Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Like talking to a brick wall

To disagree only as much as the evidence permits
Jamie Scott, the Primal Muse hit a brick wall recently. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The wall’s embodiment was a narrow minded and rude purveyor of what to the untrained eye might look like science.

Scientific disagreements are fascinating because science as a “reality exploring tool” does not or rather should not actually have disagreements. That is, at least not in the “difference of opinion” definition. This is because the data and methods are what they are and leave little room for personal interpretation. A scientific disagreement, I believe, is more often a refusal or a failure to agree in which personal opinion has no other part but to cause the actual refusal.

- The evidence does not support recommendations to reduce intake of saturated fat to avoid or treat heart disease.
- I disagree.
- …?

Are scientific disagreements simply the result of insufficient knowledge?
I am hoping to start earning myself a ph.d. in the near future. As often, funding is sparse and getting scientific studies up and running is a tedious process. In the process there are many professors and wise men and women to meet with. Sometimes when talking to the very people who are in charge of educating the nation’s finest in the fields of health and nutrition I find that I disagree strongly with some of the things they have to say.

Although, I feel disagree is not the proper wording. To me, disagree implies a matter of opinion when what it really is, is a matter of facts. Sometimes I know with certainty that the person across the table is wrong. We don’t disagree, this is a conflict. There are contradictory statements and at least one statement is wrong.

I find myself thinking that “…boy this person hasn’t done his homework!” But rarely is the moment a good moment to air my disagreement (and thus being in an open conflict) out loud even if in the most humble manner. These are the very people whom I am thoroughly dependent upon to climb my way up the ladder of knowledge, steadily ascending towards a decent job and paycheck. A disagreement must wait and make way for a smile and a nod.

I know how this may sound, and let me make a small defensive note. I am in no way attempting to put myself above these very skilled and experienced people. In no way do I like the feeling of knowing something that my adversary obviously has gotten wrong or should know.

The thing is, it only takes one small fact which one person possesses and the other do not to make a conflict. The conflict isn’t based on a disagreement of opinion, but on a lack of knowledge. The lack of knowledge is regardless of the total amount of knowledge the conflicting parties may possess.

However, when experiencing those tongue biting moments I wonder. I’ve been taught how scientific paradigms rarely change and when doing so it is often because new blood comes in and old blood goes out of the particular scientific community. I’ve been told that one of the reasons why scientist rarely change their mind and leading hypotheses is because they are humans, subject to the same mentality as the rest of us and as we know, the rest of us don’t like being wrong.

But how often really, are scientists exposed to hypothesis-slaying data or information and still manage to shield their belief and change the premises in a most acrobatic manner? How often really, is the ego to blame and how often is the disagreement caused simply by a lack of knowledge?

More and more often I am inclined to think the latter most likely. Being no expert on the human psyche I find it very odd if so many people would intentionally lie and deceive for personal gains and to save face.

Now, I am not trying to excuse people like the Muse’s brick wall. As scientists, it is their responsibility to be updated or to at least to know when they are not. A lack of knowledge may cause conflicts but the cause of insufficient knowledge often seems consciously self imposed – an unwillingness to seek out the correct, important or “alternative” information.

So paradigms linger on and disproven hypotheses remain because some people don't bother to read a book. How many keepers of the saturated fat – heart disease dogma do you think has chosen not to read Colpo, Kendrick or Ravnskov and dismissed the literature simply from reading the title of the books? My guess is many, and so the conflict remains.

The occasional twat knowing he’s wrong, but unwilling to admit it is the exception and not the rule.

Many, if not most of these people are good people, and for the time being, acting as protector of the hill and are thus prone to fall into defensive mode. But, they are acting in the belief that they are in fact doing good – spreading and accumulating knowledge – being the horsemen of science and reason. How delusional we can be.

It is a misconception that every conflict has to parties, as it is a misconception that one of the parties comprising the conflict must be right and the other wrong. It only takes one.

And sadly it the world of conflicts, when rational arguments bounce off like the sun's rays in a mirror blinding you in return, the only remaining alternatives are surrender or full-on battle.

2 comments:

  1. Yes! And try making this argument to a third party:

    "My vegan friend Jimmy disagrees with you"

    "No, he's wrong, and he isn't knowledgeable on the evidence, or he's too stupid and/or close-minded to understand it"

    "But he reads studies just like you, and..."

    I think the problem is that most people refuse to think: they don't step back and realize how nutrition/scientific facts develop; they read something, and it immediately sticks without any room for criticism or understanding. And, like you said, for the guys like Ornish, Mcdougall, etc, ego must take over, and it's a shame.

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  2. Pål

    I knew this had to be, in some way, a response to Jamie's blog. This is all pretty simple. They aren't listening and they never will.

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