Wednesday, January 3

Respect for Science: The Caveat

The problem with any human endeavor is that, well, humans are the ones running it.

Even in the most admirable pursuits, such as science, this is going to bring human qualities into it -- including politics, marketing, commercialism, information control, power struggles, and the tendency of humans to focus on what they already believe in and to resist change.

A recent discussion on a lowcarb forum included a quote so great that I'd like to include it here.

Reflections On Scientific Dogma

by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has today decided to award

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2005

jointly to

Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren

for their discovery of

"the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease"


It was good to see these two winning the Nobel Prize, with the key piece of following text appended.

This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who with tenacity and a prepared mind challenged prevailing dogmas.

"Who with tenacity and a prepared mind challenged prevailing dogmas…." A few short words. As if the Second World War could be encapsulated thus, "In the Second World War, the Allies defeated Germany, Japan and a few other countries after a series of successful engagements."

I followed the helicobacter story from pretty early on in the proceedings. At first, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were personally attacked and ritually humiliated for questioning the wisdom of their superiors. When this didn’t have the desired effect, their work was rubbished. Barry Marshal, at one point, was forced to swallow helicobacter pylori himself, then develop ulcers, in order to prove that bacteria could cause ulcers.

As the work of these two became better known, and appeared to be threatening the multi-billion-dollar market in ulcer-healing drugs, the major pharmaceutical companies lined up expert after expert after opinion leader to intensify the attack. It would have been easy to fold under this level of pressure. Good on Marshall and Warren for sticking to their guns.

Their story highlights an issue about science that has bothered me for years. Namely, the incredible, stifling power of dogma. One would hope that scientists have open minds, but the more you study science, and scientific thinking, the more it becomes clear that the minds of most scientists remain firmly, and highly aggressively, shut.

I have tried to train myself to put all ideas into one of three places — probable, possible or unlikely — and never to allow myself to become emotionally attached to any hypothesis. But most scientists, especially medical scientists, seem only to have two places to store their thoughts. They are true or false; right or wrong; sensible or stupid. This is usually supported by the killer scientific argument, “Do you know who I am, young man?” This is knows as Eminence-Based Medicine.

… If I had just one wish, it would be this: that all scientists took the following oath. "I shall always support and encourage new ideas, no matter how superficially idiotic and wrong they may seem. I shall also remember that established and comfortable ideas may well be wrong, and should be attacked and criticized at all times."

The chances of this happening are, officially, fat.

PS: A raised cholesterol level causes heart disease. Ho, ho, ho.

People often ask why others question science; or ask, "Isn't trusting some of the research that supports lowcarb vs. research that doesn't seem to, cherry-picking what you want to believe?"

Concerning skepticism about science, for which I have great respect as a process, I think the above essay is an excellent rejoinder.

For the rest of modern science, I can only say: show me the money. Show me the funder; show me the scientist; and for godssakes, show me the real paper, not just the media presentation, the media gets more wrong or misrepresented in its 5th-grade-level sound-bites than it ever gets right.

And importantly: show me the conditions of that research. Who can forget Dr. Richard Atkins publishing about how more than 30 carbs a day "would not work" to put someone in his "induction" process, and then seeing research done with 55-100+ carbs per day, that did not get the same result obviously, billed as allegedly having "disproved" his findings about his lowcarb eating plan bringing certain body results? Even though technically it only confirmed what he'd already said but on a different facet of the topic? The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, sometimes a bit literally.

Concerning the results of "truth" about lowcarb, I say: show me the weight loss, the blood count improvements, the removal of all kinds of minor medical symptoms, and the great improvement in overall health and quality of life.

I don't have to look farther than my scale or mirror and my own life -- or that of so many other lowcarbers I know -- to see the reality when the rubber hits the road on this question. Lowcarb rocks. Maybe other eating plans work for other people. But lowcarb is saving my life -- and improving my health, mental and physical -- one day at a time. I'll leave the science to the scientists. For me, what counts is what works.


Calianna said...

Just wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading your blog.

I won't go back through and put a comment on every one of the posts that intrigued me, but I'll list a few things here anyway.

~Yes, someday the scientists (and doctors) are going to throw up their hands in exasperation and realize that they don't really know everything there is to know about diet/blood lipids/weight loss/etc. For that matter, we'd be kidding ourselves to think that we did either, but at least we're trying to keep an open mind about it, and even if it is just "anecdotal evidence", if it works for some people, then duh, maybe that's what they should be doing.

~I've had square foot gardens in some of the places I've lived, but they've never looked as fantastic as yours does! Wow! Then again, I've never put that much money and effort into setting them up either.

~Congratulations on losing over 100 lbs already! I"m sure you feel like a new woman!

~Your list of the "dangers" of low-carb was great. Ah, if only everyone our ever-expanding nation (you know what I mean, I"m sure) could read that and realize that it does indeed work, and what the benefits really are.

~I truly admire your spunk and willingness to get out there and do things. I have a friend who is not nearly as overweight as you are, and yet she's certain her life is completely over, as she has no energy or strength to do anything, and her health is suffering in many ways. Despite her PCOS, she won't even consider trying low carb either. She's read all the (closed minded scientists/dieticians/nutritionist) books that insist low fat is the only thing that won't destroy your health. And of course the thought crosses my mind "Um, then why is she dying by degrees?"

Anyhow, this has been a long, drawn out comment - just wanted to let you know I really enjoy reading your blog. :)

PJ at TDLC said...

Thanks. :-)