A particularly lame article made the rounds among a dozen or so of my Facebook friends the other day, decrying the “pseudoscience” to be found at Whole Foods. The piece points out some alternative health notions that I’d agree are almost certainly bogus — like homeopathy and various mystical-sounding healing claims — but also lumps into this pile of perceived quackery things like organic vegetables and books about paleo food.
I’m not suggesting that anybody needs to hold a positive belief in the value of any of those things, but in that author’s sneering certainty that they all amount to pseudoscience — or, still more libelous, anti-science — he reveals his own ignorance of the scientific method and veers into pseudoscience himself.
In short, an untested (or little-tested) hypothesis is not the same as a false hypothesis. Most of the people seeking out better health through better nutrition, with dietary strictures that fly in the face of conventional wisdom, aren’t rejecting science. Far from it. They’re participating in a process of self-testing, determining whether the anecdotal evidence of others may also apply to themselves. They’re checking out relatively untested hypotheses on a personal, case-by-case basis. This is no substitute for the gold standard of randomized, controlled trials, but when those trials aren’t forthcoming and your own health is on the line, it’s not crazy to seek out — and test — some of those alternative solutions yourself, especially when you’ve seen widespread testimony of their effectiveness for others.
Far too often, the skeptic community that I love takes this amazingly hubristic approach, essentially treating unproven hypotheses as though they are proven quackery. Skepticism about fanciful unproven claims is great, but a sense of certainty that unproven hypotheses are false is both misplaced and pseudoscientific.
No food-related issue better illustrates this hubris than GMOs. This article targets the people who want to avoid them as part of the “pseudoscience” crowd. Generally speaking, GMOs don’t bother me. Pretty much the only reason I’d be inclined to avoid some GMOs is because they’re tailor-made to be pesticide resistent and therefore have higher pesticide residue when consumed — exactly the same reason I prefer organics for some food. It’s not necessarily a different nutrient composition that I’m after, but a lower exposure to a very particular set of chemicals.
But, apart from pesticides, GMOs seem genetically safe to me. The scientific explanation for why they should be safe convinces me, and histrionic claims about frankenfoods don’t. Still, I don’t possess certainty about my assumption. Supporters of GMOs like to assert (smugly, always smugly) that GMOs have been positively demonstrated to be safe, but it’s crucial to point out that a failure to demonstrate harm is not the same thing as proving something safe.
It’s always possible to conduct bigger, longer studies that better control for important variables, and I have no assurance that my assumption of GMO safety would be certain in every one of those cases. I oppose attempts to ban GMOs through political power, but voluntary organized attempts to avoid GMOs seem fine to me — and if those people have a lower risk tolerance than I do for specific types of food, I’m happy that they have retailers who will cater to them.
And, once again, name-calling those who have that lower risk tolerance as “pseudoscientific” is in and of itself pseudoscientific.
I have no reason to go through that article point by point, because it continually makes the same kind of errors. I’ll end on this supremely annoying quote:
If the Paleo diet helps you eat fewer TV dinners, that’s great—even if the Paleo diet is probably premised more on The Flintstones than it is on any actual evidence about human evolutionary history.
As it’s been pointed out again and again and again, historical reenactment is not the point. The little we know about the history of diet in human evolution is only a starting point for suggesting testable hypotheses about foods that are better or worse for us to consume. So, no, “paleo” diets aren’t any more genuinely “paleo” than all comic books are genuinely comical. It’s an imperfect term that stuck, and pretending that word is intended to be literal misrepresents the actual research that’s ongoing.
Here are my food photos for days 41 and 42:
Monday, Feb. 24
I woke up at 10:25 a.m. (after heading to bed at 2:25 a.m.).
Breakfast: 11:10 a.m. | 4 eggs, greens mix, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
Lunch: 5:00 p.m. | 3.75 oz. sardines, 2 stalks celery, 5,000 IU Vitamin D capsule, Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc caplet
Dinner: 9:40 p.m. | 8 oz. salmon, 2 parsnips, 1/6 bunch broccoli, 1/2 sweet onion, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
I ate half of the contents of the skillet below, saving the other half for breakfast.
Tuesday, Feb. 25
I woke up at 10:25 p.m. (after heading to bed at 5:30 a.m.). This was a huge failure at getting to bed on time, thanks to a freelance rush job. May have to start turning down projects if this keeps up.
Breakfast: 11:45 a.m. | 4 oz. salmon, 1 parsnip, 1/12 bunch broccoli, 1/4 sweet onion, 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
Leftovers from last night’s dinner. I ate half of the contents of the skillet below, saving the other half for lunch.
Lunch: 4:40 p.m. | 4 oz. salmon, 3 eggs, 1 parsnip, 1/12 bunch broccoli, greens mix, 1/4 sweet onion, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
Primarily breakfast leftovers, with some eggs, greens, and a little more coconut oil added to the mix.
Dinner: 10:00 p.m. | 8 oz. ground beef, 1 chicken liver, 3 carrots, 1/6 bunch broccoli, 1/2 red onion, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
I wanted to take a photo of the Polyface beef, because it comes directly (well, through a CSA intermediary) from libertarian farmer Joel Salatin, a guy who’s doing everything right — or, rather, as much as he can in the face of neverending government regulations and outright prohibitions that are designed to prop up corporate agriculture.
And, as long as I was grabbing a shot of Salatin’s excellent meat, I figured I’d take another opportunity to show how my food doesn’t look like a huge brown mess midway through cooking! That skillet contains six carrots (yellow, orange, and purple), an entire head and stalk of broccoli, and an entire red onion — all before I add any meat. It’s a meal with easily twice as much in colorful veggies as in animal protein.