Quotations: Taubes on Pathological Science

INTERVIEWER Marc Hellerstein thought that the obesity epidemic was caused by people being sedentary?

TAUBES He believed that the key is whether you’re sedentary compared to how you used to be. When I told him about the Pima and the Sioux Indians and this 1981 study of obesity in oil field workers, he had an excuse for everything. So the Pima and the Sioux Indians, they lived on reservations, so they could be obese because they were relatively sedentary, at least more sedentary than they used to be. And the oil field workers, well, they're Mexican-American, so they have some kind of "thrifty" gene going. You know this is what pathological science is: a field in which you can find a reason to explain away all negative evidence. In pathological science, it’s no longer possible to refute the hypothesis. Remember, science is about trying to test your hypothesis and refute it, but in a field like this, if you test it and come up with a counter-example, the counter-example is just explained away with whatever comes to mind. Negative evidence never means anything. So you have an obese person who's sedentary, that's proof of my hypothesis. If you have an obese person who's very active — at least, compared to most people today — the Sioux Indians, for instance, who were so poor they had to walk down to the river to get their drinking water; who had no televisions, no cars; they had to walk outside to evacuate their bowels — those people are obese because they used to be more active than they are now.
~ Gary Taubes, January 2008
Leaving aside Gary's example here, and focusing on his discussion of science, I contend that low carb "science" has long since passed into the realm of the pathological.


Lerner said…
As in "the Kitavans can eat carbs because of their genes".
Diana said…
Taubes has such gall. He's always throwing around his Harvard-Stanford creds. I looked up Hellerstein and he's no slouch in the cred dept.


This whole Pima thing infuriates me no end. Taubes' misstatements about that unfortunate people are so galling. Gary Gall, that's what I'm naming him.
Anonymous said…
There are lots of educated people climbing aboard the different diet wagons. Usually, I'm interested when someone tries to 'explain' science, but Taubes doesn't do that very well - surprising, because he's a journalist.

All I can think is that some people write better than they talk and Taubes has people who believe his ideas because they like his writing style.
Lerner said…
"Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Of necessity, they observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can see, in its results, only a confirmation of their theory. In this way they distort observation and often neglect very important facts because they do not further their aim."

Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine 1865


Lerner said…
the same "useful fools", just a different setting
CarbSane said…
When I first heard Taubes it was his talk at Berkley. Later I came across Hellerstein's work on de novo lipogenesis. I've yet to see anything refuting his carefully conducted human in vivo radio label studies on the role and contribution of carbs to fatty acids in triglycerides secreted by the liver, and triglycerides in fat tissue. I wondered if he had met Hellerstein when giving that lecture, and it appears he has.

Based on his behavior I conclude that Taubes is the science journo equivalent of Kitty Kelly. (I'm trying to recall the name of a famous political equivalent but it escapes me). Typical two-faced schmoozer to gather information then whammo, bashes them by misrepresenting what was told to him.

Even describing Hellerstein as an obesity researcher is a bit off. He's not really involved in what causes and/or treating obesity, though some of his work is relevant. His body of work is formidable and solid.

I'm going to highlight more of Taubes' Hellerstein bashing because Marc Hellerstein doesn't deserve it and if he'd read any of Hellerstein's work, he wouldn't have put forth his grossly inaccurate assertion as to the proportion of carbs turned to fat and such in GCBC.
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