Evil People in a Room

51qaynQa-hLI often admit to people that I’m attracted to fringe ideas.  This statement usually makes people pause, and ever-so-slightly withdraw to get a better look at me.  I then try to cast myself in a better light by saying that it’s really just the concept of extreme beliefs that interests me, and how and why people adopt them.  But people aren’t fooled.  Only cranks obsess about extreme ideas, even in the abstract.  Normal people have better things to do than to study arcane conspiracy theories, for any reason.

Ok, it’s not all that bad.  I can usually get the person interested, and on my side, by providing the example of how <<insert other political side here>> can possible believe their crazy views, contrary to all available facts and reason, as evidenced by that crazy news outlet of theirs.  We’re soon in agreement, and we work out the details of the other side’s craziness.  Tribalism works.

Of course, it’s more difficult to turn the mirror around, and get them to see how the other side may think we’re crazy, and how they justify their accusations.  All of a sudden, symmetry in the universe doesn’t apply here.

As you can guess, I’m blogging about this as I try to understand the otherwise confounding, often bizarre world of low-carb beliefs.  Their gurus make incredible claims that all of nutritional science is wrong, that governments and scientists are lying to everyone, causing world-wide diabesity through their nutritional guidelines, for Big Pharma profits, while spreading some nefarious vegan agenda.  (There are dubious hard-line vegan claims too, like meat gives you cancer, and the same governments and health organisations conspire to ignore it, etc.)

So what’s new about my understanding of these extreme points of view?  Them.  I recently discovered Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists, which pretty much was written for me.  Ronson deeply embeds himself with various extremists from widely different camps, to study the common denominator that makes them tick.  Ronson is sometimes described as a humorist, is himself Jewish, but takes the open-minded view of his subjects more as eccentrics than dangerous extremists.  What do the London Jihadist, American Militiamen, Alex Jones, the ADL, and the KKK all have in common?  In Ronson’s simplified thesis, they’re all convinced there’s a secret room where evil, all-powerful people conspire against them.

I’ve spent countless hours developing my own theories on what makes conspiracy theorists tick, which always includes deep analysis of distrust of government, wanting to believe it, alignment with political beliefs, etc.  But trust me, the simplified, quasi-literal belief of “evil people in a room conspiring against you” is the most minimal, elegant explantaion possible.  Note how it includes the very powerful tactics of personifying and demonizing the enemy.

Basically, it takes that visceral touch of envisioning actual people working against you, to push you over the conspiracy edge.  In fact, this is the literal definition of a conspiracy.  It’s a very believable, visual paranoia.  Why else would my pet ideas or worldview be suppressed?  How else could be intuition about diet be wrong?  And as Ronson humorously points out in his book, there really are kind of rooms where powerful people work against you.  (After introducing us to his anti-NWO eccentrics, he visits the ADL, who instantly and unconditionally labels them as dangerous anti-semites [who meet in secret rooms].  Then he visits a millionaire Hollywood director in the midst of no-cost-spared meetings to bring his anti-racist masterpiece, American History X, to the screen.)

And of course, you can find a similarly-minded community that will confirm all your fears and beliefs about the conspiracy, and how to fight them.  It all makes sense, especially when considering all the disparaging comments posted by low-carb’ers about “the anointed” like Ancel Keys, the Harvard School of Public Health, or dietitians, and how they’re committed to their lies, to save face, or because they’re working for Big Pharma.  And sure, the National Food Policy Conference disinvited Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz so they could draft the USDGAs without her pro- saturated fat input.  In their room.  Made secret from the LCHF crowd.  And on and on.

So you run with your ideas, and highlight the science that supports your biases.  Everything else is wrong, especially when it’s argued by one of your evil opponents.  You can’t trust anything they say or do.  They’re lying, because they’ll never admit to their mistakes, because of big Wheat, or big Grain, or big Sugar.  Carbs make you fat.  It’s insulin, not total calories, that causes weight gain.

The alternative explanations are much less likely than the conspiracy against your Galileo-like revelations.  Epidemiology isn’t a real science, with no real place or purpose.  Except for pushing the murky agendas of governments and public health organizations.  No coincidence is too small to confirm your suspicions.  And your ideas only sound crazy to outsiders, because they don’t know what you know.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining about anyone’s views and beliefs on nutrition.  How we eat is a very important, personal thing.  And outside of academia, it doesn’t even bother me how people want to interpret nutritional science, unless they’re just opportunists  (which is virtually impossible, except for the true psychopaths) .  I appreciate true passionate causes.  And anyways, low-carb’ers don’t hold secret meetings.

My Neo-Victorian Trolling Diet

Four years of health and food blogging and more recent arguing on Twitter has culminated in the current form of my diet, leaving veganism far behind, but firmly centered around 5 lbs of white flour a week.

Of course, this diet reflects everything I know about nutrition, and is perfect for me (now).  Which means it’s just what I currently want to cook and eat, out of the many possible healthy diets, and will likely evolve.  But I’ve been baking several loaves of natural yeast bread per week over the last year, and I just find bread more interesting than potatoes or rice at every meal.  Good bread requires craftsmanship, and you learn how to control the many variables, almost instinctively, to consistently produce the best bread most people will every try.

And I’ve returned to butter, eggs, cream, and meat, not because I’m no longer afraid of them (I never was), but because they’re traditionally prized items.  You can’t really appreciate the human culinary tradition without marveling at their richness and taste.  It’s a very visceral thing, that connects us with our past, and sets off all our reward centers, confirming that, yes, this is exactly what we want.

So, sure, a few years ago, I was satisfied with the taste of fresh veggies and starch, and was fascinated with their nutritional completeness and satiety.  But eventually, we want to try and taste new things (especially since I never had any ethical reservations about eating meat), and it’s always fun to experiment with your diet.  And there’s so much out there to learn and enjoy.

By default, I’m a little bit of a contrarian, even if I have to find a fringe group to be counter-counter-contrarian to.  So my diet will center around 5 lbs of white flour a week (ok, maybe 2/3 of that will be white, the other 1/3 will be spelt and rye) to make a daily fresh loaf of bread.  Yes, I love baking and eating bread, but more importantly, it’s basically the most universally feared food of the 21st century.  These days, bread is synonymous with “weight gain”, or even “poison” in some circles.

Oh, and of course, I’ll also use about 1/2 lb of white granulated sugar each week for my Kool-Aid.  Sugar alternates with bread at the top of everyone’s food paranoia list.

The inclusion of a whole chicken per week, with a dozen eggs, a 1/2 stick of butter, and occasional cream further confounds everybody, since no matter on which side of the carbohydrate fence you might sit, almost no one believes you can mix high carb with fat and cholesterol, and expect a healthy ending.

But don’t worry, the glue that holds this diet all together is some fruit, a bunch of fresh vegetables, and a lot of weekly exercise.  While it may sound scary, this grocery list doesn’t even add up to 20,000 kcal per week without adding another 10 lbs of potatoes, onions, and carrots, etc.  And we’ve all forgotten that this is basically how people used to eat.  In fact, I’d say my new diet is pretty close to what they ate during the mid-Victorian era, which is supposed to be the healthiest period of recorded human history.  There’s really not a lot of guesswork here.

So I’m going to this neo-Victorian diet partially to troll the ridiculous online health community, but also because I just love anachronisms.  I use a bike to buy groceries.  I have a manual pasta making machine, and  I like making a well of flour on the countertop and cracking an egg into it.  I like making chicken soup out of a whole chicken in my ceramic coated Le Creuset cast-iron dutch oven.  I like buying sacks of flour and sugar at the store.  And I buy very little prepared food.  People just don’t live like this anymore.  They haven’t in a long time.  (But more recently than the Paleolithic era.)

So what are the safeguards in this diet?  How can this work ad libitum?  Well, you try baking all your own bread.  It pretty much takes 9 to 24 hours to make a 1400 kcal loaf.  Plus, the 1/3 whole grain keeps me from eating it all in one sitting.  Also, a whole pot of my soup has about 800 calories, and it’s hard to finish it all in one night.  It’s also hard to drink 2L of Kool-Aid for the measly 250 kcal you’ll get from it.  And who wants to break the rules?  Do you see Civil War re-enactors drinking Coca-Cola?

Minimum Weekly Provisions
Item Calories
5 lbs of flour (2/3 white, 1/3 rye) 9,000
Dozen Eggs 1,000
Whole Roasting Chicken* 4,000
10 lbs of Potatoes 3,500
1/2 Stick Butter 500
1/2 lb Sugar* 900
Minimum Total 18,900 kcal/week
= 2,700 kcal/day
+ more fuel/ingredients as required
*Not sure who could have afforded this.

Taubes on the Hall/NuSI Results

In a recent interview on Jimmy Moore’s Livin La Vida Low-Carb Podcast #1223, Gary Taubes talks about his (in)famous metabolic ward study with Kevin Hall, the state of his non-profit foundation NuSI, and it’s future outlook.

It’s an interesting look into Gary Taubes’ mind, as he’s fairly unguarded in this discussion.  For whatever reason, from his perspective:

  • “To me, the nutrition obesity research community is effectively a noise generating machine.” (As opposed to generating “signal”, i.e., meaningful results.)  [21:35]
  • “I would say virtually everything [went wrong with the Hall study].” [23:30]
  • “They let a $4.5M study be run by someone who […] had done maybe one clinical research experiment in his life.  So, I admire Kevin, and I think he’s an impressive guy.  But from my perspective he didn’t have the experience that we were looking for.  And it wasn’t they way we had hoped it’d turn out.” [23:45]
  • “In this field when researchers publish that contrary to the belief system of the authorities, the authorities tend to ignore it.  So, that’s why you [Jimmy Moore] and I can say things like we believe, things absolutely for certain, and everyone we know believes them, and yet it’s considered quackery by the mainstream community, which doesn’t see the evidence we see.” [24:20]
  • He doesn’t remember being involved in the design of the study’s diets.  [25:20]
  • 8 oz of sugary beverages every-other-day in the high-carb, 20% sugar diet was enough of a reduction to fix the Standard American Diet (SAD), so it was too healthy as the control diet.  [26:45]
  • Because energy balance wasn’t achieved in the run-in diet (as per study design), the experiment was a failure, and the results can’t be interpreted as planned.  [29:45]
  • There was a lot of fighting and disfunction between the investigators and NuSI, where Taubes believed he was more of the theorist, and that the investigators were more of the experimentalists/empiricists.  [15:20]

Gary Taubes doesn’t drive me crazy anymore, as I now understand his perspective, so what he said doesn’t bother me.  (I know he can’t see any evidence opposing his carb-insulin hypothesis and other low-carb beliefs.)  However, he should be careful to not just throw around blame at everyone and excuses for everything, otherwise Occam’s Razor may suggest who’s more likely to be right.  If it was obvious and simply that carbs and insulin, not calories, drove weight gain, it’d have been seen a long time ago.  No tilting at windmills required.

Understanding Gary Taubes

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I’ve finally solved the mystery that’s been plaguing me for years.  You wouldn’t believe just how much time I’ve wasted obsessing over Gary Taubes, and how he could proclaim, with a straight face, that all of nutritional science is wrong, and it’s carbs that make you fat.  Almost daily, I’d ask myself, “Could he really think all those metabolic ward studies were poorly designed?”  I’d think deeply, then tentatively conclude, “There’s no way he would do this just for money.”  It wouldn’t be worth the constant ridicule from the entire scientific community.  Plus, you couldn’t convincingly fake a position for so long.  But then I’d go back to wondering how he could possibly dismiss all the published scientific studies, and so on, leaving me endlessly looping over this riddle.

As you know, I lost 25 kg on a high-carb, low-fat diet.  This is the kind of diet Gary Taubes hates.  He hates it, because he thinks it’s wrong, and the worst advice you can give to anyone.  He feels the government and “experts” have been pushing it on the public ever since they blew it on saturated fat 50+ years ago, and its unexpected consequences are the current obesity epidemic.  But don’t tell him that people got fatter because of fast food and sedentary behaviour.  He’ll tell you that exercise is ineffective for weight loss, or even maintenance, and we’re even exercising more these days, so it’s the carbs in the fast food that is the problem.  And don’t ever say it all comes down to “calories-in, calories-out”, because CICO is meaningless, and it doesn’t tell you why people are eating more calories, just that they are.  (He’ll tell you that people are eating more calories because of carbs and insulin or something.  It might take an hour to explain fully.)  And don’t tell him that there are billions of people who do fine eating a traditional high-carb, low-fat diet, like the Chinese, because he’ll tell you that they never ate any sugar.  And don’t tell him that there are traditional cultures in tropical regions that eat lots of starch (rice) with sugar (fruit), like the Thai, because he’ll probably tell you that they have specific genetic adaptations for this diet (I haven’t actually hear him say this, but I’m guessing it’d be his answer).

So, no matter what your argument that we’ve evolved eating carbs, etc., he has an answer for you.  They’re the same answers he’s been giving for 15 years, with occasional refinements.  I can pretend to be Taubes and refute each and every one of your points.  Or a bot can do it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much as a equivocal concession from him that perhaps unrefined carbs are okay.

It’s all been mind-boggling to me.  Taubes has some undergraduate education in physics (he says he was a B- student, then got a C- in Quantum Physics [usually the first upper-division class], and finally changed majors to Engineering).  But he’s a celebrated, award-winning science writer.   But anyone with a science perspective, or even any common sense, would guess the carbs vs. fat question has already been studied to death, in many subtle and ingenious ways.   That’s what scientists do.  You’d think it’d have been a dead horse long ago.

But no, Taubes says that “over 80 years of experiments, 80+ studies, 4,094 test subjects, and 1.2 million subject-days” have yielded “no definitive answers” on the matter.  He emphasized this belief in the literature for his “non-profit” NuSI foundation.  Through his Energy Balance Consortium, he’d hope to conduct nusiNoAnswersa series of “Manhattan Project of Obesity” experiments, to finally determine once and for all if it was carbs making everybody fat.  Of course, as all diet-nerds know, his very first pilot study with Dr. Kevin Hall returned an answer last year that his critics expected, but that no low-carber would accept.  Even with wildly different serum insulin levels, there was no statistically significant weight loss difference between an iso-caloric ketogenic diet vs. a high-carb, high-sugar, low-fat diet in their very expensive, two-month metabolic ward crossover study of 17 young, overweight subjects. [1]  Dr. Kevin Hall then pronounced the “carb-insulin” theory of obesity “falsified”. [2, 3, 4]  Not surprisingly, NuSI subsequently lost its funding, through Taubes stays on, unpaid, seeking new wealthy investors [5].

But of course, this still doesn’t change Taubes’ mind, or even make him consider alternative possibilities (like everyone else is right).  His spin on the whole affair is that the data supports his position.  Which just left me more astounded, wondering how he could see it that way.  I never believed he could be a deliberate fraud, because those guys are so obvious.  And he didn’t seem like a total crank, because they all have tell-tale signs too.  (For example, Tim Noakes comes off as a sincere but total crank, Mark Hyman looks like a con man, I’d trust Mercola as far as I could throw him, Peter Attia is a NPD blow-hard capable of crying on cue, etc.  Without exception, they’re 100% detectable.)

But Taubes fooled me with what sounded like pleas for scientific inquiry.  This will always get a nerd’s attention.  I never believed a word he said, but he fooled me into thinking he was actually looking for an answer.  So like Lucy and Charlie Brown, he’d tee up the football of “prove me I’m wrong” in front of us, tempting us to run up and kick the ball out of the park, but he’d pull it away at the last moment, leaving us dazed and embarrassed, but more determined to try harder the next time.

Plus, there was the implied transitive law of inequality involved!  If GT was greater than all of science, and I was greater than GT, then I’d be greater than all of science.

So last weekend, I finally got my chance to kick the ball out of the park, at an intimate book-signing affair for his latest “The Case Against Sugar”.  I drove two hours north to Pasadena in the pouring rain, and arrived early enough to sit in the front row, just feet away from the object of my obsession.  There were only about 60 people in the room, and well-known skeptic Michael Shermer would interview him, followed by a 45 minute Q&A session with the audience.

Ok, honestly, even though I’d long day-dreamed about the line of questioning I’d put to Taubes given the chance, I knew I wasn’t even going to ask him a single question that day.  I knew it’d be useless.  No matter what you’d ask, he’d already have a pat answer prepared, or he’d use the same rhetorical techniques he’s used over the last 15 years.  (He’d aggressively interrupt you, pretending to be interested in some scientific aspect to consider, and end up taking over your question, etc.)  Plus, there’s always a lot of other people asking dumb personal questions, so you’d never get much time.  And I was just obsessed about his motivations, not his bad science.  And I’m a horrible speaker.

[Actually, the guy sitting next to me, Peter Voss, a stick-thin calorie-restrictor of 19 years, ended up in a mini-debate with Taubes over “calories-in, calories-out” (CICO).  Voss said you could control body weight by adjusting the calories you ate, and Taubes got slightly agitated and repeatedly told him CICO was “meaningless”, and started with the whole “let’s say you have a lot of people in the room” hand-waving analogy, making things less clear.  Gary controlled the guys question until no one knew what they were talking about anymore.  Oh, and Gary told the CR’er he could eat more if he focused on fats.]

But all during the talk, it became clear to me that Taubes was fixed on his belief that nutritional science had got it wrong, and that he’s the only person in history to review the literature and realize this, and to make a scientific argument against CICO (i.e., his 2007 book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”).  He can say this with a straight face is because he knows he’s right.  Carbs make you fat.  Plus, he’s built up a whole belief system and set of fact-twisting arguments supporting it.   He’s long done listening to any counter-evidence.  He’s worked out every reason to dismiss it all, via misinterpretation or mischaracterization, if necessary.  

Taubes literally believes that everyone else is wrong, and only he is right.   [He told us that conventional nutrition scientists all suffer from groupthink, and no one will rock the conspiratorial boat.]  Occam’s Razor tells him he’s right.  He refers to it frequently lately, because while he admits he can’t prove his assertions, he says that Occam’s Razor supports his hypothesis.  Of course, this drives me crazy, because he insanely misinterprets Occam’s Razor.  He describes it as preferring the explanation with the fewest number of elements.  And since the conventional explanation for the obesity epidemic is “complex and multi-faceted”, it basically loses by [his] definition.  Of course, Occam’s Razor prefers the explanation with the fewest assumptions, which is just a proxy for overall likelihood.  (Consider the probability that every nutritional scientist got it wrong over 50+ years, AND they’re suppressing the truth, AND no one except Taubes can see it, etc. vs. the probability that “people just like to sit around and eat”.)

For someone uniquely holding the solution to the global obesity crisis (Is it carbs, or is it sugar this time?  Someone from the audience asked him this, but I don’t remember his answer.  It must have been long-winded), you’d think that science would come running to hear the details.  Oh I forgot, there’s a conspiracy.

I don’t think Gary Taubes is a fraud, as Evelyn (aka Carbsane) has claimed.  At least not in the mustache-twirling way, scheming how he’s going to get rich by making us all believe that carbs make us fat.  He’s more of a vocal, biased partisan making a living from his passions.  I don’t have any problem with that.  (I used to worry about the mustache-twirling, but I feel better now after meeting him and seeing how he thinks.  Hint: like a lawyer who will twist facts.)  Bottom line, he’d still probably insist that carbs make us fat, against all the evidence, even if no one was paying him for his views.

Although I had plenty of opportunities to corner Taubes and waylay him with a few one-on-one questions, I completely avoided it.  I kept it to a few words in the reception line, and gave him his space as we were getting our coats. He knew I was a critic.  If he wanted to discuss anything, I’d let him initiate it.  But we let it alone.  The most we acknowledged of the multi-year, fairly personal, raging online diet wars was Evelyn.  “Who?”  “Evelyn from Carbsane.”  “Oh, Eeeviee!”  That made my trip.

Look, Taubes gets it constantly, probably from his normal-eating friends, and maybe even from his semi-vegetarian wife.  It’s not an act, or at least he never breaks character.  He’s heard it a million times before.  He didn’t need to hear it again from me.  That’s the best thing about meeting someone personally versus flaming each other on Twitter.  You recognize that the other person is a human being.  (I’m a grown-up.  I know that wrestling isn’t real.  Taubes does too.)

The summary.  Yes, he really believes it.  No, he can’t prove it.  No, he’s not listening to any counter-evidence.  No, he’ll never change his mind nor admit to even the smallest of conceptual mistakes.  Why?  Because he’s more like a smart lawyer who never breaks character, and not even close to a scientist.  Besides, there’s no going back at this point.

The Case for Kool-Aid

You’d think that every possible book about every possible dietary scapegoat has already been written.  But when you see Gary Taubes promoting his new anti-sugar book, you learn the market for this stuff is insatiable (hey, a pun!), and it’ll just never end.  Ever.  No matter what.  The material is all the same, except for the worsening world obesity statistics, and the new revisionist history chapter appended to the ongoing conspiracy against your health.  The only thing more saturated than our consumption of sugar (it may have peaked in 1999) is the market for anti-sugar books.  My guess is that John Yudkin’s “Pure, White and Deadly” was nothing new in 1972.  I’m pretty sure we’ve even recycled some of the titles a few times already such as “bitter truth”, “sweet poison”, etc.

So Gary Taubes released his “The Case Against Sugar” book on 27 December, and I thought he missed the Christmas market.  Turns out, it was well-timed for the New Year’s resolution market, and he’s been featured in a bunch of health articles lately.  I think he’s come up with the revelation that sugar is literally poison, and even a teaspoon of it in coffee is bad, and perhaps apples may not be healthy.  And while people aren’t exactly taking him seriously, neither are they laughing him off the national nutrition stage.  It’s a game we’ve been playing for the last 15 years.  He makes outrageous and scientifically unsound claims about the metabolism of carbohydrates, and we listen to him rapturously.  (Well, okay, the tide is probably turning against him since his disastrous NuSI metabolic ward experiment, his debate against Alan Aragon, and his recent online debate with Stephan Guyenet.)  At any rate, I’ve learned over the years that a crank is someone who will refute every point made against them, no matter what.  (Ok, Gary Taubes only questions every point made against him, “but how do we know that <insert your fact here>?”.)

So I don’t care what Gary Taubes says anymore.  He used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t see how someone could go around making nonsense claims like Ancel Keys, the 1980 DGAs and carbs, not calories, made us fat.  I thought that no one with a science background would do that, not even for money, not at the cost of such ridicule.  Turns out there’s a set of cranks that do so all day on Twitter.  (@GaryTaubes tweets occasionally, but he doesn’t engage any of his critics.)  I’ve written previously about why people do this kind of thing.  For whatever reason, it’s something they feel very strong (usually outraged) about, and it’s part of their person.  It’s similar to politics.  So, while you may admit fresh cinnamon rolls might taste good, you’ll correctly recognize they’re the root of all evil, etc.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I’m now drinking 2 litres of Kool-Aid every day.  However, I only use about 60g of white, refined sugar, instead of the 225g they recommend per two quarts.  So I only use 1/4 the sugar of the recipe, which is just fine for my adult tastebuds.  And I’m still baking a few loaves of white bread each week, and eating pasta, noodles, and other refined starches.  It works for me, probably because I ride a bicycle, eat low-fat with a lot of vegetables, and get a lot of genetic help.  Still, no one is forcing their “dietary dogma” on me or anything, for chrissakes.

Everyone is the Aggrieved Party

If you don’t already live by this huge life lesson, then let me please remind you:

In any genuine heated argument, no matter how asymmetrical the sides may appear, both parties always perceive themselves as the victim.

This is often apparent to a dispassionate third party, but remember it’s also true when you find yourself in the middle of a huge argument.  By “genuine”, I mean a bona fide argument, and not where some sociopath is pushing the other guy’s buttons for fun.  Generally, when an argument is “heated” on both sides, it’s a bona fide one.  And even in an asymmetrical argument, the aggressor feels he’s acting in self-defence, or has been wronged (maybe not listened to?).  Or, however lopsidedly right/wrong you see a party, I guarantee you, they’ll insist they’re the actual victim in the whole matter.

Of course, since I’m writing about this from my blog, it means I’ve gleaned this gem from endless soul-searching over the low carb vs. low fat diet wars.  It really took me a long time to come up with this, but it’s based on countless hours following various Twitter wars.  And it explains everything.  At first, I couldn’t believe how the #LCHF fans could possibly believe that the obesity crisis is the result of Ancel Keys & the Seven Country Study, the diet-heart hypothesis, the USDA Food Pyramid, etc.  Did they not believe any of the metabolic ward studies showing no metabolic advantage for their ketogenic diet, or what?

As usual, a deep, unbridgeable gap occurs when two people unknowingly argue about different things.  Both parties may think they’re debating about a narrow issue like “in terms of fat loss, is there any difference between a calorie of fat or a calorie of carbohydrate?”  But communication always breaks down, because both sides remain convinced they’re right, and interpret all studies as backing their position.  And of course, they accuse the other side of willful misrepresentation, being ignorant, dishonest, or otherwise victimizing them.  One side thinks they’re arguing about the First Law of Thermodynamics.  The other side thinks they have a better understanding of causality, the government is lying to them again, or sugar is killing everyone.

That’s the problem in arguing someone obsessed with a fixed idea.  This can happen for any reason.  People often have a fixed theme for viewing the world.  It’s their filter, and is pretty much described by the famous Far Side cartoon (replace “Ginger” with, say, “carbs”, or if you prefer, “calories”)

gary-larson-far-side-cartoon-what-we-say-to-dogs-blah-blah-ginger

Yeah, I know I could be totally wrong, and Prof. Tim Noakes could go down in history as the next Galileo, falsely charged with heresy and all, and we’ll look back at the #LCHF movement in shame for ridiculing the likes of Jimmy Moore and Gary Taubes.

But I recognize that they (mostly) truly believe in their cause.  I try to take their point of view, and understand why they feel victimized, or at least sympathize with their cause.  That goes a long way to bridging the otherwise insurmountable gap.  It’ll basically end the argument.  Why argue about anything?  No one is going to change their mind.  Better to just understand where the other side is coming from.  Believe me, they’ll feel a lot better when you just listen to them.

Confessions of a Zealot

Ok, I’m going to make some shameful confessions here.  I’m going to fess up to some recent indulgences in conspiratorial thought-crime.  You’re the third person I’ve told about this.  The first person that knew was my conservative friend.  Then I discussed it with a liberal friend a few days later.  Now, I’m going public, and confessing to it all, so that we might learn how conspiracy-mongering can lead us down paths we just kind of want to be true.

First, in my defense, let me first tell you that I’m drawn to all conspiracy theories.  It’s my kind of fun, because it’s controversial, and it’s like solving a mystery, figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong, wasting your advanced degrees to interpret crackpot evidence, and so on.  And I usually find conspiracy arguments irresistible, because they’re so juicy and titillating.  It’s an offer to get in on the ground floor of being right while everyone else is wrong.

And even when they all turn out to be “fake”, it was still worth the effort, especially when they’re well-constructed and intelligent conspiracies.  (Good ones are long-lived, and have a continuous body of research growing around them.)

Let me just tell you right now that I fell for the “Hillary Clinton has late-stage Parkinson Disease” conspiracy theory, at least for a day.  Of course, that day was Sept 11, 2016, when she suffered what looked like a seizure while Secret Service agents hurriedly tried to push her limp body (yet rigid neck) into her campaign van and cart her off the scene.

I’d been primed to believe in some Hillary brain damage, because I’d seen these conspiracy theory videos the month before.  The old ones weren’t convincing at all, but at least I knew there were some “researchers” trying to prove she was hiding something serious from all of us.  Then the Zdenek Gazda cellphone video of her Sept 11 collapse went viral on mainstream news and became the 21st century Zapruder film for a day.

Suddenly, I’m thinking, OMG … Hillary has Parkinson Disease or something.  Then the juicy titillation, “OMG, her campaign is over!”  (I’m not the only one who watches 24 hour news channels kind of hoping for apocalyptic events.)  Ok, I’m not a Hillary supporter, and I’m probably just like the 70% of people polled that don’t like/trust her.  But I think Trump is an idiot, and I don’t plan on voting for anyone in November.

Then I call up my conservative friend, who hates Hillary, and thinks Obama is “the worst president in US history, by far”.  We start feeding each other’s suspicions of the Left, and the Media (the same), and say-anything-do-anything-for-power Hillary Clinton, and before you know it, we arrive at the conclusion that she has some advanced, terminal neurological disease, but she just wants to get into power anyways.  (My friend led the way, since he’d seen a lot of this on Alex Jones’ InfoWars show.)  Of course, we had to dismiss her 90-minute turn-around appearance in front of Chelsea’s NY apartment, but that’s how brain diseases are (certainly it’s more consistent with the symptoms than the purported pneumonia).

So that how it goes.  If you’re suspicious of power/authority, for whatever reasons, and you think you have good reason to know they’re lying on some specific issue, you start filling in the picture with what you really think is going on (i.e., you see conspiracy).  It’s pretty natural.  And it’s probably even more pronounced with issues we care about emotionally, or viscerally.  Our brains are wired to perceive things along left/right political alignments, and we’ll make the facts fit our biases.

I calmed down after that phone call, because it all didn’t really line up with my current obsessions.  But I watched some Alex Jones videos the next day (Sept 12), and enjoyed the entertainment, and seeing him beside himself over the possibility that the Hillary brain disease conspiracy might actually be true!  It was like watching a kid at Christmas, and he give an on-fire performance.  All the over-the-top lines were delivered with a little more gusto than usual, because there was actually a chance he might be right (and more importantly, everyone else was wrong) this time.

When you notice the Alex Jones style, he starts by stating a few facts, then weaves them together in a semi-plausible way, then extrapolates them to new over-the-top cartoonish heights.  And it’s not that he expects to be taken literally, but again, he and his audience want to believe in their characterizations of the other side.  It makes them feel good.  It all doesn’t have to be true, but only some of it has to be true, in a way that proves the other side wrong.

So when Hillary held a press conference a few days later, and resumed her very active campaign, I figured she was as fit as a 69 year old would be under the stress of her office and obligations.  Of course she’s very mentally sharp, and it’s very unlikely that she and her doctors could or would hide a serious condition like PD or brain cancer from the world.  Yet the true believers will still make videos, and continually adjust the story to fit the facts as they see them.  Who knows, they might be right.  After all, Ronald Regan probably did exhibit some Alzheimer’s symptoms in office.

Anyways, I’ll admit to getting carried away with a narrative I want to believe in.  But I’ll also take credit for eventually examining the claims in detail, and separating my biases from the more objective truth.  My point is there’s always two sides to the story, and even though one side might be driven by more by emotion, it’s important to understand their point of view.

(If I have to spell it out, this is why some of the diet gurus you love-to-hate say the things they do.  At heart, they believe most of what they say to have some basis in fact, no matter what the “experts” say.   But it’s really just an extension of their dietary preferences and biases, cherished beliefs, fear and anxiety about gaining weight, and political beliefs.  They’re not trying to con you.  They’re telling you it *has* to be true.)