Sunday, April 20, 2008

Good Evidence of Bad Science

Right now I'm reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. I'm only starting chapter 9 right now so I'm withholding an overall judgement of the book until I'm done with the whole thing. But I will say this: so far, this book has been replete with concrete examples of the truth of Ayn Rand's identification that "Government encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood."

That quote is from her essay 'The Establishing of an Establishment' now in the book 'Philosophy: Who Needs It' which can be found in most bookstores or ordered here. While Ms. Rand was writing about encouragement of the arts, this indifference to truth is true of many of the different market activities that government today encourages. Why this is so is a topic for another day. Let it suffice to say that dedication to the truth is replaced with dedication to government policy. For now I want to give a few examples of the many instances of indifference mentioned in the book:
"Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all nutritionists knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone whose research did. "To be a dissenter was to be unfunded because the peer-reviewed system rewards conformity and excludes criticism," George Mann had written The New England Journal of Medicine in 1977. The NIH [National Institute of Health--ME] expert panels that decide funding represent the orthodoxy and will tend to perceive research interpreted in a contrarian manner as unworthy of funding. David Kritchevski, a member of the Food and Nutrition Board when it released Toward Healthful Diets, put it this way: "The US government is as big a pusher as industry. If you say what the government says, then it's okay. If you say something that isn't what the government says, or that may be parallel to what industry says, that makes you suspect."" (p-51,52)
"Those who believed that dietary fat caused heart disease had always preferentially interpreted their data in the light of that hypothesis. Now they no longer felt obliged to test any hypothesis, let alone [Ancel--ME] Key's. Rather, they seemed to consider their obligation to be that of "reconciling {their}study findings with current programs of prevention," which meant the now official government recommendations. Moreover, these studies were expensive, and one way to justify the expense was to generate evidence that supported the official advice to avoid fat. If the evidence didn't support the recommendations, then the task was to interpret it so that it did.*" (P-53,54)
He links to the Honolulu Heart Program which he says is an extreme example of this conflict in 1985.

It looks like starting with chapter 9 Mr. Taubes will be giving more scientific evidence that refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread and sugar are bad for us and our obesity as a consequence of government encouragement to eat carbs in general while ignoring the kind of carbs consumed. We'll see. But the first 8 chapters are a testament to the validity of Rand's identification about indifference to truth.

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