December 28, 2011

Review Corner

I have put this particular Review Corner off because I wished to do a serious post. Yet, Professor Reynolds serves up a sweet segue today, linking to How the Government Has Caused America's Obesity Problem.

The book, of course, is the oft Reynolds recommended Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. And the surprise is that it is really not a diet book. In fact, I was forced to pony up another thirteen bucks for an actual diet book to follow Taubes's precepts.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is an epistemology book. He examines data from more than a century of dietary research. At the risk over over-synopsizing 500 pages, he suggests that the accepted wisdom is built on unproven concepts and weak data, while dispositive results are thoughtlessly discarded. The fundamental bedrock principle of "eat fewer calories and exercise more" to lose weight is (my words) a bunch of hooey.

We've broached the idea of bad government programs on these pages, and I like to reference "The Four Food Groups" and "The Food Pyramid" when my interlocutor suggests government involvement in our private lives to be a good thing. But Taubes documents the medical community's misfeasance and government's malfeasance in propagating these bad ideas. Of course, it continues to this day in FLOTUS's "MyPlate.gov" which I understand is being quietly withdrawn.

Epistemologically (a great MadLibs® adverb), I cannot help but draw a parallel to climate change. You start a logical assertion: "more CO2 in the atmosphere will retain more heat" or "calories ingested must be less than calories expended." Both statements are demonstrably true -- and yet, both operate in the context of a sophisticated, un-modelable, incomprehensibly complex and chaotic system. Neither the Earth nor your body is designed for ceteris paribus. The Earth can raise clouds and you can moderate your metabolism or digestion.

Yet the science is very much settled in both fields. The core principles are never truly proven but are accepted. Then a body of work investigates ancillary principles with scientific rigor. It's as if we accept that the moon is made of cheese, then commission elaborate measurement of cheese viscosity and density to complete our understanding.

Before the hate mail comes: of course both could be correct. Global warming might be real and low-fat diets and exercise plans might be effective weight loss in some group of people. But both should be evaluated by scientists who exhibit a bit of skepticism.

Five stars for what it is. He has a follow up, "Why We Get Fat," which is shorter and has more practical advice. But the comprehensiveness and serious of Good Calories, Bad Calories is a great read.

[Personal note: I lost 70 pounds and never felt better when I was on Atkins several years ago. I convinced myself that it would be difficult now but have reconsidered. Cliché though it may be, the new year will bring my triumphant return. I will start "induction" Jan 3, so that I might enjoy beer for the NHL Winter Classic on the 2nd.]

Review Corner We're from the government, and here to help. Posted by John Kranz at December 28, 2011 4:42 PM
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