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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Cycles and science and reflections on my health

“Many explanations have been offered to make sense of the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of medical wisdom — what we are advised with confidence one year is reversed the next — but the simplest one is that it is the natural rhythm of science. An observation leads to a hypothesis. The hypothesis (last year’s advice) is tested, and it fails this year’s test, which is always the most likely outcome in any scientific endeavor. There are, after all, an infinite number of wrong hypotheses for every right one, and so the odds are always against any particular hypothesis being true, no matter how obvious or vitally important it might seem.”

Gary Taubes. I was going to use this for the Samizdata quote of the day but the SQOTD slot has been taken but this is too good not to put up. Taubes – as discussed recently by Natalie Solent here – is one of those people uprooting some conventional wisdom about diet and health. Here is Taubes’ website.

This is probably very unscientific of me, but my approach to a lot of these views on health and fitness is to take a slightly Aristotelian “middle way” approach: moderation in all things, decent exercise, balanced diet, and plenty of sleep. (As my wife reminds me, this also means I watch my intake of red wine, which I have over-indulged in over the past).

I suffer from gout, a nasty sounding term which is also bloody unpleasant. One of the contributory factors, from what I read, is sugar. So I am on a very low sugar diet, drinking lots more water and exercising a lot in the gym, with a blend of weights and interval training. It seems to be doing the trick for my general health and physique and the gout is at bay, although I get the occasional twinge. One of my colleagues at work runs triathlons and suffers from gout, so it is not necessarily caused by drinking port all day.

The US business and health guru, Timothy Ferris, has some interesting things to say about gout and how to defeat it.

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6 comments to Cycles and science and reflections on my health

  • Sigivald

    There are, after all, an infinite number of wrong hypotheses for every right one, and so the odds are always against any particular hypothesis being true, no matter how obvious or vitally important it might seem

    While he’s more or less right at the conceptual level*, this does – as stated – rather leave out that we filter hypotheses before even proposing them.

    Actual seriously proposed hypotheses by serious scientists (where scientist means anyone dedicated to the scientific method, not Anointed Science Professionals) are rather more likely to turn out to be substantially or partially correct than a randomly generated hypothesis.

    And even wrong hypotheses are very useful if they’re clever, since the act of disproving them may be revelatory; the information that X is wrong can be almost as useful as the information that Y is right… assuming X was plausible and usefully defined.

    (* Doubly especially so in the context at hand, of the medical hypothesis of the day which in the hands of media and marketers and the Dead Hand of the State can become “Accepted Wisdom” before the first round of tests is completed…)

  • Johnathan, I just ran across a video interview of Taubes by Reason TV you might like to watch.

  • Jackie D

    Tim Ferriss is no “guru” – he’s a charlatan.

    Taubes is dead-on, and if you dig deeper into his work, you’ll likely change your ideas about what a “balanced diet” is.

    The fact many people ignore – because they are ignorant of it – is that very few people are able to do these things in moderation. For some, it is easiest to abstain altogether than to obsess over their own personal definition of moderation and executing in alignment with it. For those people, it is foolish in the extreme – and often deadly – to suggest “moderation.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jackie D: yes, TF has a certain “reputation” as a self-promoter. Well, he’s hardly the first or the last in that regard, and of course anyone who writes self-help books about work or health or sex will get accused of that. His breezy style of writing and manner obviously gets up some folks’ noses. This article in the Guardian(Link) is an example.

    Personally, I find some of his writing hilarious and don’t take it all that seriously. The best stuff in his books are the footnotes; and he quotes Taubes with praise, so he clearly cannot be a total nut.

  • Jackie D

    Johnathan, the whole “stopped clock” saying springs to mind.

    In addition to being a charlatan, TF keeps very questionable company. However, he and I have one friend in common. This doesn’t mean he’s not a charlatan.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “Charlatan” implies that the guy is a systemic liar. Is there any proof of this? It is a term I tend not to throw around easily (having experience of such people).

    Anyway, agree that moderation is not a guide in itself: depends on the context.