Credibility of Authorities
A rant, if you will :)
One need not delve very deeply into the LC blogosphere, websites and discussion forums to find an enormous contempt for "mainstream" nutritional advice, etc. Several darlings championing LC alternatives have emerged and their writings are taken as indisputed "truth" spurring almost cult-like followings. Anyone who dares to challenge these *authorities* risk the wrath of these followers.
I didn't discover this LC world until almost 2 years into my most recent lifestyle change to low carb. This was my third major try at this after discovering Atkins more than a decade ago. I mostly just did the key components of Atkins from memory.
My rhetorical question here is this. How many times does an authority of the LC "Movement" need to be wrong for their credibility to be questioned? I agree that FAR too often mainstream thought has been flat out wrong about one thing or another in terms of dietary advice, blood lipids and disease risk. However they are not wrong about everything.
I find that quite often, excellent well-controlled studies conducted by reputable scientists are often instantly discounted based on a boilerplate line in the introduction or abstract along the lines of "high fat diets are associated with obesity ...". Laypeople and those with relevant backgrounds alike will then go on mini rants against the researchers calling them names, disparaging their work, etc. Occasionally this is fair (that study about a year ago comparing various diets comes to mind because that was an extremely poorly designed study that did not include a truly low carb diet in the mix). But more often than not, the study supported conclusions that the LC'er just don't want to hear. Fall back position is basically they can't be trusted because they may buy into some mainstream nutritional/medical dogma.
But all too often this approach is like the information equivalent to reactive hypoglycemia (where insulin response is exaggerated leading to hypoglycemia following acute hyperglycemia from a carby meal). Eyes and ears are covered to see and hear no "evil".
So back to LC "Authorities". Let's start out with Dr. Atkins, the first of the modern LC gurus. So many see GCBC and the research of those like the authors of The New Atkins (Westman, Volek & Phinney) as vindicating the long suffering Dr. He was right all along. But was he? Actually, on the central concept of caloric balance, Dr. Atkins was WRONG. He proposed that LC'ers lost more weight eating more calories than standard reducing diets because below some carb intake level, the LC'ers essentially urinated out large unused calories in the form of ketones. This is acknowledged to not be a considerable amount by even some of the staunch defenders of Metabolic Advantage such as Dr. Mike Eades. In the initial book there was talk of some mysterious fat mobilizing substance. I can only surmise that this was disproven in advance of DANDR because it wasn't in that book. Indeed Atkins' ketone loss theory is notably absent in TNA.
Does this mean LC is dangerous as some of Atkins' critics contended? No. Does this mean Atkins doesn't work for weight loss? No. But it does mean that not everything Atkins contended turns out to have been correct. What is it about LC that renders so many championing the research or succeeding through its implementation unable to acknowledge when underlying theories are wrong? I don't see anything shameful or derogatory to point out that new research shows that Atkins was wrong about points A, B, & C. It doesn't mean he was wrong about other aspects or the overall utility of LC nutrition for weight loss, diabetes management, etc.
I contend that when LC Gurus make scientifically unsubstantiated claims this will ultimately thwart progress and maybe even set it back. Why offer up easy fodder to the "LC diets kill" contingency? Shouting them down with cries of "you just don't understand blah blah blah" may work to silence the opposition on a discussion forum, but it will not impress scientists. I find it ESPECIALLY off-putting (can you tell by my recent Taubes posts? LOL) and counterproductive when said LC "expert" refuses to acknowledge when they are wrong about something and/or continues to preach known falsehoods.
To wit I will call out the dynamic duo of LC fauxscience: Gary Taubes and Dr. Mike Eades. I haven't mentioned Eades much (if at all) here yet, but I've caught him in a number of embarrassingly incorrect statements in the past year or so. Most of which are comments and blog posts where he has denigrated other professionals (and laypeople too) while making himself a laughing stock in the process. He has been challenged on one of the more egregious examples (I'll blog on that one soon) but promptly dropped the subject. Then we'll sprinkle in a duo of emerging primal nutrition "experts" Mark Sisson and Nora Gedgaudas. The former is mostly not on my radar for his informative and generally sound advice, but for the core of his theoretical basis that it is excess carbs turned to fat that causes obesity, and over 150g carb/day invariably leads to catastrophic weight gain. Gedgaudas, OTOH, has made such absurdly ridiculous statements as "all body fat comes from glucose" (a contention she made on her blog and defended in an email reponse to me) that I can't take her seriously about anything.
So I leave you with food for thought. Nobody is 100% correct 100% of the time, least of which scientists. The major thrust of my MS thesis was that certain environmental factors did not result in the implicated mechanism of degradation proposed. It happens more often than not, but, such things generally do not make good fodder for peer review journals. If I have a major criticism of the science research publishing field it would be that more of the "this didn't show any difference" sort doesn't reach the journals. It would save a lot of scientists time, money and frustration were this the case. I'm sure many a negative has been re-established many times over in fruitless efforts we'll never know about. After all, when you propose a study, the first thing you do is a literature search to see if it's been looked at before. But I'm rambling a bit ...
Mostly, scientists and "interpreters of science" can and will be wrong from time to time. The important thing is the response. Just as I would love to see the mainstream come clean about margarine, saturated fats, fat intake per se and cholesterol, I too would love to see the leaders of the LC movement come a bit more clean when they're proven wrong.
Taubes says we shouldn't trust him. Trust is a fragile thing. Often times it only takes once to destroy one's credibility.