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August 27, 2011

Question for Liberals On the Atkins Diet (Or Its Variants)

Dagny mentioned a book in that nutrition thread (nutrition is always a surprisingly big comment draw) that I'd been thinking about getting anyway, Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taube, who kicked off the Atkins craze in 2004 or so with an article in the New York Times magazine heavily promoting low-carbohydrate diets.

Anyway, I downloaded it from Amazon. (Did you know you can read Kindle-ized books on your computer, without any Kindle? I didn't. But you can.)

Anyway, here is my question. For liberals. Who are on Atkins. Or some variant.

The interesting thing about the low-carbohydrate diet from a political point of view is that it is outlaw and fringe. The entire medical establishment lines up to denounce it as dangerous and ineffectual.

Despite these facts:

1. Prior to 1960 or so, it was accepted as conventional wisdom that high-carb foods -- pasta, bread, beer, and of course all sugary things -- were the uniquely fattening ones. It was only around 1965 (or so) that this conventional wisdom was abandoned -- with little evidence -- and the establishment suddenly just reversed all of its prior beliefs to denounce high-fat foods, rather than high-carb foods, as the drivers of overweight.

2. I have to stress the "with little evidence" part of this. A consensus of experts quickly dropped one orthodoxy and adopted a brand new one without a lick of dispositive evidence that the previous orthodoxy was in error. (You might see where I'm going with this...)

3. Although I haven't seen this in Taube's book yet (just started), I have read Atkins suggesting there was a certain amount of cash-money incentive for experts to join the prevailing orthodoxy. Many experts who promote the orthodoxy actually have their own weight-loss centers and such, and their actual livelihoods depend on being rated by their fellow experts as "expert." (Surely you see where I'm going with this now...)

4. The fat-is-bad orthodoxy is non-predictive, or, at least, does not seem to result in actual good results. The consensus of experts continues pushing an orthodoxy -- calorie in/calorie out energy balance, fat-is-bad -- that actually has virtually no empirical evidence to support it, no positive results reported anywhere. Meanwhile, a heretical view of the situation -- carbohydrates are uniquely fattening -- actually has a great deal of evidence to support it, but the consensus of experts ignores that.

Okay, you see where I'm going. When I read t Gary Taube and others rail against the orthodox "experts" who absolutely refuse to look at real-world evidence and continue propagating a theory which has zero positive results and is sustained only by the typical pressures to conform to the orthodoxy all social groups experience -- I just have to wonder, Can we imagine that perhaps a similar state of affairs has arisen in the nonsense science of global warming?

So here at last is the question for liberals who actually subscribe to these heterodox beliefs. If you believe these heretical propositions, then you yourself have decided in your mind that the "consensus of experts" is utterly bunk, utterly wrong, utterly failed and utterly harmful. You have decided that you don't much care what a "consensus of experts" has to say, because you can see from real-world empirical tests (like, in the case of your own diet) that the vaunted "consensus" is utterly non-predictive (does not promote the results it claims will flow from its recommendations) and that the outlaw, denounced-as-fringe heretical take actually does predict the future (in as much as when it says "You'll lose 20 pounds in three or four weeks" you will in fact lose 20 pounds in three or four weeks).

So if you've already decided the "consensus of experts" in one field simply do not know what they are talking about and promote bad advice not based on testing and evidence but based on a religious devotion to the Wisdom of Past Sages, why are you so dead certain the consensus of experts in Global Warming has things straight?

If something can happen, it does happen; and if something is known to have happened once, you can bet a great deal of money that it has happened more than once and you will walk away wealthier.

I don't see this as an argument likely to convert anyone on the spot. Rather, I think, it should inject what is surely needed with regard to "Global Warming" -- the proper modesty that should accompany scant evidence, and a healthy amount of doubt and skepticism -- which is entirely lacking in this area among liberals.

They don't have to look at the evidence or the counter-evidence because they know. The science, you've heard, is settled. And there is a great and growing consensus that says no one should look at the evidence.

Well, maybe you should not just take people's words for it that the evidence strongly supports this theory.

Because you've heard that before, and you know -- at least one time -- it was wrong before.

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posted by Ace at 01:40 PM

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