This question has nothing to do with paleo food or lifestyle but I was watching a programme shown here in the UK about climate change skeptics. The climate skeptics came across as suffering from confirmation bias and cherry picking the data they want. Unfortunately I found it difficult to trust what the legitimate scientists had to say either. After all scientists came up with the low fat is good for you idea in the first place. How do we know who to trust when we don't know enough to trust our own judgement? I am profoundly thankful to Gary Taubes and Loren Cordain, et al for doing the research for me on the subject of diet but how can I protect myself from bad science on other subjects? What do you think?
I'm distrustful of any science that mixes with politics, which I've felt long before learning about the lipid hypothesis. Politics contaminates the scientific method.
I'm much more distrustful of the non-scientists, actually...the ones who read what they want to read into studies--studies that, by and large, are couched in the language of the theoretical rather than the absolute. Bad science happens, but the real problem is the misinterpretation of data by the non-scientists (government, media, etc.)
Nutritional scientists, maybe. Journalists and magazine editors - most definitely. Gary Taubes is an anomaly, most journalists and writers don't give a crap if what their writing has any truth.
I'm skeptical of an external reality. I'm skeptical that paleohacks exists. Etc.
Ok, I'm being facetious. I take the OP's point to be that it's hard to know whom to trust when one isn't an expert. It's a real problem. You have to rely on authorities, and majority views aren't always right.
I think the thing to do is to read opposing views and where you don't understand the disagreements, ask questions.
It's always going to be a problem when the scientific field is homologous to other fields- economic (as is the case in the overwhelming majority of cases) or political (which I won't deny occurs, but less significant, given that the political field is usually highly in hock to the economic field- at least in the developed economies).
I think it's clear that the ideal is having sufficient grasp of the debate to be able to judge for yourself, which is fine in cases like the lipid hypothesis, where the state of the debate is so egregiously bad that it's obvious that the mainstream counter-positions don't even have the beginnings of a reply to certain considerations and just advert to things that display a simple, logic misunderstanding (like citing 'calories in-calories out' as though this were explanatory rather than analytic), but leaves us in an extremely troublesome position otherwise. In any case where we don't have good reason to think that we have a better understanding than the scientists themselves (which is always hard to achieve and which we're always going to be inclined to unduly easily convince ourselves of) then rationally we ought to simply defer to scientific authority. Hence if nutritional scientists were to respond to the sceptical charges laid out before them not with a mantra that can be identified as meaningless a priori or reference to facts that have actually been explicitly disproved time and again or claims which display complete lack of consideration of certain key aspects (like: 'eating low carb makes you [non-pathologically!] insulin resistant') but instead said "No, because [stream of scientific claims that I have no basis for understanding or critiquing]" then I ought rationally to suspect that I (and my cadre of sceptics) am in error. This is particularly unfortunate for us, because it means that most of us, when first presented with scepticism that the mainstream low fat hypothesis was correct probably ought to have responded prima facie with extreme scepticism. Prior to being able to evaluate all the substantive evidence, then there is a strong presumption in favour of the experts working in a particular area being correct and any minority of amateurs you care to name being mistaken. Indeed, even once you have looked at the evidence yourself, then this strong presumption remains, so even if all your first-order consideration of the evidence leads you to think something, if the majority of experts working in the area think otherwise you still have very, very good reason to think that your first order evaluations are wrong. The only reasons why we can reject the lipid hypothesis so easily are, I think, that certain of its claims are clearly either logical mistakes (like the first law of thermodynamics debacle) and because there is a compelling narrative (via Taubes) to explain why in this case, the community of scientists might have systematically biased beliefs in this particular case. It's precisely because this is such a particular case though, that the critique doesn't generalise very well to other scientific fields (which is just as well, because science's overwhelming successes suggest that it's still a fairly reliable guide).
I first became skeptical of scientists when I began working with scientists at UCLA. What I found was that most were more interested in one upping their competition and thus winning more grant money. Not all were unethical, but the way the system is set up, the overall attitude is to beat the other guy. Somewhere in there, the actual quest for truth often gets sidelined. Of course everyone (or many of them) thinks THEY have the truth already, so they have no qualms about their tactics to beat the other guy. And I met a number of quite famous scientists there and some of them were fairly intelligent and overall good people. But some of them were quite AMAZINGLY stupid (as a post) and also jerks. Made me realize just because someone is famous does not mean they have even a reasonable number of brain cells. I suspect it's pretty much the same in every academic field out there. So while I was somewhat surprised at the level of stupidity in much of the field of nutrition, it was actually just more of the same of what I had already seen.
Does Paleo "cure" anything? 6 Answers