Critical Thinking Skills: Lies, D@mned Lies, and Statistics
Saturday, April 27, 2013
It's been a strange week. After surviving my mountain biking experience, I didn't want to eat. I ate under my calorie range for four solid days and counting. I'm not sure why this is. I also want to lie in a corner curled up in a ball and wait for the sun to go down so I can sleep again. Methinks this is a sign that I overdid it in the exercise department. Either that, or this hormonal fluctuation thing is getting outta control.
Anyway, I thought I'd share a few thoughts with you all on how the whole Spark Coach experience is going. Well, so far I have been tracking and exercising more consistently (read: every day), even though that's something I could probably do on my own. The daily program guides do reinforce the building of good habits, even though 90 percent of the material I have seen or read before on SP, just in a different format. I think the key is that it is divided into little chunks every day so I am not overwhelmed with a sea of information like I normally am on the main page. I have noticed that the feedback seems to be generated based on keywords in my comments, and it doesn't necessarily take into account what is actually going on. Case in point: the whole not eating thing. When I was asked to assess my eating habits for the day, I chose "poor". Not because I had binged or eaten unhealthy foods, but because I had only consumed 500 calories in the course of a single day. To me, this is not healthy, but rather cause for at least minor concern. The generated response was something along the lines of "you should log every single bite of your food to get back on track." My response was something along the lines of "I DID track every single bite of food, you ^&*(% computer program! That's how I know it wasn't healthy!" I also would like to point out that the other self assessment questions are equally vague. For instance, how was my physical activity level today? Well, it kind of depends. Some days, which I just need to sit back and do yoga because I'm effing tired, the calorie burn is minimal, but because I made myself stick to my plan, I considered that excellent effort. Conversely, when I do a recovery ride after a long ride, I burn more calories than I would walking a mile, but it didn't seem to me to be a valiant effort, so I'd put fair. Then other days, when I'm cranky and I only do 10 minutes because I can't stand the thought of sweating, I'll say poor, even though it was miraculous that I get myself off the couch. What does it all even MEAN?! It means that self assessments are tricky, and one must be honest with oneself, even if the data is inconsistent with the questions asked. This sort of thing just drives me nuts. I was also hoping for more human presence, but that is not in fact the case. The computer program they have designed sends automatic responses to my input, which is not the same as human interaction. At least I don't think so. Of course, it would be impossible for such a small staff to personally respond to each member, so that's just the way it goes. Honestly, the whole thing seems like one big video game. Take that for what it's worth.
Another thing I did this week was sign up for the Vega One website to learn more about clean eating. It's been... interesting. First of all, the spokesperson looks like death. For real. He claims to be in excellent health, and he probably is since he does Iron Man Triathlons all the time, but when you look into his eyes, there is something missing. I believe the phrase is "a lean and hungry look," if I remember Julius Ceasar correctly. Pardon me for saying so, but I have noticed that look in all vegetarians I have come across, and I had it as well for a while when I tried to be vegetarian for a year. I lost thirty pounds, but I became more aggressive. I also threatened to eat the flute player in my quintet. There is a distinct lack of spark in that look. That's what doesn't sell me on the whole vegan diet thing. Feel free to disagree. Maybe I'm just hanging around the wrong vegetables. Another thing is that when you read the materials and watch the videos, you have to REALLY pay attention. At face value, it seems like reasonable information. Most people who have neither the time nor inclination to doubt would take it as such. I, however, being the distrustful sort of human that I am, make looking for inconsistencies and loopholes a full body contact sport. For instance, in one of the supplemental articles discussing plant proteins, they claimed that for every 12 grams of chia seed, there was 5000 milligrams of dietary fiber. At first glance, this seems amazing. Such a big number must mean that it is more healthful than anything else out there. Yes, until you realize that 5000 milligrams is equal to 5 grams. I find this sort of mixed metaphors in the use of weights and measurements to be misleading. It may be harmless in this particular context, but it has a psychological effect. If you were glancing over an article and saw that one product had 5 of something healthful, whereas another product had 5000 of something healthful, which would you think would be more healthful? Gut reaction would be the 5000, because it's a larger number. I think it's a sneaky way to manipulate the mind, and I'm not having it. I mean, if the author does that in one instance, what other "facts" are they throwing out there to an unsuspecting public? Hmmm?
Well, check this out! Granted, I am no expert on breast cancer. I am not a doctor. However, I do know that cancer research is in a constant state of flux. New things are being tried and reported all the time. So, if you were going to cite research, you'd cite the most current research, right? And you'd have lots of sources to back it up, right? You would think. Behold, their article on how bad soy is for you. Apart from being devoid of any helpful information other than vague references to GMOs and processing, they cited exactly ONE study about how the phytoestrogens in soy caused breast cancer. And it was a study done in 2001. PEOPLE, THAT IS ANCIENT HISTORY IN TERMS OF MEDICAL RESEARCH. Come to think of it, that is ancient history in any field of study. And you know what is really hilarious? A simple Google search will net you dozens of studies from 2012 saying that soy is okay, or at least the experiments are higgledy-piggledy. And can you guess, ladies and gentlemen, what ingredient the protein powder they are hawking on the site does NOT contain? Go on. Guess. I'll wait. Mm hmm. Yeah. That's right. Doesn't contain SOY. How convenient.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I will spare you the rest of my rant, because I could write a book on how the information could be of more value if it were not tainted by so obvious a bias. Suffice to say that it is necessary to do the following when learning about nutrition:
1. Who sponsors the author? Follow the money trail. Determine the sponsorship and you have determined the article's bias.
2. If research is cited, when was it done? Who paid for the research? Follow the money trail. Determine the sponsorship and you have determined the research's bias.
3. Red flag words include: always, every, never
4. Does the author use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Would you trust someone who can't tell the difference between "your" and "you're" or "too" and "to"? Not if I'm looking for reliable scientific information.
5. What are the author's credentials? Is the author someone who has experience with the subject, studied the subject, or is the author just some random person assigned to that particular subject by the publication?
6. What publication/website does the article appear in? If it is in written format, look at the cover. Are there more mammaries than a barn full of cows featured on the cover? Have you seen more conservative clothes on the cover of a soft-core porn video? Then you should probably think twice about taking the information contained therein seriously. (Yeah, I'm pointing at YOU, Cosmopolitan.) If it is on the internet, what colors are part of the site's layout? Pink is not a color of science. I'm sorry, ladies, but it's true. Are there puppies and kittens? Watered down information is your fate, at best.
Okay, okay, I realize that most folks don't have the patience to wade through the heavy scientific jargon that medical journals produce, and would much rather have puppies and kittens than test tubes and microscope slides. If there is just one thing you take away from this blog, I hope it is this: keep your eyes open, because somebody is lying. You just have to figure out how much and act accordingly.