by his bible-thumping brothers that eating Paleo is a cult, then Dr Davis takes umbrage at being compared to David Koresh in an Amazon review of his new book. This seems to be the last gasp defense of those who think eating bread and margarine is healthy.

Here's my take on being compared to a cultist:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

(breathe)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!

And when I stop laughing like a drunken hyena I would say, "Is that all you got?"

There is the famous quote which may or may not be attributable to Ghandi:
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
Being accused of being a cultist because I avoid grains, sugar and frankeoils is very much beyond the mocking stage and well into the fighting stage. Yeah, it's pathetic, but them's fighting words nonetheless. OK, more like laughing words, but they're meant to be fighting words.

This is what it feels like to win my fellow cultists. The tide is turning and the idiots are grasping at straws. OK, so my dogmatic sister-in-law doctor is still advising my father-in-law to avoid SFAs whilst he indulges in tons of sugar (cancer and double bypass notwithstanding), but the tide is definitely turning. If anyone accuses you of being a cult member make sure and do whatever the hell you feel like, because who am I to tell you how to react? But I would advise you to laugh like a drunken hyena or else you totally won't get that very considerable discount on robes and candles we are offering.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of true evil, or at least one of the better portrayals Hollywood has come up with:


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Kid Is Stronger Than Your Kid

Well, not so likely if you are reading this blog. But it is pretty amazing to see how much more physical my kid is than most of his peers, especially the older kids. Is this because he eats (more or less) a healthy diet rich in SFAs, protein and low in sugar and other NADs? Impossible to say for sure, of course, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

One of my kid's favorite things is to climb up the firepole at the local playground. I've seen many other older kids try and copy him and fail abysmally.

Going up
He's also the only kid at the playground typically wearing shorts, much less going shirtless. The majority of kids are actually wearing hats, so they won't get damaged by the awful Northern European September afternoon sunshine. I get plenty of hairy eyeballs from Czech mothers, but I think it mostly gets tipped to the fact that I'm a presumably lackadaisical father and an obvious foreigner.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Perfect Health Diet

Do not adjust your sets, yes that's a bowl of ice cream

I'm not sure when I first started hearing about PHD and reading the blog. It wasn't that long ago, maybe six months at the outside. It was one of those things where suddenly all the blogosphere hepcats were talking about it.

There exists the musician's musician, the comedian's comedian, or the actor's actor. What's cool about this book is that it is sort of the health aficionado's health book, yet at the same time extremely accessible. So accessible that my wife has pretty much been monopolizing it since it arrived more than a month ago. This is especially notable because my wife's native language is Czech, and while her English is excellent, she's not crazy about reading books in English. In fact she just plain doesn't do it. Which I can understand. Back when I was making a serious effort to learn Czech, I would buy Czech newspapers, and try to read Czech books, etc. Reading is something I do for enjoyment, and reading in a foreign tongue is just too damn much effort to be enjoyable. My wife is the same way (even though her English is light years ahead of my Czech).

I found Good Calories, Bad Calories to be a fairly easy and compelling read but it really needed more graphs and illustrations. A picture can be worth a thousand words and a simple xy graph can often encapsulate a lot of text. PHD is easy on the eye in this regard. Here's a couple of shots to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:



Lots of tables, bullet points and graphs and inset text.
Which I think is awesome

PHD was ahead of the Paleo curve in its embracing, or at least non-demonization, of carbs. Almost the vanguard of post-Paleo or Paleo 2.0. The Jaminets also have some interesting ideas about obesity and malnutrition and the role of chronic infection. I confess I'm skeptical of the chronic infection hypothesis. But skeptical in the way that I'm skeptical that neutrinos can travel faster than light. No, scratch that, skeptical in the the way I am of skeptical of, I dunno, meme theory. Cautiously optimistic with a large dash of show me more.

I purchased this book from The Book Depository which ships worldwide for free. It took 7 weeks but eventually arrived to this mysterious place known as the Czech Republic. Having stuff shipped via third party gets really, really old (wake up Amazon!).

OK, so what did I hate about this book? I bought the book myself so I'm not beholden to the authors to write some kiss-ass review. No frickin' index! Come on guys, where's the index? Other than that I've got nothing. Great book, great blog, keep up the good work.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The No. 1 Reason People are Getting Fatter: Journalists are Idiots!

I was all set to hate this study which led to such idiotic headlines as The No. 1 Reason Americans Are Getting Fatter: We're Not Smoking!!!. But the study itself is not the problem and it seems to be well done for what it is, a study on the socio-economics of obesity, specifically these factors: differences in employment, physical activity at work, food prices, prevalence of restaurants, cigarette smoking, cigarette pricing, food stamp receipts and the prevalence of urban sprawl. Out of those factors, smoking was the leading one, but the authors concluded that even this leading socio-economic factor only contributed to 2% of the weight difference.

Jumping from this study to the idiotic Atlantic headline is like looking at the number of telephones in Germany and North Korea, then writing, The No. 1 Reason Germans Are Getting Richer: More Telephones!!!

source
And then there's this idiotic article in the BBC, it was the most read article a few days ago, Diets Fail Because Advice is Wrong, Say Researchers. It is the typical eat less, exercise more BS but with a twist. This advice turns out not to work very well (or at all) because, wait for it . . . people have too high expectations and too little willpower:
"It stems from how much energy it takes to burn fat. A lot of diets are not proven by science."

She said some dieters might find it depressing to be told that it takes far longer to get weight down than previously thought.

"It's not very motivating to tell someone that if they cut their intake by 10 calories a day every day for the next three years they will lose a pound of weight."

"Nor is it motivating to tell them that our methods don't actually work. But as real, honest-to-goodness scientists and journalists with, like, degrees and stuff, we are going to keep dishing this horseshit out as long as it pays the bills."

source

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Food Reward and Addiction Pt I

Source: here and here

According to Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (AKA, the US Government's official scientist and spokesperson on drug abuse), "Addiction is all about the dopamine".

So what is addiction? According to this NY Times article on Nora Volkow:
All addictive substances send dopamine levels surging in the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center. Amphetamines induce cells to release it directly; cocaine blocks its reuptake; alcohol and narcotics like morphine, heroin and many prescription pain relievers suppress nerve cells that inhibit its release.

Addicts and first-time users alike get the high that correlates with the dopamine wave. Only a minority of novices, however, will develop the compulsion to keep taking the drug at great personal cost, a behavior that defines addiction.
Anything that is done at great personal cost is addiction? That would mean that ALL obese people are addicted to food. The great personal cost of being fat is well-known: reduced mobility, reduced sexual attractiveness, reduced health, etc. That is something most people can agree on. Yet fat people keep over-eating at great personal cost!

No fair using quoting a NYT "science" journalist's definition of addiction? Okay, here's the official definition of substance dependence from DSM-IV:
When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed. Compulsive and repetitive use may result in tolerance to the effect of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped.
Notice that the definition is limited to "alcohol and drugs". Isn't food a substance? What is the psychiatric definition of drug?
The term drug may refer to any non-food chemical substance or preparation administered for the purpose of correcting or attenuating a disease process (therapeutic drug) or for pleasure (recreational drug). Almost all drugs of interest in the realm of behavioral health care achieve their primary effects in the brain (central nervous system) and may also be referred to as psychoactive or psychotropic.
So if I eat food (which is made up of chemicals, shockingly enough) for pleasure it's just eating food. If I eat a non-food chemical substance for pleasure or for a disease it's a drug. This crap is making me tired and I've barely gotten started. I'd just like to point out, even if I hate these terribly vague definitions in a field that purports to be scientific, I don't think psychiatrists are "witch doctors" (although some of them certainly are, but then some GPs are also).

One obvious difference between difference between foods and drugs is that no has to take drugs, right? Well there's the therapeutic kind, of course, antibiotics and such, those are necessary. But not the recreational kind, right? Those are totally unnecessary. If only we had the power to make the bad chemicals disappear from the face of the Earth.
As Dr. Volkow said to a group of drug experts convened by the surgeon general last month to discuss the problem, “In the past, when we have addressed the issue of controlled substances, illicit or licit, we have been addressing drugs that we could remove from the earth and no one would suffer.”

But prescription drugs, she continued, have a double life: They are lifesaving yet every bit as dangerous as banned substances. “The challenges we face are much more complex,” Dr. Volkow said, “because we need to address the needs of patients in pain, while protecting those at risk for substance use disorders.”

In other words, these drugs must be somehow legal and illegal, encouraged yet discouraged, tightly regulated yet easily available.
There's so much arrogance and ignorance there it makes me shudder. Ignorance from a well-renowned scientist and researcher with a bajillion degrees? Absolutely. Being an expert on dopamine reuptake doesn't make one an expert on human nature, politics or civil liberties. Making doctors even more afraid to prescribe opiates to people in chronic pain just in case some high school kid might pop some of granny's pill or whatever is idiotic. And what makes Volkow so smugly sure she and her ilk know what chemical substances ought to be removed from the earth? If it turns out wheat has opioid properties would Dr Volkow recommend making it a controlled substance so that it could be both "legal and illegal"?

If Nora Volkow wants to be "general in the drug war" lets give her a rifle and a hardhat and send her off to northern Mexico so she can lead from the front.

OK, so I obviously despise Volkow's ideas as a drug warrior. But what about her research (and research in general) on dopamine and addiction and her assertion that "it is all about dopamine"? If obesity is an addiction, and addiction is all about dopamine, then is obesity all about dopamine?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The (Non)Science of Willpower and Self-Control

Source
I saw the guys at Freakonomics talking about a new book by John Tierney (a NY Times journalist) and Roy Baumeister (a social psychologist at FSU) called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Since I've recently been interested in food reward, addiction and the mind/body problem I thought I'd check out some of Baumeister's research, thanks to PubMed every armchair research analyst's (or just gadfly in my case) favorite internet tool. Unfortunately, I've only got access to abstracts but those were enough to peg my bullshit meter.

First we have this Baumeister study entitled "High trait self-control predicts positive health behaviors and success in weight loss." Here's the abstract:
Surprisingly few studies have explored the intuitive connection between self-control and weight loss. We tracked participants' diet, exercise and weight loss during a 12-week weight loss program. Participants higher in self-control weighed less and reported exercising more than their lower self-control counterparts at baseline. Independent of baseline differences, individuals high in dispositional self-control ate fewer calories overall and fewer calories from fat, burned marginally more calories through exercise, and lost more weight during the program than did those lower in self-control. These data suggest that trait self-control is, indeed, an important predictor of health behaviors.
People with more self-control ate less (especially fat!) and exercised more, hence they lost more weight. There's so much wrong there, at this point I'm pretty much done with the guy. But the book blurb at Amazon mentions Baumeister's oft-cited work with willpower and brain glucose and that got my attention:
In what became one of the most cited papers in social science literature, Baumeister discovered that willpower actually operates like a muscle: it can be strengthened with practice and fatigued by overuse. Willpower is fueled by glucose, and it can be bolstered simply by replenishing the brain's store of fuel. That's why eating and sleeping- and especially failing to do either of those-have such dramatic effects on self-control (and why dieters have such a hard time resisting temptation).
Wait, willpower operates like a muscle and it is fueled by glucose, sort of like a muscle? Hmmm...so do people who are frequently in ketosis have less willpower?

Baumeister has several papers on glucose and self-control. Perhaps they are referring to this one:
The present work suggests that self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source. Laboratory tests of self-control (i.e., the Stroop task, thought suppression, emotion regulation, attention control) and of social behaviors (i.e., helping behavior, coping with thoughts of death, stifling prejudice during an interracial interaction) showed that (a) acts of self-control reduced blood glucose levels, (b) low levels of blood glucose after an initial self-control task predicted poor performance on a subsequent self-control task, and (c) initial acts of self-control impaired performance on subsequent self-control tasks, but consuming a glucose drink eliminated these impairments. Self-control requires a certain amount of glucose to operate unimpaired. A single act of self-control causes glucose to drop below optimal levels, thereby impairing subsequent attempts at self-control.

The idea that acts of self-control could burn BG at higher levels than, say, normal thinking is interesting. The idea that drinking sugar water is going to increase someone's self-control sounds like a load of crap to me. I mean how does one quantitatively measure "stifling prejudice during an interracial interaction"? By drinking a liter of Coke?

Certainly addiction is a very real phonemena and is correlated with poor-impulse control. But I don't think what people like Baumeister are doing fits into the arena of actual science. The Freakonomics blog points to Anthony Weiner who famously lost his job by tweeting his johnson as an example of someone screwing up their life with poor impulse control. But I think impulse-control is a lot more complicated than that, or I'm not sure that sexting one's member is really about impulse control. Maybe it's just about being an asshole. Weiner was described by the NY Times "as often working long hours with his staff, requiring them to be in constant contact by Blackberry, frequently yelling at them, and occasionally physically abusing office furniture in anger." So apparently an asshole, but a workaholic asshole. Can one be a workaholic and still have little self-control or poor impulse control? Well, yeah, probably. But I think there's something else going on, perhaps being in a detached position constantly surrounded by ingratiating flunkies and all the other job characteristics that seem to make this sort of thing endemic among politicians. I dunno, but I don't think it has anything to do with quaffing a sugar drink.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Odds and Ends

This is my recently discovered quick and dirty lunch food. Cheap pork paté (and occaisonally the good stuff) and celery. I'm not a fan of raw celery but it makes a good foil for paté if one doesn't eat bread or crackers. Paté is too rich to eat straight, and raw celery is too boring to eat by itself, but the combination is pretty good. And it's a great way to work in some liver (nature's multivitamin).


And here's some found art:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Food Reward--Ah Screw It, I'm In.

Or more specifically, I've lost a hell of a lot of my skepticism thanks to a lot of thought-provoking comments. Thanks for chiming in everyone.

The sea change for me is that food reward is not really about palatability but about addiction. Dr Kurt Harris gave a terrific example with what I'm going to hereby dub the Pringle Principle™. Dr Emily Deans pointed out that addiction is a scientifically documented phenomena, and palatability is something of a red herring. All these damn ninja doctors reading my blog is really harshing my buzz keeping me on my toes

I've sort of lost interest in writing about the whole mind/body problem. Maybe I'll keep going with that, perhaps as to how addiction relates to the mind/body problem. But I really have to digest all this, and I'm frankly a slow thinker so we'll see, although addiction is a pretty fascinating subject.

And now for something completely different. This classic film had (IMDB rating 6.7 WTF?) my 4 1/2 year old rolling on the floor laughing. I was forced (forced I tell you!) to replay the talking ass scene eleventy-hundred billion times. Talk about frickin' addiction. Talking asses and four-year-olds, it's a marriage made in heaven.

"Excuse me. I'd like to ass you a question."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Food Reward and the Mind/Body Problem Pt I

Source
Dr Kurt Harris made some insightful comments about the food reward hypothesis (FRH) that made me reconsider my skepticism (though not necessarily abandon it, just yet). I thought the most interesting thing was concerning the mind/body problem:
One thing I like about FR is what Sean hates - the fact that it brings in the messy mind/body thing. This helps me explain many of the failures of LC that I see, as well as to tie in emotional eating - cases where even Paul Jaminet could customize your diet down to the molecule and you would still get fat because you are using food literally as a drug- you are not really hungry in the food sense so much as the "I want to stimulate myself with something" sense. These people definitely exist. I've seen many of them. You probably know some too if you think about it...

Apparently GT [Gary Taubes] hates it partly for that reason too. He insists that if you say fat is regulated by the brain, that means you are part of the energy balance paradigm, and not the "proper" fat cells and hormones one...and even more egregiously, I would guess he thinks that saying the brain is the locus instead of the more passive adipocyte is uncomfortably close to "gluttony and sloth".

I don't blame all obesity on gluttony and sloth, but the words do have meaning - 
Is the mind/body problem really FRH's strength instead of a weakness? It's certainly an interesting question.

The mind/body problem has also been seen as the body/soul dichotomy (by non-secular philosophers) or the mind/brain dichotomy. It is tied up with artificial intelligence (AI) and goes to the root of some very basic questions like the existence and/or nature of free will and self-awareness. I am going to start to approach this problem from the strong AI vs what Martin Gardner calls the Mysterian's perspective, mostly citing Douglas Hofstadter's views as the strong AI advocate and Roger Penrose for the counter argument. I'm not crazy about the term Mysterian, but here's Martin Gardner talking about the opposing viewpoints in an 1991 interview:
You know the problem of consciousness is a hot topic right now. There have been half a dozen books published just in the last year or two. All of them are trying to figure out what it is in the brain that makes you self-aware. Of course, materialists like Moravec, and Churchland and his wife, are of the opinion that is it only going to be a short time until we figure out how the brain makes itself aware. But there is another school of philosophy that is coming into prominence now, with which I am sympathetic. They’re called the Mysterians. The Mysterians, and this includes a number of very top notch philosophers like Donald Chalmers, Colin Magin, John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Jerry Fodor, Noam Chomsky, and a bunch of others, are of the opinion, and I share this view, that consciousness is something so mysterious that no one has the slightest idea how the brain makes itself aware, and we may never find out. That’s the extreme Mysterian position, that we don’t have the intellectual capacity ever to solve the problem of consciousness. It may be something beyond our power to understand; the way calculus is beyond the mind of a chimpanzee. It’s an interesting point of view because it may be that there are some questions beyond the reach of science because of the limitations of our present brain. Perhaps in a million years from now, if we evolve with bigger brains, we’ll solve it. Roger Penrose is a Mysterian. This was one of the themes of his famous book The Emperor’s New Mind,
for which I wrote the introduction.

We Mysterians think consciousness won’t be understood for at least a long, long time. Also, the Mysterians believe that self-awareness and free will are two names for the same thing. If you try to imagine yourself without self-awareness, then you can’t imagine yourself having free will to make decisions. You’d be like an automaton.
The reason I don't like the Mysterian label is that it can give the impression that there's something unknowable about the human brain and hence free will and self-awareness. This is not Penrose's position at all. 

Roger Penrose hypothesizes that the brain exploits aspects of quantum physics that are not yet understood. That, in order to understand how the brain functions, one must also understand bizarre aspects of quantum mechanics such as a photon seemingly being in two places at once in a double-slit experiment. Penrose's views are, needless to say, controversial. I happen to agree with Penrose, but this makes me an outlier.

A core concept in the mind/body or mind/brain duality argument is that the mind could be exactly reproduced in some other medium like a computer or in a book or even in an ant colony. This is one of the running ideas in Hofstadter's book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid:
Mind vs. Brain
In coming Chapters, where we discuss the brain, we shall examine whether the brain's top level-the mind-can be understood without understanding the lower levels on which it both depends and does not depend. Are there laws of thinking which are "sealed off" from the lower laws that govern the microscopic activity in the cells of the brain? Can mind be "skimmed" off of brain and transplanted into other systems? Or is it impossible to unravel thinking processes into neat and modular subsystems? Is the brain more like an atom, a renormalized electron, a nucleus, a neutron, or a quark? Is consciousness an epiphenomenon? To understand the mind, must one go all the way down to the level of nerve cells? [GEB, pp 315]
AI futurists (and sci-fi writers) who believe that humanity will one day (probably within a century) be able to upload itself into some sort of computer obviously think that the mind can be "skimmed" off the brain. A more gradualist approach is to consider that human brain could be emulated to a reasonable enough degree so as to create human-like intelligences once the signal processing properties of neurons are sorted out. This is Robin Hanson's approach. Robin writes here:
My claim is that, in order to create economically-sufficient substitutes for human workers, we don’t need to understand how the brain works beyond having decent models of each cell type as a signal processor. Like the weather, protein folding is not designed to process signals and so does not have the decoupling feature I describe above. Brain cells are designed to process signals in the brain, and so should have a much simplified description in signal processing terms. We already have pretty good signal-processing models of some cell types; we just need to do the same for all the other cell types.
Hanson's ideas are not mutually exclusive with Penrose's. They could even be considered complimentary. Penrose thinks that a proper neuron/brain model requires a deeper understanding of physics than we currently have, Hanson thinks that the signal processing characteristics of neurons needs to to be correctly modeled.

But if neurons exploit quantum mechanics is it possible to build a model of a neuron without a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics, what Penrose calls, correct quantum gravity (CGQ)?It doesn't seem possible.

For example, let's look at the famous "paradox" of Schrödinger's Cat.

A cat is in a steel box, there is a vial of poison gas that is released via some sort of quantum process like a Geiger counter detecting the radioactive decay of some radioactive element such that there is a 50/50 chance of the poison being triggered within the course of an hour (note: no actual cats were harmed in this thought experiment).

Without looking in the box, there is no way to know the actual state of the cat according to our current understanding of quantum mechanics. There is a 50% chance that the cat is either alive or dead. This is the kind of thing Einstein was lamenting when he talked about God not playing dice with the Universe. Depending on one's interpretation, the Universe may split into one with a live kitty and one with a dead kitty, or the cat may exist in a state of superposition that is collapsed upon observation, or something else altogether. Or the state of the cat might simply be determined at any time by some as-yet-unkown CQG theory as Penrose conjectures.

The point being that in order to understand how a neuron employs quantum mechanics (assuming it actually does so) one would need to understand the paradox of Schrödinger's Cat, which would mean it would no longer be a paradox.

This is not to say that thinking machines can't be built without CQG. Steam engines were invented (apparently by the Greeks) without a deep understanding of thermodynamics, Edison invented the phonograph without understanding acoustical wave mechanics and Fourier transforms, etc. So it is very possible that someone will invent a thinking, self-aware quantum computer intelligence before we come up with a theory of everything that will explain how it works.

Wow, this has already gotten pretty long and I feel like I've just gotten started. I do plan to bring this around to food reward and addiction eventually, if only from a more philosophical perspective, I do think the question of how the brain works, and our lack of understanding thereof, is inextricably tied up with all of this.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cool Food Labels

OK, so as I'm a libertarian or classical liberal, I'm not a big fan of government regulations in general. If people want to live off of Cheetos and Twinkies I doubt they are going to spend much time perusing the nutritional labels. I do think that the market would provide labeling anyway, at least to cater to the segment of the population that actually cares about what it eats, had the government not took it upon itself to force companies to label their products. I also think it is the government's job, one of its only jobs, to enforce contracts and the rule of law so that labels should not be providing willfully false data.

Anyway, if there are going to be mandatory labels, I think it would be helpful if they looked something like this:


That's the winning entry from a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism contest. Obviously I have some quibbles, the low-fat high fiber agenda, etc, but that's already built into the government regulatory system's "settled science". Still, the block chart format is pretty damn cool.

Via Reason

Monday, September 05, 2011

Is Obesity Really Just About Processed Foods?

Matt Metzgar thinks that the cause of obesity is frickin' obvious:
I read a curious blog post the other day about nutrition.  The person stated he didn't know how people get fat, even though he had successfully lost weight via a Paleo diet.  This shows how "nutritionism" has taken over as far as clouding the mechanisms behind weight gain.

In a nutshell, obesity/overweight is caused by consumption of processed foods.  Historically, whenever processed food enters a culture, obesity follows.  I was just reading the other day about the Tohono O'odham Indians, who as recently as 1960 had almost no diabetes.  Now they have one of the highest rates in the world.  The cause: adoption of processed/Western food.

Now what's not so clear is what elements of processed foods are driving the changes.  This is where science can hopefully answer the questions: is it the fructose, the glycemic index, the added oils, etc.  Things can get interesting in this regard.  For example, Americans actually consumed more flour and cereal products in 1909 than they do today, yet obesity was minimal back then (yes, I know people were more physically active then).
So the mechanism of weight gain is modern processed foods, full stop. Matt then points to a "study" which says that Americans ate "more flour and cereal products in 1909 than they do today". Why do I put study in quotes? Because the "study" has a single author, none other than Neal Bernard, PCRM founder, vegan activist and all-around bullshit artist (and here and here and  here). Not surprisingly, Bernard's paper concludes that meat and cheese are major contributors to obesity. In other breaking news, the Pope still believes in God.

Now if one didn't know that Bernard had a religious agenda (yes, veganism is a religion), one might look at this "paper", published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine and mistake it for something resembling science. As for me, the header of my blog sums up my feelings on this and any other "research" Bernard puts his name to.

I'd like to point out that long before the golden age of 1909, a formerly obese guy named William Banting published an extremely popular weight loss pamphlet. It advised people to avoid "sugar, saccharine matter, starch, beer, milk and butter," was published in 1863, and was successful for obvious reasons. Banting and the people who had success following his diet didn't get obese from eating processed foods, such things didn't exist in those days. And they didn't get fat from eating frankenoils. They got fat from eating lots of white flour, sugar and beer. Processed foods have made the situation much worse, of course, but I don't think that the science is even close to "settled" to the point where obesity can simply be laid at their doorstep.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Dinoaurs and Asteroids and Taubes and Guyenet

In his latest attack on Gary Taubes, and let's face it, this has gotten very personal for Stephan Gueyenet, he writes:
Could it be possible that, rather than thousands of career obesity researchers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry being stuck in the wrong paradigm for the last 60 years, a journalist with a physics and engineering background, who lost weight on a low-carbohydrate diet, made a wrong turn and can't admit it? I don't expect Taubes to ever change his mind, but I hope at least that people with clear minds will see the weakness of his position and the arrogance that sustains it.
At least people with clear minds? The arrogance that sustains it? Tell me this sort of shrill ad hominem is not personal. Guyenet concludes with this:
I challenge Gary Taubes to address the scientific criticisms of his hypothesis with science, not philosophical ramblings, self aggrandizement, alternative hypotheses and other diversionary tactics.  Show us that the scientific literature supports the view that obesity is the result of carbohydrate increasing insulin, then acting directly on fat cells to promote fat storage.  Use high-quality modern references and cite them accurately and completely, as I did in my critique (5).  Directly address the points raised in my critique (and others, 6, 7).  Explain why so many cultures eating high-carbohydrate diets are not obese, including Americans 100 years ago (8).
I guess Stephan missed the opening sentence of Gary Taubes' post:
I’m going to start this long-overdue series of posts with a bit of a shaggy dog story, a lengthy preamble (“amble” perhaps being the operative word) before I get to the meatier issues.
Can anyone who's read Good Calories, Bad Calories honestly accuse Gary Taubes of lack of rigor, avoiding science or dissembling? Stephan really ought to let Taubes get to the meatier issues before he accuses Taubes of using diversionary tactics.

I get allergic to playing logical fallacy ping-pong, but since Stephan accuses Taubes of false dichotomies and such, whilst engaging in ad hominems and such, I'm going to point out some fallacies I see him using.

First there's the argument from authority. The fact of the matter is that "thousands of career obesity researchers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry" actually HAVE been "stuck in the wrong paradigm for the last 60 years." It's the paradigm that takes the diet-heart hypothesis and the lipid hypothesis as axioms and it is still very much alive and healthy (unlike its believers). Remember the lipid hypthesis? Heard about the statin epidemic? Hello *tap* *tap* is this thing on?

This sort of appeal to authority argument makes me wonder if Stephan has a firm grasp of what real science is. Here are a couple things science is not about.

Science is NOT about consensus (argumentum ad populum).

Science is NOT about credentials.

As a kid who was into dinosaurs, I'm old enough to remember when the hypothesis that dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid was greeted with almost universal scorn and derision by geology and paleontology communities. It has now become the mainstream, of course. The biggest problem with the Alvarez hypothesis from the standpoint of the community was that Luis Alvarez wasn't in the community. He was merely a (Nobel Prize winning) physicist. Alvarez is a classic case of an outsider shaking up the paradigm (although his son and co-theorist is a geologist).

This same sort of scorn is evident when Stephan writes that Taubes is a "journalist with a physics and engineering background." He doesn't write the word "mere" but it is heavily implied.

Secondly, if carb induced insulin is not the primary cause of metabolic syndrome that doesn't mean that the carbohydrate hypothesis is false. This is known as the argument from fallacy.
If P, then Q.
P is a fallacious argument.
Therefore, Q is false.
Perhaps leptin is more important than insulin as Stephan believes. Perhaps neither one are the primary causes behind CH. That alone doesn't falsify CH.

When Stephan challenges Gary Taubes to "Explain why so many cultures eating high-carbohydrate diets are not obese, including Americans 100 years ago," he is firmly declaring his belief that obesity is the result of modern processed foods and that a traditional neolithic diet high in carbs is healthy to optimal. I happen to disagree with this.

The philosophical underpinnings of science do matter. What is a paradigm, what are axioms, ceteris paribus, falsifiable hypotheses, etc, these things are important. Most of all intellectual rigor is important. Intellectual rigor is not about who can cite the most studies or who has the most university degrees.

Addendum: Stephan Guyenet has removed the post, saying, "Although what I wrote was accurate, in retrospect it was not presented in the most constructive way.  I'll wait for Taubes to complete his series, and I may or may not respond to it at that point."