Stories
Slash Boxes
Comments

SoylentNews is people

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?"

 
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
Display Options Threshold/Breakthrough Mark All as Read Mark All as Unread
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by MrGuy on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:58PM

    by MrGuy (1007) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @05:58PM (#141228)

    Adams isn't taking aim at one-off individuals or "fringe" findings (i.e "eating a pound of chocolate a day is good for you!" says a study funded by Hershey's). He is making a point of scientific CONSENSUS.

    Not all people (or even all scientists) will agree on every single point. However, we (as a society) tend to have an expectation that the widely held belief of a significant majority of scientists in a general field is right. The consensus (especially a STRONG consensus) of experts is taken as "very likely true."

    And (as he points out) the history of the scientific consensus (at least when related to diet) has been not just wrong, but BADLY wrong for decades. Virtually every established physician, dietician, or nutritionist 25 years ago would have told you fats were bad and should be avoided. They would have told you that salt was highly dangerous because it caused high blood pressure. They would have told you that carbs were the base of the food pyramid.

    And the current consensus is that they were all wrong. Not one individual. Not some collection of guys off in the corner. If you, Joe Average Citizen, had consulted the best minds in the industry and asked them "can you tell me what is the most nutritious way to eat is?" they would have told you, yes, we DO know the best way to eat! We have studies and mechanisms and journal articles, and they all tell us that you should eat thusly. And they would have told you something that we now believe was drastically incorrect.

    You could have surveyed all the recognized experts in the field, and gotten maybe 90% consensus on most of their recommendations. This isn't one person's fault - it's a VERY LARGE number of people's fault. It's (to use Adams' shorthand) science's fault. His point is that it's NOT a conspiracy of some wingnuts, but a fault in what we think of as "science" itself (i.e. as a testable, experiment driven, humble, results-agnostic field concerned only with uncovering truth). Or, at least, that people's trust in "the consensus of reasonable scientists" is misplaced.

    Starting Score:    1  point
    Moderation   +3  
       Insightful=2, Informative=1, Total=3
    Extra 'Insightful' Modifier   0  
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   5  
  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:19PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:19PM (#141244)

    Virtually every established physician, dietician, or nutritionist 25 years ago would have told you

    And where are the scientists in your list?

    • (Score: 2) by Tramii on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:42PM

      by Tramii (920) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:42PM (#141284)

      Well there's the problem. We should be asking archaeologists, geologists and mathematicians about what to eat!

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by maxwell demon on Wednesday February 04 2015, @11:02PM

        by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @11:02PM (#141344) Journal

        What about medical researchers (not the same as physicians!) and biologists?

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06 2015, @05:33PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06 2015, @05:33PM (#141909)
          Most of them are specialists and so they won't give you any useful dietary advice. They'll give you useful advice for stuff they're expert on.

          Up until recently the rest of their advice would likely have been the same shit that everyone else got wrong.

          The nutritionists, etc were supposed to be digesting all the research done by the researchers and coming up with advice that's not shit.

          By the same logic in this thread we shouldn't be trusting doctors for medical advice since they aren't scientists, and we should somehow instead take the time to be experts in the field. And sadly it actually is true in too many cases. Many doctors often don't have the time and energy left to keep up with the best and latest research.

          To me it shows there is a problem with the system. The research is out there, but nobody is doing a good job of curating it and making it known to those who need to know.
          • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Friday February 06 2015, @07:01PM

            by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 06 2015, @07:01PM (#141945) Journal

            By the same logic in this thread we shouldn't be trusting doctors for medical advice since they aren't scientists

            No. Rather by the same logic we shouldn't blame science when the doctor fails to do his job properly. You've apparently forgotten what this thread was about.

            --
            The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:56AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:56AM (#141430)
      So who is supposed to be giving nutritional advice? Shift the blame about all you want but there's no denying the system has failed. There's very little actual advancement if some scientist is right about something important but practically the whole world doesn't know it for decades.

      Secondly most scientists are specialists. So most of them would have got their nutrition/diet advice from the same sources: "physician, dietician, or nutritionist", crap studies, etc, and thus they'd either be telling people the same thing, or they won't be commenting.

      Even those who bother to look at the science can see that a lot of science work is crap done by
      a) scientists who are paid by someone with an agenda (who'll only publish the stuff they want)
      b) scientists who need to "publish or perish", in which case they publish incomplete crap often, instead of one far more conclusive study (which would never get the funding or time anyway).

      Nowadays a lot of low hanging fruit is gone, so you're more likely to need more funding and time in order to actually do a good quality study. Instead of a few very good studies, you get thousands of half complete crap (and a dozen meta analysis will be done on different subsets producing different conclusions).
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @01:22PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 05 2015, @01:22PM (#141481)

        Shift the blame about all you want but there's no denying the system has failed.

        Yes, but the system that failed is not the science system. It's the medical system.

        Blaming science for that is like blaming mathematics for the Intel Pentium FDIV bug.

  • (Score: 2) by kebes on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:10PM

    by kebes (1505) on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:10PM (#141581)
    I essentially agree with you, but...

    And (as he points out) the history of the scientific consensus (at least when related to diet) has been not just wrong, but BADLY wrong for decades. Virtually every established physician, dietician, or nutritionist 25 years ago would have told you fats were bad and should be avoided. ...

    I would like to point out that medical doctors, physicians, dieticians, and nutritionists are not scientists. (I'm trying not to commit a no true Scotsman [wikipedia.org] fallacy...) I think if you compared the consensus among those health-professionals to the consensus among scientists studying health, you would have found them to be quite different. In particular, even if they agreed on certain (ultimately erroneous) conclusion, scientists will tend to have a much better understanding of uncertainties, error-bars, shortcomings of studies, etc. In other words, scientists are almost always pointing out how one should not over-interpret a given result... only to have the media over-interpret the result and turn it into a simplified (and now incorrect) sound-bite. (For many of the examples cited in the rant, if you go back to an article from that time-period, you would find it painting a very different story from the media headlines.)

    To me, Scott Adams' rant highlights the age-old problem of science communication. The problem is that we have different groups operating:
    1. Scientists who do research
    2. Professionals who use/apply the results of science (medical doctors, etc.)
    3. The media, who report on science
    4. The public, who want a simple answer

    There is a filtration process, with the information getting progressively warped down the chain. The information is both becoming simplified (and thus becoming slightly wrong), while the inherent uncertainties and limitations are being dropped (and thus making the information highly misleading). The end result is that the public thinks there is a certain scientific consensus, when in fact there is not.

    So, I agree with Scott Adams' rant in the sense that I find the majority of science is mis-reported in the media, and even misunderstood by professionals. Doctors, for instance, are mostly not scientific in the way they do their work (so-much-so that we need to have a label--evidence-based medicine [wikipedia.org]--for the case where doctors actually try to apply science to their work); and I would not count their advice as representing scientific consensus. I'm not saying doctors are bad at their jobs. Their advice is, on average, better than doing nothing. However, their heuristics about health are not usually representative of the consensus among research-scientists.

    I'm not saying scientists are perfect. They make plenty of mistakes. The scientific consensus has been wrong on many occasions, and certainly issues of biology and medicine are extremely complex. So, by all means apply scepticism to the scientific consensus. However, we should also be aware that the apparent scientific consensus is very different from the 'real' scientific consensus (i.e. the opinions of research-scientists). We can't fix the problem until we understand its origin.

    • (Score: 2) by MrGuy on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:19PM

      by MrGuy (1007) on Thursday February 05 2015, @06:19PM (#141587)

      I think if you compared the consensus among those health-professionals to the consensus among scientists studying health, you would have found them to be quite different. (snip)(For many of the examples cited in the rant, if you go back to an article from that time-period, you would find it painting a very different story from the media headlines.)

      Citation needed.

      • (Score: 2) by kebes on Thursday February 05 2015, @07:16PM

        by kebes (1505) on Thursday February 05 2015, @07:16PM (#141611)

        Citation needed.

        Fair enough; but where are Scott Adams' citations?

        For many of the things the rant quotes, the "proof" that he's wrong is actually the fact that no one can point to a scientific study making the claim. E.g.: - The whole "8 glasses of water a day" didn't come [snopes.com] from a scientific study.
        - The various incarnations of the US food guides were not based purely on input from scientists, but rather have a long history of being co-opted by special interest groups [harvard.edu].
        - The rant even notes "The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science." I.e.: it was not the scientific consensus arguing for their relevance (see, e.g., this [nih.gov] for the scientific consensus: they usually won't do much good).

        As for supporting my contention that scientific studies are cautious and tend to acknowledge limitations (especially compared to the media)... well, you can pick up just about any scientific medical journal. Here's an example, related to the rant's discussion of fatty acids making people fat: In Dietary Approaches to Obesity [soylentnews.org], the authors note: "...the optimal diet composition quality for weight loss is far from known. The major controversy seems to be between choosing low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets, with additional debates on the importance of the glycemic index and the amounts of dairy products and calcium. It is evident from many large, randomized trials that the "best diet" that can suit everyone has yet to be identified. The different options for low-calorie diets should be prescribed on an individual basis..."

        Here's another example [bmj.com], related to alcohol consumption, from 14 years ago (presumably within the time-period decried by the rant?), noting: "...the effect of “moderate” alcohol consumption on overall health remains controversial" and "Genetic factors modify the effect of alcohol consumption on risk of CHD, resulting in population variability in the amount of benefit achieved from alcohol consumption" and then detailing the details about drinking patterns, gender, etc. This is quite different from the simplistic "alcohol good for health" Adams states.

        More examples could be found, but actually Adams' rant is so vague and un-sourced that it's difficult to provide specific counter-evidence. He does not provide evidence that the scientific community was confidently supporting the take-home-messages he lists.

        • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Saturday February 07 2015, @01:02PM

          by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Saturday February 07 2015, @01:02PM (#142204) Homepage
          > E.g.: - The whole "8 glasses of water a day" didn't come from a scientific study.

          With a link to http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/8glasses.asp

          Which contains the quote "Back in 1945 the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council stated that adults should take in about 2.5 liters of water per day (which is roughly the equivalent of eight glasses of water)"

          And the NRC are "To meet the government's urgent need for an independent adviser on scientific matters, President Lincoln signed a congressional charter forming the National Academy of Sciences in 1863 to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science." As science began to play an ever-increasing role in national priorities and public life, the National Academy of Sciences eventually expanded to include the National Research Council in 1916, the National Academy of Engineering in 1964, and the Institute of Medicine in 1970."

          I'm sorry, but that confirms that scientists did say you need an intake equivalent to 8 glasses of water rather than denying it. (However, the rest of the sentence that I partially quoted does contain the most important part of their payload.)
          --
          I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.