Welcome all seeking refuge from low carb dogma!

“To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact”
~ Charles Darwin (it's evolutionary baybeee!)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Science Based Debate/Advice ... Messengers to Beware Of

I've been getting increasingly disillusioned with the state of discussions about the general nutrition web these days.  Why?  So many discussions get cluttered and/or dominated by a few types of purveyors of "scientific" information one should view with skepticism.  This is by no means a complete list, and these types are not mutually exclusive.  

1.  The Unsubstantiator:  There is a disturbingly large number of folks with MD after their names who fit this bill, but by all means not all of these.  There are also many folks who post on a variety of boards and blogs who have their "schtick" so to speak but offer no substantiation for their often repetitive claims. The Unsubstantiators will write long tomes filled with technical information and factual claims in an authoritative tone.  One problem.  No references are given.  I recognize that not everyone needs detailed, referenced as if it were a scientific paper, style information.  At least not all the time.  But when the message includes bold claims -- especially about things that are not "common knowledge" , or represent an alternative view -- these claims need to be substantiated.  It is not enough to say "X is the cause of Y" because I say so and I have letters after my name, or years of experience with this.

2.  The (PubMed) Abstractinator:  Often the opposite of the Unsubstantiator, but not necessarily, we have those folks who like to post a litany of, usually PubMed, links to abstracts.  If I ask someone for cites, sure, by all means a bunch of links is what I want.  But (and I'm making up a bunch of numbers here!) if someone is fond of posting a ton of these:
You get the picture.  Personally, I'd rather have the article title than these generic number links if someone is offering up a whole lot of links.  At least I can get an idea of if it is even relevant before I go chasing down the links.  It's easy enough to find the article searching on the title.  Plus, sometimes that's preferred as one might find the full text of "paywall" cites hosted elsewhere ... because it's a good bet that most of the links posted by an Abstractinator will get you only that far.

3.  The Search Resultant:  Second only to the debacle of Lustig citing the number of YouTube hits on his lecture as some sort of indication of credibility, we have the Search Resultant.  There are actually two variations on this.  One is a variant of the Abstractinator who will post a litany of links to the results of a PubMed search they clearly haven't vetted to see if they are relevant.  The other variant is more annoying, however.  This Resultant likes to cite the number of PubMed "hits" there are in a search of the site on some key word.  As if that has any meaning at all.  After all, lectin resistance yields over 2000 hits so that must be something I should worry over, right?

4.  The Common-tater:  This Mr. (or Ms.) Potato-head character is dismissive of their "common" audience by implying that what they are saying is "common knowledge" in their professional circles.  One of my least favorite phrases in technical texts is "it should be intuitively obvious to even the most casual of observers that ..." -- IOW, if you don't get it you're just stupid.   The Common-tater employs similar tactics if their authority or information is challenged.

Beware the above messengers in the context of scientific debate and especially when considering taking the advice of an "expert" that is presented as science-based.  Especially those who are serial offenders on multiple counts.

Got any to add to the list?  


Duffy Pratt said...

I'm tempted to add the NUASWWAAMDA.

Ducks :)

NUASWWAAMDA = (Never use a simple word where an acronym might do advocate).

Diana said...


I believe there is a legal term, "the reasonable man." On the internet, there seems to be no such thing, or very few. (The few there are come here!)

One of the more tiresome aspects of internet discussions is the constant need to be incredibly specific in anticipation of an objection. But no matter how specific you are, someone will raise an objection even if you have anticipated it.

My conclusion is: just say what you have to say and as they say, "don't feed the trolls."

Thomas said...

It seems to me that the nutrition would is FULL of the unsubstantiator, as well as "logical deductionator" that turns out to be patently false or based on a false premise altogether. In fact, amongst the non-research bunch (mostly clinicians, nutritionists and sales people) this is the majority case IMHO. Just subscribe to Mercola, listen to an MLM nutrition sales person, or talk with any naturopath, chiropractor or nutritionist to see it. I have come to not trust any of them for the most part. Even if their recommendations do help people (any change can do this to a degree), their claims and reasoning's behind the recommendations are totally suspect IMO(I've heard it so much that I do feel comfortable making a general statement like this, although not all fall into this category). I'm personally in one of those fields so I see it a lot.

Craig in CT said...

Unfortunately, I think even debates backed by lots of proper references too often start to become rat holes. What I see a lot is something like this:

LoFat: X is true, it should be obvious from these studies: (list of papers cherry picked to show that X is true)

HiFat: No, you idiot, X is False, shown by these studies: (list of papers cherry picked to show that X is false).

It goes back and forth like this for awhile, getting more heated and more personal. For the average blog reader who just wants to know if X is true, it can be a frustrating exercise to read through these exchanges.

A fundamental problem with scientific debates on nutrition and health is that the scientific literature connected with these topics is enormous. Researchers tend to concentrate on a narrow specialty, because that is the only way they can master the literature. Experts on diabetes have a different circle than experts on obesity, or experts on the biochemistry of metabolism. And no matter how much you know about a particular topic, there is an enormous amount more you don't know, outside your field of expertise, that just might have a bearing on the issue being debated.

Wish I knew what the answer was. Maybe we bigger brains and longer life spans....

Sanjeev said...

> even debates backed by lots of proper references
> too often start to become rat hole

become expert in generic BS detection. Using this you find trustworthy folks[0].

who's trustworthy? Some things I look for:

those who do NOT trigger your BS detector.

People who drop claims after the mistake's pointed out to them

Those that take great pains to include all the data, giving good reasons when discarding data

Those who are open about their biases and have taken a stab at taking those out of the equation.

who's UNtrustworthy?

Cherry pickers

those who repeat mistakes endlessly (english, science, philosophy, history, whatever) after their mistake's repeatedly pointed out to them.

those whose attitude and oeuvre is all about "scoring points", "winning", "trouncing the competition" instead of reasoned analysis (Mike Shedlock, IMHO, is a great example in another field)

[0] The major limit of this is that to be a great skeptic requires field specific knowledge that the general skill and attitude don't provide.

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