What Can the Election Teach Us About Dietary Dogma?

Forward: this post is about science, not politics. I am using political examples to make a point about scientific methodology. If, while reading, you find yourself getting angry and interpreting my points as political, I suggest you stop reading and go brush up on Critical Thinking 101.

Anyone following the election knows that there were some wildly inaccurate projections made in the days before November 6th. For instance:

Dick Morris:Karl Rove:

George Will:

Wayne Allen Root on foxnews.com:

And oh so many more.

Why were all these pundits so wrong? Because they were throwing out all the science that didn’t support their world view. They were basing their predictions on two primary (cherry-picked) sources, the Rasmussen and Gallup national polls, both of which showed Romney tied or leading among likely voters. Several of them were overtly scornful of state and national polls that painted a different picture, claiming that those polls were biased and flawed.  So they just tossed them out. Listen to them talk, and you’d hear lots of mention of opinions and gut feelings.

And then there was Nate Silver. Nate Silver looked at ALL the polls and subjected them to rigorous mathematical review. He included the outliers in his calculations, but weighted them in the context of the full breadth of scientific evidence. The result of Nate’s methodology was a 100% accurate prediction of the final electoral map.

Nate’s final electoral projection:

What does that look like? Oh yeah, the actual election results.

I admit, I’m a huge Nate Silver fan. But not because of his politics. Because of his methodology. It’s scientific. It’s evidence based. It’s accurate. It’s MATH.

So what does all this have to do with dietary dogma? Most dietary dogma is based on cherry-picked scientific outliers. These gurus will take a handful of studies that support their agenda, dismiss all the other, conflicting, science as biased and flawed, and build an elaborate dietary mythology based on a few outliers. Sort of like Dick Morris and company did with their cherry-picked polls.

It’s true that my nutrition and health views tend to align more strongly with ‘conventional’ theory (conventional theory: primary drivers of obesity and metabolic dysfunction are inactivity and energy imbalance), and there’s three main reasons for that:

1. Conventional theory has WAY more science supporting it

2. When I applied conventional theory to my own health, I lost weight and reversed disease, just like conventional theory held I would

3. Before I applied conventional theory, I tried all the non-conventional theories and continued to struggle

This doesn’t mean that I dismiss alternative theories and outlying science. There’s definitely some value there. The emphasis on food quality and proper rest doesn’t get enough emphasis in conventional theory (although conventional theory doesn’t dismiss either). But I consider those outliers in the context of all the other science. I don’t dismiss all the other science and focus solely on the outliers. Kind of like Nate Silver. You know, the guy who NAILED the election.

4 thoughts on “What Can the Election Teach Us About Dietary Dogma?

  1. I’m a Nate Silver fan as well…have been following him since before the 2008 election and this year, his predictions kept me sane and breathing in the leadup to the election. Did you hear his interview on Fresh Air/NPR earlier in October? Not only is he super smart but he is also able to explain his work in a clear, interesting, and humble manner to the average person…a rare combination!

  2. I suppose that’s an issue if you get all your news from Fox News. Or have no exposure to others who may not share your views. It’s the opposite around here, it’s deep deep blue, and so few people have even met a conservative that they don’t really believe they exist.

    It seems if you read some nutrition posts pushing a balanced diet, there are so many comments by low-carbers that if you only read those posts, you might believe that stuff, but in reality, they are proselytizing, reasonable people just ignore them, thus they dominate the conversation. Thus, they start thinking that they are right, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a vegan or trying to spread diabetes or sell evil carbs, and they preach their gospel even more, and the mainstream dismisses them as a bunch of kooks.

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