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posted by janrinok on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the I'll-never-close-my-eyes-again dept.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame writes on his blog that science's biggest fail of all time is 'everything about diet and fitness':

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin. I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science. I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now. I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

According to Adams, the direct problem of science is that it has been collectively steering an entire generation toward obesity, diabetes, and coronary problems. But the indirect problem might be worse: It is hard to trust science because it has a credibility issue that it earned. "I think science has earned its lack of credibility with the public. If you kick me in the balls for 20-years, how do you expect me to close my eyes and trust you?"

 
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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:44PM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <mdcrawford@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:44PM (#141192) Homepage Journal

    Every time a study is ever published that announced a correllation of this with that, vast numbers of slashbots shout from the rooftops that "CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!"

    Look man: Jesus Christ, Siddartha Gautama and Homer all knew very well that correlation is not causation.

    While we are looking for causation, we must start somewhere. One of the places we start is by identifying the correlations. Consider that today's chemistry got started when alchemists looked into how to turn lead into gold.

    The "somewhere" that we start is by identifying the correlations. Puzzling over why those correlations exist often yields insight into the true causes.

    It happens all the time that two phenomena that are correlated are actually caused by a third phenomenon. For example I read just a few minutes ago that it's not actually the case that drinking a lot of water promotes weight loss. I advance the conjecture that the correlation between water consumption and weight loss is due to vigorous exercise - athletes tend to drink a lot of water you see.

    --
    Yes I Have No Bananas. [gofundme.com]
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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by c0lo on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:58PM

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:58PM (#141204) Journal

    For example I read just a few minutes ago that it's not actually the case that drinking a lot of water promotes weight loss. I advance the conjecture that the correlation between water consumption and weight loss is due to vigorous exercise - athletes tend to drink a lot of water you see.

    I like better the example of sleeping with the shoes on causes headaches [wikipedia.org] or "atmospheric CO2 causes obesity".

    --
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:49PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:49PM (#141219)

      The Wikipedia article gives the impression that there is always an underlying causality for a correlation, even if it is a causality from a third factor (all examples are explained with a third factor that causes both). However there are correlations which are not even related that way. One example of the "correlation is causation" fallacy was used in a statistics course on German TV: A correlation between birth rates and numbers of storks in a certain state of Germany, "proving" the claim that the stork brings the babies. There's no common cause I can see that explains the correlation (which was not just "the storks go down, and so do the birth rates" but also contained "at that one year, the stork population went up again, and so did the birth rates").

      Sometimes correlation is just coincidence.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:37PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:37PM (#141255)

        I think I read your example of the storks & babies in Box, Hunter & Hunter - Statistics for Experimenters. A classic.

      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:04PM

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:04PM (#141266) Journal

        The Wikipedia article gives the impression that there is always an underlying causality for a correlation, even if it is a causality from a third factor (all examples are explained with a third factor that causes both). However there are correlations which are not even related that way.

        While you are right there are pure coincidental correlations, the Wikipedia article does not say there's always a cause for a correlation; read it in full.

        I just linked to a specific section of Wikipedia article because the post I was responding examined the case of "correlations caused by a 3rd factor" and I only said I like better 2 of the examples the Wiki article cited in the section dedicated to correlations caused by a 3rd common causal variable (which is only one of the many article section)

        --
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @10:56AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @10:56AM (#141455)

          the Wikipedia article does not say there's always a cause for a correlation

          Please re-read what I wrote. I didn't claim that the Wikipedia article says it. I said that the Wikipedia article gives the impression.

          Of the large section of examples, which make up the bulk of the article, not only does the "common cause" subsection take the largest space, but this is the complete table of contents of the Wikipedia article:

          1 Usage
          2 General pattern
          3 Examples of illogically inferring causation from correlation
                  3.1 B causes A (reverse causation)
                  3.2 A causes B and B causes A (bidirectional causation)
                  3.3 Third factor C (the common-causal variable) causes both A and B
          4 Determining causation
                  4.1 In academia
                  4.2 Causality construed from counterfactual states
                  4.3 Causality predicted by an extrapolation of trends
          5 Use of correlation as scientific evidence
          6 See also
          7 References
                  7.1 Bibliography
          8 External links

          You see, there examples of illogical inferring causation from correlation is only cases where there indeed a causation as root of the correlation, just that the real causation is different from the wrongly inferred one in those examples.

          But yes, the article does indeed say that a correlation can be a coincidence. In exactly three sentences of the 27kB article.

  • (Score: 4, Touché) by VLM on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:36PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:36PM (#141215)

    Sadly, I suspect the only source of exercise for the average american is getting up out of the lay-z-boy to take a leak, so you can argue the cause and effect but the net result must be caloric output and resulting weight loss. Not only that but I do it standing up unlike those sitters so I burn even more calories by standing a few minutes instead of sitting in the lay-z-boy. Not to mention the obvious weightlifting workout of suspending and precision aiming, er, at least kinda generally aiming, such a bulky, long, heavy piece of anatomy. I also refill my water bottle a couple times a day. Supposedly 100 cal/mile is about right for walking, so if I walk 500 feet round trip at work (weird, but true) and either bathroom or water bottle refill about once an hour, thats about a hundred extra calories a day compared to the clowns who pee in the potted plants. And WTF is up with that? Anyway I'm a freaking Olympian compared to some couch potatoes, all because I drink lots a water.

    Also biological processes tend to burn plenty of energy and theres more biochem going on that you'd think. I'm guessing you got about a pound of kidneys, and the rest of your body, unless otherwise messed with, burns about 2000 calories per 200 pounds or 10 calories per pound per day so figure if I work my kidneys twice as hard as some kind of desert camel of a non-water drinker, I'll burn at least 10 calories more per day, or about a pound of fat per year. Compared to the average american who probably gains about that much a month, not bad, not bad at all.

    • (Score: 2) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:31PM

      by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <mdcrawford@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:31PM (#141252) Homepage Journal

      Some of the problems have to do with capitalist culture.

      Consider that the reason the US has the First Amendment separation of church and state is not because we are officially atheist, as I understand is the case in France, but because the early colonies were settled by a bunch of religious crazies.

      We have the separation of church and state so all the various varieties of, uh, "Christians" don't slaughter each other.

      It's quite common for religions to have quite specific dietary rules. My father often pointed out to me that kosher food made a whole lot of sense when one did not understand food-borne diseases: anything that will kill a pig will kill a human, as our anatomies are so similar.

      Quite commonly american food is made by big businesses. It's been quite a long time since we had many family farms; now it's far more common for farms to be owned by large businesses; for example my uncle - quite a wealthy man - was the VP of Accounting for Boswell Cotton Corporation.

      A lot of what the US government tells us to eat, is a combination of what some religion says we should eat, and what some business would profit by were we to eat it.

      Finally, I have a close friend who is a nutritionist. She's not a dietician - she's a research biologist who studies nutrition in a laboratory, with electron microscopes, chemicals and the like. She tells me that nutrition is quite a lot more complex than most people realize.

      But we have the problem that were we to educate young people one what true, proper nutrition really is, they'd likely not understand it, and would not know how to feed their children.

      Have a look at the nutrition information on a bottle of soymilk. I regard it as quite nutritious, however according to the label, it has very little nutrition.

      Dark chocolate is clinically demonstrated to be good for your heart. The discovery of that led to Mars Chocolate funding the research required to figure how to make candy bars that retained the beneficial cocoa flavonoids. Have a look at http://www.cocoapro.com/ [cocoapro.com]

      --
      Yes I Have No Bananas. [gofundme.com]
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:00PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:00PM (#141264)

        Have a look at the nutrition information on a bottle of soymilk. I regard it as quite nutritious, however according to the label, it has very little nutrition.

        From a paleo interpretation, unless you arrived on a spaceship, no one in your evolutionary ancestry ever any thing that utterly weird. If its safe, its accidentally safe, and if its nutritious, its accidentally nutritious. It may very well be safe and nutritious, however unlikely it sounds based on random luck. The best I can say for it is observationally it doesn't kill people as fast as hemlockmilk would kill em. Its a good example of "some business would profit by were we to eat it.", little other is known about it for sure.

        Chocolate is at least as weird of a product, but if you keep consumption levels down to flavoring or treat or supplement, it can't hurt much even if it is bad. I ate probably a quarter cup of corn syrup in the form of a pecan pie slice last christmas, thats cool, the problem with hfcs isn't that it exists, but that the average american eats about 30-40 pounds per year. As long as I keep it to a couple spoonfuls per year, its not going to be able to kill me... probably. Beer's an even better analogy, a six pack lasts me like six months, there's no way that level of intake can kill me or even screw up my diet, but those folks who drink 12 to 24 beers a day don't have long to live, generally.

        One interesting way to work on diets might be to list a years intake by mass or calorie and only worry about the big stuff.

        • (Score: 1) by MuadDib on Wednesday February 04 2015, @08:55PM

          by MuadDib (4439) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @08:55PM (#141308)

          Many other cultures have been eating soy products, especially tofu, for centuries if not millennia.

          • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday February 04 2015, @10:05PM

            by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @10:05PM (#141332)

            And thats the problem, that being extremely evolutionarily recent.

            Compare to something like the changes due to fire/cooking which are just kinda getting completely figured out / solved in the teeth and intestine lengths and ratios, and thats orders of magnitude longer ago than soy cultivation. Its pretty recent. Apparently the wisdom tooth thing still hasn't been evolutionarily figured out WRT cooked food jaw shape.

            And thats before getting into the legendary dietary differences between humans from different geographic areas, most of humanity genetically can't deal very well with dairy products, and others have highly varying responses to ethanol metabolism.

            One interesting point of concern is soy allergy is one of the top ten or so most common food allergies, something like 6 to 8 percent of the population has an antibody response at one point or another, one level or another. Here's an interesting article:

            http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/5/1213S.full [nutrition.org]

            Calling something food when you know it'll make maybe 7% of the population sick to one level or another is kind of weird. Its right up there with Olestra. Obviously its regional, anyone in asia who gets sick from soy died of starvation millennia ago, the survivors can handle it. Kind of like all my ancestors figured out the whole lactose digestion thing or starved before having kids, so unlike them I can handle dairy much better than they can.