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2013.02.02: Daily pseudoscience, carrots, and a hot mess

Saturday, February 02, 2013

People want to cling to their irrational pseudoscience; if something is presented as 'reasonable' or in a 'clear' fashion they too often take it as true. They use no critical thinking, no critical reading. It doesn't help that they're scientifically illiterate. Today just one example, along with the results of a television marathon.


Idiotic pseudoscience, example #1: detoxing and "The Plan" by Lyn-Genet Recitas.

Recitas' book and 'plan' was receiving defense in a thread, www.sparkpeople.com/mysp
, and it's sad to see adults defend it in any way. One person, Rebecca, wrote, "When I read Lyn-Genete's book and she explains the chemistry of it all so many things made sense. I'm not saying I won't plateau on this Plan. But at least now I know why and how to correct it. It's not always about adding more exercise." She prefaced her comment with, "Unless you've read the book you wouldn't understand."

It doesn't matter if other people understand nutrition or science, the cultural history of dieting and scams and pseudoscience, or anything like that, because unless we've read the book, we wouldn't understand. And if we have, the goalposts will probably be moved yet again.

Alas, I won't be paying for such tripe, but perhaps I can gain a glimpse without becoming a full cult member; the publisher (of the ebook, at least, Hachette) allows you to browse some of the content ( www.hachettebookgroup.co
). And in those pages we get some gems, such as:

"The hidden culprit behind all of this is inflammation. The idea that low-grade inflammation is behind nearly every disease and ailment has moved to the front burner within the medical community over the past decades. Countless studies have linked chronic low-grade inflammation to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, IBS, Crohn's, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, polycistic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), infertility, premature aging, and obesity." (page 6)

In short: B.S.

Longer? We begin with a causal claim: "inflammation is behind", not "seen in conjunction with" or "associated with" or something broader. "Nearly every disease and ailment" is a broad statement, yet I'd like to know whether "nearly every" includes all the diseases and ailments for which we know viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens are the causes. And so on. For that we have to step outside the book a moment.

The inflammation theory of disease is not synonymous with but overlaps greatly with the autoimmune theory of disease, a critique of which is leveled elsewhere, mpkb.org/home/alternate/
: "The autoimmune disease theory has yet to present a satisfactory reason, evolutionary or otherwise, why an immune system would attack human tissue."

From within that page/link, we have the challenge, "One thing that we clearly know causes inflammation is the presence of an infection. So, as soon as I hear the word inflammation I think, 'What infectious agents are at play?'"

This theory of disease has taken on a life of its own online, especially in popular science, alternative medicine, and New-Agey circles. Many of these subscribe to an essentially medieval and at the latest Early Modern notion of sympathetic magic.

But if you want a good place to start and end, just go to Science-Based Medicine and the entry "Magic diet? Not so much" www.sciencebasedmedicine
: "A reader has turned me on to another magic word I hadn't known about. It's called the 'Inflammation Factor', and is the invention of a nutritionist named Monica Reinagel. Like most good lies, this one builds on a nidus of truth." Reinagel's points are essentially Recitas' points; the latter is the former's repackaged for a new year and a new book, you might say.

For more on inflammation, good and bad, see also:

[1] www.age4ever.com/Causes-
"age4ever.com" ... really? As for magical analogies and the like, "We are what we eat, drink and breathe." Um ... yes, no, not quite.

[2] www.discoverymedicine.co
The authors wisely and more reasonably than Recitas state, "Many diseases common in older adults have clear inflammatory components."

[3] www.westonaprice.org/car
The Weston A. Price Foundation, home to all sorts of bad, bad science, are proponents of the inflammation theory, which itself is more or less enough to cause one to question anything someone like Recitas says. With friends like the WAPF, who needs enemies?

[4] www.nature.com/embor/jou
... alas, you'll have to log in to read more than just the abstract.

[5] www.nature.com/nm/journa
"Inflammation is commonly believed to be a culprit in Alzheimer disease pathogenesis. Recent studies, however, indicate that certain aspects of the inflammatory response may have therapeutic potential"

[6] drlwilson.com/ARTICLES/I
Skip to "9. Simple Dietary Mistakes" for all the anti-nightshade quackery you could want. Again, it's bad science and bad medicine.

[7] www.npr.org/2011/05/09/1
And here we have the problem with Recitas' book and those on the boards who swear by it in a sentence or two: "The gold standard study — a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study — takes two groups of similar people, some eating normally, and others eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and compares the changes in their health over time. And the entire time, neither the doctors nor the patients know which diets they're on." Self-reporting and the like is nice for personal experience, but it is scientifically useless. Yet back on page 'x' of her book's Introduction, Recitas claims, "The next twenty days are going to be a controlled experiment to help you discover which foods do and don't work for your body." This is neither controlled nor an experiment in any meaningful sense, but it's dressed up in the language of science.

[8] www.kerstinflorianusa.co
... and here's more of the New-Agey B.S.: "That’s because the earth is a negative electron machine. And our bodies – made up mostly of water and minerals – are excellent conductors of electrons. As long as there is direct skin contact with the ground, free electrons transfer easily up into and throughout the body. Disconnected from the earth, the body is vulnerable and prone to inflammation-related disease and accelerated aging – a startling theory just beginning to gather scientific momentum." Really?

[9] www.wellnessletter.com/u
"But 'might be' is the operative phrase. Is inflammation a cause of disease or the result of it—or perhaps something that just goes along with it?" That page -- and the smart letter/editorial at the end -- lead in to the next page, from the CDC ...

[10] www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2
"In Search of a Germ Theory Equivalent for Chronic Disease" ... here we have a smart overview and reasoned argument for a project.

But all this was a digression -- based on page 6 of Recitas' book -- about one aspect of bad science in "The Plan." It only gets worse, as early as page 7, which throws thermodynamics out the window and decides that weight gain is a matter of a reaction to "reactive" foods. And then Recitas feeds our egos and our need to be special little snowflakes with the oft-repeated mantra that we all have unique chemistries, that there is no general rule, only what works for us individually (which Recitas and her fellow snake-oil salespeople will provide).


Aside: Carrots.

Set the oven to 400F. Gently wash your carrots, trim the ends, dry, and cut into approximately 1" chunks.

In a big enough bowl you want a tablespoon of flour and one of bread crumbs or corn meal, along with a good teaspoon of baking powder and, let's say, a quarter teaspoon each of dill, paprika, salt, and ground black pepper. I like a dash of ground ginger, too. Stir until well mixed.

Dump in carrots and coat thoroughly. Dump into a mesh strainer to sift out the remaining breading ... reserve if you wish for something else. Then put the carrots back in the bowl, add a good tablespoon of canola oil, mix until well-coated, and dump onto a baking sheet.

Roast about an hour, turning once or twice to make sure the carrots roast evenly and do not stick to the sheet. Feel free to broil a couple minutes at the end.

I need to make another carrot soup one of these days, but as long as the winter is cool, roasted carrots keep me warm.


Friday we began season 4 of 'The X-Files' and season 1 of 'Millennium'; today we continued each, first with the latter then the former. 'Millennium' is a darker show, and while intriguing also a bit less 'fun' in some regards; 'The X-Files' serves as a palate cleanser of sorts.

Today Frank Black had to go to San Francisco to deal with disturbing murders that linked bak to a a doomsday cult of sorts linked up with a multinational corporation, etc. It was very much of its time, the mid-90s, not long after the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Perhaps the most interesting scene, though, came late in the episode when Frank was back in Seattle with his wife and they end up discussing the nature of evil, at least their two views. What's particularly fascinating is how Frank keeps framing it as a matter of essence, of what evil 'is', whereas his wife, Catherine, a social worker, refers to people doing evil things, to evil acts. The difference is not insifnificant. Alas, the characters do not speak as people but as moutpieces for plot, exposition, and arm-chair philosophy.

And then we had "Home", one of the more disturbing and off-the-wall monster of the week episodes in 'The X-Files'. Off to Pennsylvania Mulder and Scully go, where the discovery of a deformed baby corpse during a game of baseball leads to deformed, inbred, antisocial, highly incestuous rednecks and a sheriff named Andy Taylor. It's a "what were they thinking" sort of episode with all sorts of tonal inconsistency, yet it has a kind of brillance to it; it won me over when Mulder and Scully have to wrestle pigs out of a pen. No body doubles for that!

The big car almost made this a bizarro world Stephen King sort of story.

But on to my greatest crime: last night I introduced Ms. S. to 'American Horror Story'. We both heard about it when it began airing in 2011 or such, and we ignored it until the end of its first-season run because the reviews were generally terrible. Then it supposedly got better and we thought of 'watching it later', as we do with so many things, but then Ms. S. ran across a season 1 spoiler, lost interest, and we dropped the topic. Then season 2 came along, got better reviews, and Ms. S., who avoided spoilers, became interested in watching that. I, however, prefer to start at the beginning.

So Thursday afte she went to work and I watch 'The Big Bang Theory' (a plotwise mediocre but characterization strong episode www.avclub.com/articles/
[A-]) I watched the first 20 minutes of the season 1 pilot ... and I was hooked once Jessica Lange swaggered into view. She at least knew what sort of show she was in. I then stopped, deciding to save the rest of the episode for later.

Friday evening we watched the pilot together all the way through and around the same point Ms. S. became hooked. The question remained, show we watch it? And if so, how?

The answer? Marathon it!

And so Saturday was spent, to an extent but not exclusively, watching episodes 2 through 5. We're past Halloween (parts 1 & 2) by an episode; Tate's backstoy has been provided. We've had Z. Quinto has the more fashionable half of a gay duo, we've killed the younger version of Frances Conroy, and we've traveled to the late 60s for musical cues and pre-Manson murders. It works best as high camp, perhaps only as that. It helps when we minimize the nominal leads -- our married couple --, who generally drag the show down and eliminate its momentum.

When will we get to the other half of the first season? It's hard to say, but we have a few spare days in February (to get through 'X-Files' and 'Millennium', that is).
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thanks. And you're right, "Arrogance coupled with ignorance is a deadly duo." What I find sad here is that there is interesting science and the like behind inflammation and disease and all that. But the magical thinking, the pseudoscience ... the real information and real science is so much more intesting (but *harder*!) than "give me a simple answer in a book/package you can sell me".

    ... "conspiritard" indeed.
    1869 days ago
    haha, I remember that quote: "Unless you've read the book you wouldn't understand."

    Arrogance coupled with ignorance is a deadly duo. As long as people keep buying their books, this junk will continuously be peddled. I guess I don't understand why someone wants to buy lies instead of looking up facts in pubmed for free. It takes a conspiratard mindset, I guess.
    1869 days ago
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