Analysis: Are Science and Scientists Often Wrong?

When debating some controversial science claim, I’ve often heard people argue that “scientists are always wrong.” Usually it’s from those arguing for some “thing,” medicinal or otherwise, that’s supposed to make your life better, but seems to fly in the face of science, or at least isn’t backed by any reputable study.

For example: people arguing marijuana (or at least some of its chemical constituents) kills cancer, but “western medicine” wants to keep you sick with things like chemotherapy, so they’re suppressing the evidence. Something I largely debunked here with just a little critical thinking. So I don’t need to rehash that specific point again.

But what I do want to cover, is the notion that scientists are often wrong. If you were to ask this question, and require a simple “yes” or “no” answer to whether scientists are often wrong, the answer I suppose is “yes, yes they are.” But that’s partly by design, and this is an important part few seem to understand.

If you were to ask most people outside the science community what science is, they’d probably conjure up people in a lab with beakers mixing chemicals together, and hoping that by combining bleach, marijuana, gluten-free wheat, and organic apple seeds, somehow, you’ll have a cure for any particular rare condition that ails you.

But what is science really? It’s a method—thus the moniker “the scientific method.” It’s a means by which you can most likely find the truth about something.

This is WAY oversimplified, but it basically goes like this:

  1. You observe something in the world, and go “Hmm?” Emphasis on the question mark.

This is how science starts—people have questions.

Non-scientists will often answer them with something complicated and/or supernatural like gods or aliens, if they’re struggling to find a more natural answer to their question. Others just make a random guess based on what they think is most likely the best answer, and go with it, evidence-be-damned.

Why?

Because science is hard work, and moving on past this phase requires far more than just imagination.

Scientists however will assume nothing until there is evidence of something. So if they’re compelled to answer the question, they’ll move to phase 2.

2. You gather as much evidence as you can on the thing you saw.

From this point forward, we separate the scientists (or skeptics like myself, since I’m not a professional scientist) from the non-scientists, because non-skeptics/scientists stopped after phase 1 when they opted for a guess.

If there’s no evidence to gather, sadly your work here is done, and you must accept that you don’t know. Think of cryptozoology, like Bigfoot ‘experts” or ghost hunters and such. They have no evidence to test (like an actual bigfoot to observe and test—alive or dead), yet they make claims anyway which are always pure speculation.

So whatever they’re doing, trust me, it isn’t science. Using scientific words, and scientific equipment doesn’t make one a scientist, following the rules of the scientific method does.

3. If you are able to gather evidence, you form a hypothesis, what a layperson might call an “educated guess,” based on the evidence you’ve gathered.

This forming of a hypothesis is different from a guess, in that it is based on the evidence you’ve gathered so far, and none of the evidence gathered should be contrary to your hypothesis.

A guess is often just what you think is most likely, but isn’t always weighed against the evidence you have. You see this often in political or religious debates, where people have an ideology, and any evidence they’ve gathered so far, if it doesn’t support their ideology, is thrown out as if the evidence must somehow be flawed. It’s a process called confirmation bias, and sadly we all do it. Especially if we’re not even aware it’s a thing, and that we should avoid it.

4. Here’s where those beakers might come in. Time to do some testing.

Now here’s the interesting part. If you’re a scientist, you try to prove yourself wrong. Yeah, I said it—WRONG. It’s a principle called falsification.

If you can’t disprove (falsify) your hypothesis, then you assume you have a potentially true hypothesis. Professionals will try to get such findings published in a peer-reviewed and reputable journal, then hope other scientists in their field will test it.

Know what those others will do?

You guessed it, try to prove the hypothesis wrong as well. Not because they want the first scientist to be wrong, or are their competition, but because that’s just how it works.

So why try to prove it wrong, versus prove it right? Derek Muller from the highly-respected YouTube channel Veritasium made an excellent video explaining why, in a pretty unique presentation. I encourage you to watch it. It will make you think differently, if you don’t already think this way.

How often are scientists wrong?

Of all the sciences, one of the most rigorously tested would surely be biology, specifically pharmacology, or medicine. As this story reports, approximately 1 in 5,000 drugs actually make it from concept to FDA approval. Which means 4,999 were effectively falsified. Those seem like pretty horrible results, for sure.

It’s not all bad, though. One of these drugs for instance, was sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. It was initially meant for the treatment of blood pressure, and through clinical testing proved ineffective for that purpose, but highly effective at “pitching tents.” Serendipity at its finest, since Viagra has proven to be far more profitable for its founder, than the blood pressure medicine would likely have been.

But such serendipity is simply an added benefit of rigorous testing, and the proper documentation of all findings. Science is technically always about the unknown. You can ignore things that don’t fit into your desired outcome, or you can follow the data wherever it takes you and learn from it.

But with medicine, obviously lives are at stake in a pretty profound way, so the level of scrutiny there is rightfully going to be higher than any other field of science.

To a layperson, this might seem like the argument is that scientists are wrong 4,999 times out of 5,000, and this is where the “scientists are always wrong” myth starts to germinate. Not because they are wrong, but because of how science is often reported.

You see, technically, they weren’t wrong. They never made the claim you often heard. They formed a plausible idea, and then tested it rigorously to see if it stood up to the scientific method. With medicine, the number of phases a drug goes through is staggering.

Again, very oversimplified, but it’s something like this:

  1. Test it in a lab (say in a petri dish), basically taking some live diseased cells, put them in a dish, and see if the chemical in question kills them, or otherwise does what you’re hoping it does.
  2. Test them in animals, like rats
  3. Test them on an animal that may be closer to humans genetically, like a apes
  4. Test them on a few healthy humans to make sure they don’t get sick
  5. Test them on a very small amount of humans to see if it helps
  6. Test them on a medium-sized group of humans to see if you can show a statistically significant result
  7. Test them on a large group of humans so you have a result you can argue is most certainly one certain assumptions could be made about.

Now you can start to understand why it can take 12 years for a drug can get to market. But here’s where the “scientists are always wrong” argument often comes into play. Because after phase 1, the findings are published. After phase 2, the findings are published. After phase three, again, the findings are published. This will be true for all phases.

Abraham Lincoln Weighing In On the Internet

Now, a reporter, website, or any other type of media who knows nothing about science, picks up the published study from phase 1, and writes a big, attention-grabbing headline that reads “Scientists discover cure for cancer,” and a straw man of the finest quality is born.

Because they don’t understand these results are merely a step along the road of a cure, and with respect to cancer, each one is different anyway. The tests would surely be against one type of cancer, such as lung, breast, or prostate cancer, for instance. Not just cancer as a whole.

A year later when this substance fails phase 2, another reporter reports that scientists show the same substance now is not effective at curing cancer. And the public is left thinking scientists screwed up—they didn’t.

People who know nothing about science irresponsibly misrepresented the phase 1 story, the populace which aren’t largely scientists didn’t know how to decipher the misleading clickbaity headline, and voila, “Scientists are always wrong.”

You can also find this notion with people who are skeptical of larger theories, like the big bang theory, or evolution. They’ll point out that “evolution doesn’t explain how life started” or other things we don’t know yet.

But what such people seem to not understand, is that large theories have a couple important facets they aren’t considering.

First, think of a particular scientific theory as a puzzle depicting Albert Einstein standing in his study. Your puzzle has a thousand pieces, and you’ve so far rightly inserted 950 of them. You can clearly see it’s Einstein in his study at this point, but there’s a few small details (missing pieces), maybe a few books on the shelf in the background, that you can’t yet identify. You’re still not sure about such facts, and that may change the picture significantly, but it is much more likely it will not, instead just filling in those small blanks.

For evolution for instance, this might be the fact it isn’t understood how non-living organics (carbon-based substances) became living organisms (carbon-based life forms). Just because we don’t understand that facet, doesn’t mean the other “950 pieces” we do understand aren’t true, or are suspect.

The other important part to understand about a theory, is that it’s a theory instead of a law, because it isn’t entirely observable. We can see the effect of gravity on something and measure it accordingly, so that’s a law.

Charles Darwin: Author of The Origin of Species and impetus for the Theory of Evolution

But with evolution or the big bang, we can’t go back in time and watch it happen. So all we can do is theorize based on data we have, and try to recreate the event in some small way so we can observe it. From there, we can make a fair assumption the theory holds true if replicated.

Since skeptics are often religious in nature, they’ll refute science with the Bible, Quran, or other religious works, as if we should assume such works are true. But almost all claims made by modern-day scientists which contradict religion, have a mountain of evidence supporting them, to the point that people like the pope himself, have acquiesced to, as reported here. And it’s important to understand that such religious works aren’t supported by evidence either, as far as we know. We can’t go back in time and observe them being written, nor do we have any supporting documents to back up their claims. It could literally have been written by one delusional person thousands of years ago, sold to a larger group of people as truth, a religion was born thereafter, and we’d have no way of knowing. So assuming such religious texts must be right on the subject of gaps in scientific knowledge does not follow any reasonable logic.

So are scientists always wrong? Of course not. Through the course of their methods, they form hypothesis which they often prove wrong, but by the time they get to a point where they make a claim, they are demonstrably far more correct than any other group of people on the planet. Be a skeptic and question everything, including science. But proper skepticism should lead you to find that the scientists did their part correctly; the errors came in how that information made its way to you along the way.

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Diversity of Career – There’s More To Life Than a College Degree

As memes become a pervasive influence in our lives, it’s important to always approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism. A good meme will cite sources that are credible, but many like this one largely just espouse a particular ideology, and aren’t exactly subject to fact checking. For the most part, they’re just intended to appeal to your emotions.

Nonetheless, it’s still worth questioning if the premise even makes sense, and this one is a perfect example of a meme that feels good, especially to someone who is like Mark in the meme, but is severely flawed in premise, despite the strong hint of truth in it.

So first, let’s address the logical argument to be made here.

In this country, it can be difficult to find a good career where a college degree isn’t required, even if the degree is unrelated to the career you seek. I find this notion of “any degree will do” infuriating, but sadly my beloved free-market, coupled with ignorance, likely created it. Although, I think a fair argument could be made that a lack of decent tort reform by government hasn’t helped either, which I’ll address as well.

Let me provide an anecdote to explain the hint of truth in this meme. I have a friend I worked with at a local GM car dealership. By law (Don’t get me started on this one), dealers are required to be independent of the factory, so there can be no factory-owned GM dealers, Ford dealers, or any other marque. Tesla, to their credit, took to fighting this, but they didn’t win.
Because the factory and the dealer are independent of each other, when someone takes their car in for a warranty repair, the dealer will fix it, then charge the factory for what they’ve done. The factory then will audit and sometimes inspect the parts replaced to be sure the dealer is not performing unneeded repairs, or fraudulent claims.

My friend had over a decade of experience working the parts counter at our dealership. He was intimately familiar with why parts were replaced under warranty, and how to assess the condition of those parts. This knowledge made him highly qualified to review and audit warranty claims for General Motors. So he applied for the corporate job, and was refused consideration because he had no college experience, despite his clear knowledge and expertise on the issue.

The person who was hired by GM to do this job did have a degree, entirely unrelated to automotive repair, and had almost no mechanical repair experience to speak of. As a result, their ignorance made it easy for us on the dealer side to take advantage of them, highlighting the flaw of choosing a college degree over relevant experience. It’s a bad business decision that can cost a company a lot of money.

Recently, as CNBC notes here, many tech companies are starting to see the light, and have removed the college degree requirement, understanding that there were a lot of talented people they were passing up. People who went to trade schools, or maybe just have relevant work history to the field. Kudos to them for recognizing this practice was less than ideal.

As for the tort issue, in some instances, if a company is worried about getting sued, having someone who is “qualified” by virtue of having a degree may help indemnify them. You see something similar in the auto repair field where a shop will hire an ASE certified mechanic over one who doesn’t have such certifications, even if the latter is clearly more knowledgeable, because this helps protect them in the event a car is improperly repaired, the shop can say they at least hired someone who was “certified.”

But what should matter is simply whether the person did the job correctly or not, and did the person have any relevant experience in auto repair, to the point they should be trusted to do such repairs.

The truth of the meme is that skilled trades can indeed pay quite well, often beating their college-educated counterparts when the degree is something with a very small job market. When is the last time you saw a job opening for a philosopher after all? This is not meant to attack philosophy, it’s an important way of thinking. It’s only to say that as a stand-alone skill, it doesn’t offer up many career opportunities outside of teaching philosophy.

The issue is a little deceptive however, because if many of these degree-holding future employees pursued a career related to their degree, they would likely land a more lucrative career. But sadly, I’ve known many who simply got a degree to have a degree, because that would help them find a career, and they took the path of least resistance by getting what they felt was the easiest degree possible, with no real interest in that field.

The problem with this meme is that it does the one thing it’s trying to prevent, and that’s to demean people who choose an alternative career path by going to college for a degree they might actually want to pursue a career in.

So instead of creating a divide, it would be better to understand that just as genetic diversity is incredibly important for the advancement of life, diversity of career also creates a stronger economy that isn’t in danger of collapse because it relies on others.

We need college-educated people to do things like cure diseases and engineer safe buildings. But we also need skilled trade people to do things like fix our cars, electric, or plumbing. We need people to mow our lawns, stock shelves, and do the things which require almost no training at all, too.

If you vilify any one of those people for their life choices, you’re behaving poorly. We need them—all of them, to do their thing. If you don’t want to do those things yourself, be thankful someone else is willing to do them for you.

If you want to lash out at someone, may I suggest these three groups instead?

1) The person who could be a productive person and do one of those jobs, but instead opts to live off the taxpayer, parents, or just becomes a vagrant.

Photo from a story on how to be homeless, which outlines effective survival tactics for those who simply choose that life. Click photo for details
To be clear, I’m not talking about the people who can’t work because of a disability. I’m referring to those who refuse to do their part in society, and worse yet, expect others like me to subsidize their lives.

2) The person who gets an education in a field they have no intention of using, gets poor grades doing it, and did it because they just didn’t want to work, or weren’t driven enough to commit to a career path. They wasted their parent’s money, or racked up student loans for a degree they’ll basically never use. That’s a bad investment at best, and potentially depraved indifference if they’re wasting their parent’s money willingly. Their parents worked hard for that money, and probably could have used it for something more worthwhile if their child hadn’t recklessly wasted it.

Since some do it on the premise you need any degree to get a good job, this leads me to my third group…

3) Employers who put people with an irrelevant degree (in relationship to the job they’re seeking), above people with real world experience in that role, but no college degree. Those college-educated employees have shown they’re uncommitted, and that they make poor life choices. The person who started working at 18 has shown that they just want to work.

One thing is for certain, whatever makes someone happy and solvent should not be condemned if it isn’t harming others, especially when they’re being a useful component to society. Diversity is always good, and all levels of career are required for a successful society—we can’t all be doctors or lawyers and expect the world to sort out its own problems. If you find yourself looking down on people who do or don’t have a degree because they’re different from you, the problem isn’t them, it’s you.

How To Do Liberty Right: Freedom For Me = Freedom For Thee

Despite those with maybe some rare psychological condition (libertophobia?), we all want to be free. Specifically; I don’t think a single person has something they want to do, that they then want government to prevent them from doing it. So denying others similar freedoms should reasonably be thought of as hypocritical.

While everyone can apply their own nuance to what liberty or freedom means to them, I’d like to politely take the role of arbiter for a moment, and share where I think many go wrong when proposing roles of government. Here are a few instances I’ve come up with. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

You have the right to say whatever you want. You don’t have a right to be heard or to be uninterrupted.

Because I have a decent number of people I enjoy interacting with on social media, I am rather uninterested in disrespectful discourse, since there’s so much respectful discourse I could be having instead.

As a result, many often insinuate when I mute or block those people on Twitter, I’m stifling free speech. Which is a pretty outlandish false premise.

On social media, you might get blocked. In person, people might walk away from you. But, if you want to be heard, and people are exercising the right to take their leave of your message, maybe you need to work on your delivery of said message, or the message itself. But you don’t get to compel them to listen. Nor should you argue that them blocking you is anti-free speech.

Milo Yiannopoulos

Your right to free speech means you can’t be impeded by government for exercising your right to speak. It doesn’t mean that protesters can’t protest Milo Yiannopoulos, employers can’t fire you for saying something inappropriate, or people on social media can’t block you.

You have a right to seek employment, but not a right to be employed.

If you go to seek a job, assuming it’s a private business versus a government job, the business OWNER owns that business, no different from you owning your home stereo for instance.

If no one has a right to dictate to you what music you play on that stereo, you don’t have a right to dictate who they hire, serve, what they pay you, or anything else.

The job market and the consumer markets are intended to be free markets. Either both parties agree to terms on what is to transpire, or one/both of them walk away. But forcing one party to comply with the other’s wishes is a mafia tactic, not something the people should be sanctioning.

Does that mean a bigoted jerk could put a sign out front denying service to gays, blacks, whites, women, Latinos, Asians, et al.? Yes, it does.

Does a private citizen who is offended by that practice have a right to share it on social media, maybe get local news involved, protest this business, etc., until the market decides that this bigoted jerk doesn’t deserve their money, then watches his business fail due to lack of revenue?

Why yes…yes it also does!

You have a right to engage in free speech, you don’t have a right to put someone in harm’s way utilizing speech.

Using the “Fire in a crowded theater” analogy, you can say the word “Fire” in a theater, you can even yell it if the theater were empty, or if the people know you were joking. If there’s actually a fire in the theater, you’ve not only broken no law, you’re potentially a hero.

But if there’s no fire, you have instead put people in danger by creating a stampede that may lead to people falling, getting walked on, and harmed. So it’s not the “Speech” that is being prosecuted, it’s the act of putting others in danger.

Think of it this way. The 2nd amendment guarantees your right to own and fire a gun, but it doesn’t allow you to shoot someone who is no threat to you.

In the same vein, the first amendment guarantees your right to free speech, you can’t use that speech to harm someone either.

You have a right to ask someone for help. You do not have the right to dictate they help you.

If your car breaks down, you don’t have a right to demand a mechanic fix it so you can get to work.

So that should also mean you don’t have a right to demand a teacher educate you because you need a better job, or demand a doctor help you because you’re sick.

Doctors and teachers have the same rights as everyone else. As such, consumers have no right to free services or goods.

Free Education and Free Health Care are nothing more than servitude (if you force them to provide a service) and/or theft (if you force the people to pay for their services). If it’s volunteers and private donations, that’s the only way it is a completely moral exercise.

You have a right to equal protection and service from government, not from the private sector.

Waiting in Emergency department

If you’re LGBTQ, you have a right to dictate that the government acknowledge your marriage, and under our current system, to have a judge (a government employee), perform the ceremony. You’ve paid taxes into that system, and the government cannot discriminate. If the government employee doesn’t like it, they should have joined the private sector.

But you do not have a right to ask a private pastor to do the ceremony, nor do you have a right to dictate a baker bake you a cake. Why? Because they have the same rights you do.

Summary

People often think those who champion freedom are being selfish, and it is certainly true for some. But the people who are truly libertarian in their beliefs are also not hypocrites. They believe others should have the same rights and don’t have to agree with someone to support the rights of another.

  • A teetotaler can support the rights of alcohol drinkers
  • A monogamist can support the rights of a sex worker
  • An atheist can support the rights of churches, synagogues, etc.
  • A non-gun owner can support the 2nd amendment
  • A heterosexual can support gay marriage
  • Someone does not like abortion can support a woman’s right to choose
  • A clean person can support another’s right to use recreational drugs
  • A helmet-wearing motorcycle rider can support another person’s right to not wear a helmet

I can go on forever about what it means to do liberty right. Hypocrisy is never considered a good trait to have. So hopefully, after reading this, you can find an area where you’ve had the opinion that government should restrict someone’s rights and are now second guessing that thought. Liberty for me, must come with liberty for thee.

Big Pharma vs Big Supplement

Right behind used car salesman and politicians, some of the most commonly distrusted people in our lexicon are large pharmaceutical companies—if people use the term “big pharma,” you can often assume that their thoughts are less than flattering.

Image result
Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli

People like CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli, engaging in a clear example of what can only be called price gouging, and later arrested on securities fraud charges, certainly don’t help the public opinion of the pharmaceuticals industry. And the list of civil and criminal actions against some drug companies don’t help either. As with any industry, there are clearly some bad actors.

Off-Label Promotion/False Advertising

One look at that civil litigation list provided, and you start to see a common theme. Almost all of them are for an “Off-Label” promotion violation of the False Claims Act, originally enacted in 1863. Off-Label promotion is when a drug company promotes a particular drug for treatment of something that isn’t supported by clinical data and thus isn’t approved by the FDA based on that data.

As an example, for men with male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), minoxidil, which is often sold under the brand name Rogaine® from Pfizer was tested on the back of the scalp, often referred to as the bald spot, and as this report from the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery after a 1-year post marketing study states:

In evaluating minoxidil effectiveness in stimulating hair regrowth, the investigators found the 5% solution very effective in 15.9% of patients, effective in 47.8%, moderately effective in 20.6% and ineffective in 15.7%.

Image result for rogaine

 

But it was not tested on a receding hair line near the forehead (bitemporal recession), so despite the fact that logic would seem to dictate it would be effective there also, it can only be marketed to restore hair at the scalp until studies confirm its efficacy for bitemporal recession as well.

This kind of false advertising is certainly inexcusable, and I don’t want to claim otherwise—the purpose of this article isn’t to argue that pharmaceutical companies are faultless and incorruptible. But instead, to promote skepticism as to whether they are to be trusted to a lesser degree than supplement companies.

Because of the life-and-death situations or general health implications involved when taking pharmaceuticals, that industry is far more heavily regulated than most—and arguably for good reason.

Image result for regulations

But such heavy-handed regulation has other implications. The more regulations an industry has, the greater the risk they’ll be prosecuted for violations, as their compliance is that much more complicated to achieve.

Said violation may be an intentional misrepresentation, an innocent mistake, or a subjective situation where they feel their claims are fair and accurate, but the courts ultimately disagree.

However, any industry has a list of civil litigation, so the argument that pharmaceutical companies are unique in this where supplement companies aren’t, or any other industry in general isn’t, is patently false logic.

Supplement companies have often been found to make equally false claims through the years, and  as this article from the New York Times shows, the federal government has cracked down on them also.

But it’s imperative to understand that pharmaceutical companies largely make testable and proven claims, where supplement companies almost never do. I don’t think one can fairly argue the people making testable and proven claims most of the time, are somehow less honest than the people who purposefully don’t, because they know they’ll get sued for false advertising if they do.

Profit Motives

There’s this notion that big pharma rakes in huge profits, while supplement companies are promoting all-natural products that work just as well at treating illness, and are being suppressed by the pharmaceuticals industry because they’re so cheap, so big pharma can keep you sick to maintain those huge incomes.

The problem with this argument is that it’s a patently false premise because the supplement industry is incredibly profitable too. As this PBS article from 2016 points out, they’re a $30-billion industry. By comparison, this US Trade Commission report shows that total pharmaceutical sales weigh in at a stout $333 billion.

Big supplement is 1/10th the size of big pharma, but they’re nothing to sneeze at, and at the end of the day, the profit-based-motive argument that decries big pharma is equally true for big-supplement. So one cannot fairly use that to attack big pharma against big supplement. But there’s more meat on this bone than you might think.

Why the Price Discrepancy?

As was noted earlier, the regulations around pharmaceuticals are based on the FDA requiring clinical trial data to support their claims. This is a good thing. But here’s a basic overview of how clinical trials work.

As this information from the FDA points out, (copied and pasted verbatim for accuracy) there are five steps in the drug development process.

  1. Discovery and Development
    Research for a new drug begins in the laboratory.
  2. Preclinical Research
    Drugs undergo laboratory and animal testing to answer basic questions about safety.
  3. Clinical Research
    Drugs are tested on people to make sure they are safe and effective.
  4. FDA Review
    FDA review teams thoroughly examine all of the submitted data related to the drug or device and make a decision to approve or not to approve it.
  5. FDA Post-Market Safety Monitoring
    FDA monitors all drug and device safety once products are available for use by the public.

If you click on the link above, each step is explained in great detail, and they’re incredibly complicated. Especially the Clinical Research portion, which has its own set of four phases within it.

  • Phase 1
    • Study Participants: 20 to 100 healthy volunteers or people with the disease/condition.
    • Length of Study: Several months
    • Approximately 70% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 2
    • Study Participants: Up to several hundred people with the disease/condition
    • Length of Study: Several months to 2 years
    • Approximately 33% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 3
  • Phase 4
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

As you should easily understand from all of this, at a minimum, 2 years to 6 years of time and money will be spent by the pharmaceutical company, before they’ll ever see a dime of return-on-investment, nevertheless a profit.

But let’s do a little math here. Based on the FDA’s account of how many of those move all the way through the clinical trials process, 70 out of 100 move to phase 2 (70%), 23 out of 70 move on to phase two (33%), and 5-7 out of those remaining 23 move on to phase 4 (25% – 30%). Which means 93-95 out of 100 will not see the light of day, and will be money big pharma will have to write off as a loss. That doesn’t even include the ones that don’t make it through the other four steps that aren’t clinical trials.

So generally speaking, if one drug costs $5-$7 to manufacture, that means a drug company would have to charge, on average, $100 for that drug, just to break even.

When looking at the above, you can understand that since the supplement industry isn’t beholden to all of this, it makes sense that the average pharmaceutical would potentially be twenty times more expensive than the average supplement ($5 compared to $100). Not to mention, they don’t have to invest in all that pesky testing to verify their product does what they say it does either.

Image result for dsheaAs this article points out:

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, which was lobbied through Congress by the supplement manufacturers, exempted them from the FDA drug approval process.

How does that compute? Think of it this way. If you’re going to argue some chemical does something to your physiology or health (everything is a chemical, even all-natural supplements, so I’m not talking solely about man-made products), then you simply have to prove it.

If you’re able to prove it, and you want to make that claim, then your product is a pharmaceutical. You will market it as such, because there’s credibility associated with your product if you do so. Not all pharmaceuticals require a prescription after all, things like ibuprofen, NSAIDs (aspirin), and other OTC medications are still pharmaceuticals that make specific, testable, and proven claims. So there’s no harm in marketing your product as such.

However, if you can’t prove it, but you want to sell something anyway, you have to make vague claims that can’t be challenged in court because they can’t be falsified.

For instance, you might say something “promotes heart health.” If something has any dietary value whatsoever, it can fairly be argued it promotes heart health, because nutrients keep you alive. Your basic apple, a juicy steak, or a big fat cheeseburger could make a similar claim, even though the latter two actually can harm heart function too. However, if you want to say it reduces the risk of heart attacks, now you have a very specific claim that must be backed up with data.

The basic gist of the argument is that if your product works, it’ll be a pharmaceutical, and if it doesn’t really do anything, it can still be marketed as a supplement. However, this is not to say that supplements can’t help. If your doctor notes a particular vitamin deficiency, then taking that vitamin supplement is surely an advantageous course of action. But as this Scientific American article points out:

The new studies, published today (Dec. 16) in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine —including two new clinical trials and one large review of 27 past clinical trials conducted by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — found no evidence that taking daily multivitamin and mineral supplements prevents or slows down the progress of cognitive decline or chronic diseases such as heart diseases or cancer.

So when comparing the two on the trustability scale, consider this:

With pharmaceuticals, you’re trusting a group who has to support their claims with clinical data under threat of civil action, and therefore spends the millions of dollars to prove their claims.

With supplements, you’re trusting a company who avoids such litigation by making ambiguous claims because they either didn’t want to make the effort to do such studies. Or worse yet, such studies were conducted, and no efficacy was shown for the claim they hoped to make, so they sell it under the guise of an ambiguous and often untestable claim instead.

The Overlooked Downfall of Supplements

With supplements, the reason they’re often unregulated and avoid the skeptical eye of the FDA, is often because the FDA deemed them innocuous, and therefore didn’t need regulated. Think about that for a minute. The FDA basically argued that when taken at their recommended dosages, these supplements do very little, if anything, so there was no need to regulate them.

So how then does one come to a conclusion that such things are better at treating a condition than something which was actually proven to do something, and specifically the something you needed it to do?

But it does get worse. Because there’s a saying in biology that states, “Everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” In small amounts, most of these supplement compounds are harmless. But as this CBS News video points out, because many people take these supplements on the belief that they can’t harm you, the fact is, some can do harm if taken in excess.

Many people fail to realize that you get almost all the vitamins and minerals you need in your diet, assuming you eat reasonably healthy. So taking a vitamin pill when you don’t have a deficiency of that vitamin, is effectively an overdose. Most of the time, you’re body just sends it out your exhaust pipe, but they can in fact be harmful.

The Naturalistic Fallacy

One of the final arguments I like to address, is the “all-natural” argument. (If you want an explanation of the Naturalistic Fallacy, click the title above.)

Cancer, arsenic, snake venom, and a litany of other things that kill you are also all natural. Many drugs stem from extracting the thing that helps you from a plant for instance, without making you consume other parts of that plant that either don’t help you, or might harm you.

To give you a fictional example, imagine you had a panacea tree. You notice that when eating the panacea tree leaf, that you feel slightly better when you have a stomach ache. So you start eating a lot more panacea tree leaves next time you get an upset stomach, but then you get dizzy because the panacea tree also has a psychotropic substance in it.

So pharmaceutical companies will extract the compound that helps with the indigestion, produce a pill that contains just that, so the next time you have indigestion, you don’t have to eat panacea leaves. You can just take their drug, and not have to deal with the psychotropic side effects from eating the leaves.

That’s clearly an incredibly simplified generic example, but you at least hopefully understand the principle of what pharmaceutical companies might do, and why they should get the presumption of benefit, compared to just eating some random plant that may help somewhat, but harm in other ways.

Expanding on our fictional example, there’s another scenario to note as well. Some of these compounds from a natural source, are so low in that natural source, like 1 PPM (parts per million). But in order for that compound to cure your condition, you’d need a dosage that’s more like 100,000 PPM (or 10%), so you either take a pill that was made with 100,000 molecules of just that compound, or you eat 100,000 of the panacea leaves and blow up your stomach because you ate too much.

Purposefully Keeping You Sick

People argue big pharma only wants to keep you beholden to big pharma by stringing you out on a never-ending supply of drugs. But there’s a few things to note on this point.

If you have an infection, you might take an antibiotic for a week, then you’re done. If you have cancer, you might be treated by something like chemotherapy, be cured, and then you’re done. I’m sure almost every one of you reading this, at one point in your life, had a condition which required you to take a drug for a short period of time, the drug cured your condition, and now you no longer take that drug.

These are all instances where big pharma cured you and did not string you out. But most supplements expect you to take them for the rest of your life, because you’ll be healthier. So who’s stringing you out again?

Risk Mitigation

Many conditions people might have may require surgery. Surgery can be very dangerous and expensive. But there might be a drug that can manage your discomfort much more cheaply and less dangerously. If the condition isn’t life threatening, people will often choose not to have surgery, and just take the drug to manage the pain instead. Things like back surgery for lower back pain and such, come to mind. That’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s you and your doctor choosing not to take a big risk.

Something May Be Better Than Nothing

Many conditions are degenerative in nature. If you lop a finger off, it won’t grow back. This is true for your bones for instance, as well. So with degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or osteoarthritis, you cannot cure what is no longer there, at least, not yet.

So sometimes pain medications are the only alternative to osteoarthritis relief. Again, that’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s your own body falling apart and you managing the pain with pharmaceuticals.

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different types of arthritis. They share some similar characteristics, but each has different symptoms and etiology.

I say “not yet,” because regenerative medicine (the ability to regrow things on someone that aren’t regrowing naturally) is one of the biggest areas of new discovery these days.

It should also be noted that because researchers are working on regenerative cures, they’re also working to heal you in a short time, then stop treatment once you’re well. If we go back to the “stringing you out” argument, if that was their goal, they’d be pushing painkillers, not spending millions to find cures.

SYNOPSIS:

Both Big Pharma and Big Supplement are hugely profitable. Arguing one is better than the other based on profits is false.

Big Pharma is heavily regulated and backed by science. Big supplement is just a company trying to sell you something that is largely unregulated.

Most people who make pharmaceuticals studied years of biology to do what they do so they could make things that save lives. People who make supplements often don’t have such training, and are largely operating on guesswork, anecdotal evidence, false assumptions, and sometimes, outright lies and speculation which can genuinely be likened to magic and the supernatural in their outrageousness.

You should always be skeptical in life, and I would never promote not questioning big pharma, but if I’m dying and have to trust one of them, I’m going to trust the one with proven results, and I’m willing to pay them in a manner that makes them profitable to do it.

A Skeptical Look at Kneeling During the National Anthem

By now, unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt seen the backlash of these tweets from Donald Trump.

But how did we get here?

Most know it started with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who decided during the 2016 NFL preseason to kneel for the following reasons, as cited here on the NFL website.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Colin Kaepernick

If you are reasonably familiar with the situation, and on social media, you’ve no doubt noticed most people have an opinion on one side or the other, and it’s nearly as heated and divided as religion and politics infamously are.

Since most opinions I’ve read are pretty passionate instead of objective, I felt it was worth exploring the subject from a skeptic’s point of view. As an issue, between Trump’s position and Kaepernick’s, it’s pretty complicated with a lot of facets worth considering individually.

If we start from the beginning, Kaepernick opted to do this in the wake of a number of police involved shootings of young “black” men, some of which, were unarmed. It appeared to be excessive force by many, and potentially even manslaughter or murder. Yet no charges against said officers were filed in the immediate aftermath. (I’m not aware of whether charges were filed later.)

I’ve written several times about police behaving poorly, and that this issue needs to be addressed far better than it is currently. I’ve also stated in my post “Analysis of Race and Perspectives of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” (post also explains why I use white and black with quotations), that we as a nation have a lot of room to educate ourselves, and revise our long-held beliefs on racism.

While I believe the deliberately hateful racists, whether they be white-on-black or vice versa, are an incredibly small minority; many more biases are simply ingrained, and a product of conditioning versus a deliberate intention to demean someone.

Respectful discussions between the two sides can help overcome both, if we’re willing to have them. So I encourage all people, no matter what their skin tone may be, to be open to such discussions. It’s surely the only way tensions will improve.

But moving on from whether Colin has a point or not, let’s discuss his tactics, since they’ve now overshadowed his initial concern he was trying to bring awareness to, which for him, is almost assuredly a tragedy.

Is Kneeling Effective Towards His Goal?
SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Since this started over a year ago, can we honestly say that racism has gotten any better?

It should be noted that it’s virtually impossible to quantify racism, but it is possible to quantify how many police shootings of unarmed black men who weren’t directly witnessed to have committed a crime.

Nonetheless, those parameters aren’t part of any FBI data I’ve seen. So there’s little way to determine if he’s been effective in reducing them.

As such, no claims one way or the other, can be considered anything other than speculation until that data is available. But I will say that it does seem like there have been fewer of these in the news since these protests began.

I think it’s also safe to say that racism is part of many discussions in a meaningful way at a number that’s probably as high as it has been since the civil rights movement.

The media’s coverage of Colin’s actions and their coverage of the police shootings which instigated his actions are largely to blame for this. So it is fair to say that he’s at least helped start the discussions that needed to happen, and are hopefully helping to achieve his end goal.

Are His Actions Congruent With His Goal

On this issue, I have to say I feel Colin missed his mark.

The U.S. flag is generally something that’s attributed to represent our nation, and also the men and women who served our military to defend it. But Colin never insinuated he was mad at those people.

He directed his anger at what he felt were several corrupt law enforcement officers, and the system that seemed to defend that.

So yes, he created awareness, but the people he offended doing it, were largely not the people he was mad at in the first place.

Is Colin Kaepernick a Racist

I cringe when anyone tries to make claims about what’s in someone’s heart. You just can’t know that. So you often have to take people at their word or their actions.

Colin Kaepernick with adoptive parents Rick and Teresa Kaepernick

I don’t recall seeing one instance where Colin said anything negative about Caucasians. It’s also important to note that Colin has a biological mother who is “white,” presumably a “black” father, and adoptive “white” parents who took him in and raised him.

The idea that he’s racist, seems pretty far-fetched, and not supported by any evidence I saw. But feel free to comment below, citing sources, if you’ve seen any statements he uttered against Caucasians in general.

Could He Have Chosen a Better Tactic?

Because Colin is famous, I believe he’d have done far more to improve these relations between the police and young urban minorities by doing community outreach with police. Maybe trying to start  a ride-along program with NFL stars, for instance.

Urging NFL players, especially those who were once urban minorities themselves, to go out with officers and start dialogues with them based on mutual respect between the police and many of the NFL players who were former at-risk kids themselves, would certainly help achieve his goal.

If police hear these stories from some of the NFL’s best, maybe it would make the officers see the young men in their community as potential greatness instead of potential criminal young men.

Community Outreach: Dajuan Howze, 13, battles for the ball against Pittsburgh Police officer Gino Perry while Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando waches. The officers played a pick up basketball game with local youth during the Homewood Community Day celebration.

I also believe that if a cop car rolls up in a bad neighborhood with a superstar like Colin riding along with them, it might incite those kids to get to know their local police; building better relationships in the process.

If you’re one of those kids, you’d love to meet an NFL star. And if you meet one thanks to a police officer who brought him to you, all of a sudden that police officer is more likely to be seen as a friend instead of a foe.

Is Colin Trying To Create Unity

On the face of it, a peaceful protest is certainly what Martin Luther King is famous for. And his kneeling is not that different from Rosa Parks sitting on a front bus seat.

Yet once Colin knelt, many took offense, and sadly didn’t see it that way, if that’s how he meant it.

Colin KaepernickIf he intended to be unifying however, wearing socks depicting police as pigs, all but ruined his message.

Even if he justifies it by saying that it was only directed at bad cops, I’ve heard multiple racist “white” people justify hateful speech by saying, “There’s black people, and then there’s n*****s”?

They assume because I’m white, I want to hear that nonsense. I assure you, I really REALLY don’t appreciate it. And I usually tell them so if I’m not in a position where I think I’ll be physically attacked for doing it. And Colin’s excuse for wearing those socks is pretty similar, in my opinion.

If rational people like me were apt to side with his peaceful protests, assuming he had nothing but the best intentions in his heart for all parties involved, this went a long way to burn that.

But nonetheless, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just angry, and did something ill-advised in his enraged state. Haven’t we all, in a moment of anger, said or done things we regret later?


Now let’s discuss Donald Trump’s actions.

Donald Trump Official Portrait

Love him or hate him, I think it’s fair to admit that Trump is open and honest about his opinions. His Twitter feed is laden with unrehearsed, unpolished, and uncensored opinions that clearly seem to be what he actually feels.

So let’s take a skeptical look at those.

Were Trump’s Tweets Divisive When We All Tend To Agree Unity is Needed?

Yes Trump’s comments were divisive. I frankly wish he’d just stop. But so were the people opting to kneel.

You cannot fairly condemn Trump for being divisive, if you won’t equally condemn the players who know it’s upsetting a very large portion of the country, without being hypocritical.

Should Trump Have Said What He Said and Tweeted What He Tweeted?

Trump is effectively two people. He’s a president, and an American citizen.

As president, I want him to be involved in Colin’s (and the NFL’s) actions absolutely zero.

Instead, I’d want to see him order the FBI to investigate police shootings to make sure local police aren’t effectively protecting their own during the investigations of officer shootings. Clearly, letting the San Francisco PD investigate one of their own is as big of a conflict of interest as one could imagine.

I’d also want federal prosecutors to handle any disciplinary actions, up to and including criminal trials.

As for Trump tweeting an official position on the kneeling, he should simply say it’s a private matter for the free market to sort out.

If it kills NFL ratings, then they’ll react accordingly. This is not the business of a government who’s first amendment guarantees free speech.

As an American citizen, he has a right to an opinion on anything, including this. In my opinion, he should have two different Twitter accounts: one for “the president” and one for “the citizen,” which he does (@POTUS and @realDonaldTrump). Then, keep his official positions on one, and his personal opinions on the other.

On this issue, he largely did exactly that. His @POTUS account retweeted the personal account’s tweet below, and that’s all I’ve found. The rest were on his personal account.

In general, I don’t feel Donald Trump has done a remotely admiral job at unifying a divided nation—quite the contrary. His business acumen is about winning, which means he’s often competitive by nature. That aggressiveness comes out in his behavior often, and I suspect it’s not likely to change.

He’s arguably the most divisive president in history, but it’s not like we didn’t know this prior to the election, and yet he still won. So this isn’t exactly an overpromise/underdeliver situation; no bait-and-switch transpired here.

But as much as I disagree with him on significant policy issues, I at least prefer his unfiltered nature. I find it far better than people who are polished and rehearsed yet come off as obviously fake. I’d just prefer to know instead of wonder where you stand, and whether you’re a person I wouldn’t like in real life or not.

Should The NFL/Team Owners Fire Players?


Well, the players work for the teams (franchises), not the NFL. The only people firing them will be the team owners.

The NFL has code-of-conduct policies, which they seem to strictly enforce. For instance, the Cowboys wanted to have a simple sticker in support of a slain officer, and the NFL specifically forbade it.

One can certainly argue that this is somewhat hypocritical to forbid a helmet like this, while allowing some other form of protest on the field, like kneeling for the national anthem.

But nonetheless, the NFL is a private company, and they have every right to be hypocrites if they so desire, and the free market will sort it out accordingly.

As for the teams, if they want to fire the players for representing their brand in a way that’s inconsistent with their team owner’s values, then they have a right to do so. One caveat though: only if they drafted a code-of-conduct clause is in the contract they have with that player, which specifically forbids such actions.

 


Now that we’ve covered the two actors in this play, let’s discuss the issue in general. Because there’s a lot of hypocritical and/or illogical behavior from the professional media and the John Q Pissed-Offs on social media.

Is This a Free Speech Issue?

This one’s pretty easy:

  • Is government stifling the action? – Free Speech Issue
  • Is private enterprise (NFL or team owners) stifling the action? – Not a Free Speech Issue

Since no one is proposing a law to prevent this, or that government intervene to stifle free speech, it’s not a free speech issue. It’s that simple. When such a law or government action is proposed, only then will it become a free speech issue.

Is It About Disrespecting The Flag

Many argue that it’s just a flag, and we shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But here’s the rub with that argument. 

Colin and his fellow kneelers aren’t attacking the idea that there’s too many stars and stripes on it, nor are they complaining the colors clash. They’re mad at a country that seems to allow racism and permit cops to kill “black” kids without recourse. The flag is just a representative icon of the country this occurs in, from their perspective.

Coincidentally, the people who are mad at disrespecting the flag aren’t really passionate about “the flag” either.

They’re passionate about all that the flag represents to them.

  • A country founded on liberty
  • A soldier who fought and died to protect them
  • A country they fought for if they are a soldier
  • The freedom it represents that they don’t have in other countries

That list goes on and on.

No different from you not caring about a piece of celluloid until there’s a picture of someone you love on it, the flag, as a piece of fabric, was never what anyone really cared about.

So when you make an argument that it’s “just a flag” to defend such actions, know that this argument isn’t relevant to this issue, since it wasn’t “just a flag” to either party. All sides would do well to understand that.

As a libertarian, I’m also fervent on the idea that thought-policing has absolutely no place in a free country. If it did, let’s be honest, Colin would be in jail, or worse, murdered by the state. Just ask many Iraqis who lived under the Hussein regime, North Koreans under the Kim Jong regime, or other dictator-run nations, who lost loved ones due to a government that didn’t take kindly to a lack of respect from its citizenry.

So to me, Colin should love America for the freedom it gives him to do these protests, and instead, direct his ire at the individual officers that commit heinous acts, a legal system that doesn’t seem to effectively prosecute them, and the racists who think it’s OK for officers to avoid prosecution for manslaughter of an innocent young man. Not the flag, and all the things that the flag represents to most Americans.

The Peaceful Protest

One of the most shining examples of hypocrisy in this is the people who lashed out at all the rioters after some of these controversial shootings (rightly so), and called for people to peacefully protest, then got mad at Colin and his peers for peacefully protesting.

They did what you asked, and they did it in a forum where they’d get the most attention for doing it. If the NFL allows it, you don’t have to agree with it, but you should at least give them credit for being peaceful, even if you agree with me that it’s misguided and ill-advised.

Again, we have to stop with all the hypocrisy.

Summary

All parties in this have good intentions, even if their tactics are poor. Throughout all of it, most people are calling for unity and peace. So let’s do the things that have a proven record of achieving those goals.

I’m willing to have a respectful discussion, give benefit of the doubt to those with good intentions, even if they aren’t acting like it, and show respect to those I disagree with.

I’d also suggest instead of standing with Trump or Kaepernick, you form your own opinions, while being your own worst critic. Come to a conclusion that you think is fair to both sides, and be honest when it’s obvious you’re being hypocritical. You have no right to demand others be better if you refuse to be better yourself.

 

A Straw Man and the Easily Offended: Occasionally, People Have Cause to Tell You How You Should Feel

 

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Chances are, if you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt encountered the easily-offended. You say something entirely innocuous in intent, and yet the listener assumes the worst possible scenario your statement could have meant, and then attack you via that assumption.

Recently, I had an actress friend from Twitter call online bullies out as “terrorists.”

Her tweet was clearly tongue-in-cheek; she knows the difference between a suicide bomber for instance, and an internet troll. Nonetheless, people took offense to her supposed equating of terrorists to online bullies, and she felt compelled to apologize.

I responded, “Nice of you to do. It’s irksome that people can be so easily offended, though. If you meant no offense, none should be taken.”

Internet Troll

Another of her followers inserted herself into the conversation with:

This is wrong. You don’t get to dictate how others feel. That’s like saying “she’s a slut” oh[sic] but don’t take offense because I didn’t mean it! Like[sic] hell no. If it can be offensive, you should be aware of that.

This sentiment of not being able to tell others how they should feel is echoed by many, and it seems fair on the face of it, but in my opinion, logic dictates quite the contrary in many situations.

My reasons for this boil down to arguably the most famous and common of logical fallacies—The Straw Man Argument.

It basically goes like this.

I say, “I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan.”

A Browns fan hears this and attacks me, saying something like, “Don’t trust that guy, he hates the Cleveland Browns.”

While this might seem like a fair conclusion to make since they’re division rivals, one does not technically assume the other. The fact is, partly because I’m squarely between the two in Columbus Ohio, I’d say the Browns are my 3rd favorite team (behind whomever is playing the Pittsburgh Steelers). So an assumption was made based on what I said that is entirely false.

Thus, it’s a logical fallacy, because they’re attacking a “straw man” of what I actually said, and falsely assigning that “straw man” to me. In any sort of debate, straw man arguments are  frowned upon for their inherently fallacious nature.

Click Image for more info

But one doesn’t have to make a verbal argument to build a straw man. Simply taking offense at a statement where no disrespect was intended is fallacious for the same reason.

For instance, I once had an ex-girlfriend who was sadly suffering from bipolar disorder. One night, we were going out to dinner, and she opted for a little black dress that I thought looked great on her.

The conversation went like this:

Me: Honey, you look great in that dress.

Her: Oh, so I look like shit any other time?

(No, that’s not a joke. Bipolar disorder is a very serious mental illness that can often lead to over-reactions like that from the sufferer. Click the link to read more about this condition.)

Hopefully, this over the top example explains why in fact, it is sometimes quite right to correct how someone is feeling. She was mad at what she felt my statement meant, when what I actually said and meant had no commonality with how she inferred it.

Arguing that I don’t have a right to correct her emotional reaction is preposterous in my opinion, unless we disagree on the premise that a straw man argument is a logical fallacy.

However, this mindset isn’t a license to say everything that’s on your mind. You can’t be the Andrew Dice Clay of your office, saying things you know will offend someone, but because you think it’s funny, you assume this makes it OK. If you knew it would offend them and did it anyway, you meant to offend them. They have every right to be upset whether you think it’s just you being funny or not.

But what’s the difference?

People often say things like, “I’m not mean, I’m just being honest.”

So let me illustrate the difference. Imagine you got a haircut, and you ask you spouse what they think.

Honest: The stylist did a nice job, but honestly, I don’t like that style on you.

Mean: Whoa! Did you lose a bet? I’ve seen a baboon’s ass with better looking hair than that.

Sure both of those statements are essentially saying the same thing, but one is clearly just honest, and one is clearly mean-spirited while coming from an honest place. The reason the latter is wrong is that not only does it convey your honest thoughts (the part that’s valuable information the other person requested), but it also serves to demean the person it’s said to (the part that’s immoral). Any reasonable person should know the difference.

This easily-offended issue is a problem because it promotes dishonest conversation and sometimes outright lies.

Imagine for a second I had a new girlfriend who decided to surprise me by making me dinner. The choice she makes includes cooked broccoli, a vegetable when cooked, that I’d classify as a hate crime. It smells like feet, for Pete’s sake! Why would anyone want to eat that?

She may have cooked the broccoli as good as broccoli has ever been cooked, and I still won’t like it. So I have two options, I can tell her I really don’t like cooked broccoli at all and potentially offend her, or I can tell her it’s delicious and power through it like the nice guy I am.

If I choose the dishonest route so as not to offend her, she may go on cooking her world-famous broccoli the entire time we’re dating, and I end up buying a dog to sneak broccoli to under the table just to remedy the situation. Maybe she doesn’t even like cooking it, and is just doing it to make me happy. This means that we’re both unhappy for literally no good reason—clearly a potential lose-lose situation.

The reason the framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote the free speech clause of the 1st amendment was not to let people talk about the weather. It was to allow free discourse, including that which offends others, because there’s value in such discussions. And it was the first amendment, largely because they understood it was one of the most important.

People learn how the other person feels, people find out that they’re sometimes not alone in their perceived controversial thoughts, truth-to-power speech can turn into meaningful movements, and people don’t go on being forced to eat cooked broccoli.

So if this is the problem, what’s the remedy?

If someone says something that you find offensive, I highly suggest you stop for a second and really consider whether they meant any disrespect. If it seems fairly obvious they didn’t, for the love of all that is intellectually honest, stop lashing out in retaliation.

If you’re not sure whether they meant to insult you, instead of snapping back hatefully with the worst possible assumption in your heart, be open-minded that they might not have meant to be insulting, and simply ask them to elaborate, or ask specific questions about what their underlying intent was.

In the age of Twitter’s 140 character limit and the inability to see someone’s facial expressions, a lot of context gets lost on social media. They might have wanted to add such nuance, and simply didn’t have the space or the writing prowess to convey it.

If you often find yourself getting upset when others around you don’t seem to be so bothered, it should be a sign that you are potentially someone who could fairly described as easily offended.

If you really wish to gain control of your emotions, consider trying to practice what Biology and Philosophy Ph. D Massimo Pigliucci, host of the wonderful and thought-provoking Rationally Speaking podcast  promotes, the philosophy of stoicism. I promise you, this way of thinking will eventually lead to you feeling better about yourself, reduced overall stress, and more meaningful and positive interactions with others, whether it be on social media, or in person.

Open and honest respectful discourse is important to our social structure, and for advancing understanding in general. Those who seek to quash it because they can’t control their emotions should be encouraged to learn the art of respectfully agreeing to disagree.

Whether discussing things like racism, politics, religion, or other heated topics, we’re better off if we feel free to speak our minds, and then debate those thoughts with mutual respect, stoicism, and honest candor. Hate, insults, and other heated responses only serve to upset both parties, and rarely achieve the goal of bringing us to a place of better understanding.

Eating Habits and the Obesity Epidemic – Starving Kids in Africa Aren’t Affected By Your Clean Plate

WARNING: Large dietary changes should only be done based on advice from YOUR Registered Dietitian (RD)  who practice science-based approaches to your health. When I say YOUR, I mean one you have met with on a professional level, and who has done at least a basic evaluation of you and your physiology. I am not one of those people.

If you don’t have one, ask your doctor to recommend one. Doctors can ensure there’s no obvious physical reasons why your diet must be restricted in a certain way, and they’re likely the first person to tell you that you’re dangerously obese. But nutrition training in med school can be grossly inadequate, and some programs actually do not require nutrition courses as a part of the curriculum.

A registered dietitian is trained far more in the aspects of your diet. Think of it this way. If you need surgery, your doctor recommends a surgeon to do the procedure. So if you need to lose weight, they should recommend you a dietitian for the same reason—RDs are the experts.

This post is merely food for thought (pun intended), basic logic, and some information (cited with reputable sources) that is generally understood to be good dietary advice. A qualified RD was also consulted to help ensure factual content.

I implore you not to give audience to people like The Food Babe, David Avocado Wolfe, Gwyneth Paltrow, or any other person who is entirely unqualified to be giving you dietary guidance. They are well-known by qualified scientists for giving demonstrably false and occasionally dangerous advice.


Unless you live under a rock, you have no doubt heard we Americans have an obesity epidemic. Hundreds of years ago, this might have been seen as a good thing. But while it is a clear sign the United States largely doesn’t have a starvation problem, it is a serious health concern.

Let’s start by digging into a little of that Darwin evolutionary goodness. I think we all understand our energy comes from food, right? Without digging into a jargony hole, it basically works like this.

Food contains calories. While most know this, few know what a calorie actually is. It is not an atom or molecule of something like sodium (salt) or sugars (glucose, sucrose, and fructose). As this great video points out, a calorie is a unit of measure for energy, defined as what it takes to raise 1 kilogram of water by 1° Celsius. 

Counting your basal metabolic rate—the number of calories you need to survive—coupled with the basic activities one performs on a daily basis, a general consensus is that the average male converts about 2,500 calories a day to the energy they use to sustain life, and the average female about 2,000. But this can vary wildly from person to person. An MMA fighter for instance, often is in the 4,500-5,000 range.

We all know Einstein, with his famous E=MC², demonstrated that mass and energy are interchangeable. This means when you eat food (mass), you convert some of it to energy (calories) through chemical processes within your digestive system. When you read the calorie count of food, it’s simply explaining how much potential energy, using the chemical processes in your gut, is in the food you’re about to eat.

On a side note, Ever heard that celery is a negative-calorie food (Has fewer calories than you burn eating it)? Yeah, it’s bullshit.

I specify above “via the chemical processes in your gut” because there’s significantly more potential energy, like millions more, potential energy in the food via nuclear process like fission or fusion. So I wanted to point that out in case a physicist reads this and feels compelled to fire off a correction.

It should be noted that just because a particular food has 100 calories for instance, your body’s ability to convert all of it to energy can vary based on the chemical content of that food. Some foods require little work from your body to be converted to energy, some require much more. This is why not all calories are equal, and yet another reason to consult your dietitian.

Albert Einstein

You use this energy to do involuntary actions like beat your heart, open your lungs, and digest food; as well as voluntary actions such as reading stuff like this article, trolling pseudo-science quacks on Twitter (guilty), or lifting weights. You also extract the vitamins and minerals your body needs from your food, and finally the rest goes out your tail pipe as waste.

That last point is important when considering adding vitamins to your diet. Most people get all they need from a normal diet. When you add supplements, while having no deficit in your diet, your body just sends them through because it doesn’t need them. You could eat your cash and save yourself some time. Consult your doctor on this one. If they cite a deficiency you have, get a supplement as  recommended, but other than that—save your money.

If you were perfectly efficient, you would eat the exact number of calories you need for all the work you’re going to do in that moment, but that requires far more planning than any one human can do, constant eating as you do the work, plus a lab to calculate how many calories are in what you eat. So instead, we evolved to have a way to store calories for future use so we don’t run out of “gas,” and that “gas tank” is fat.

Slightly Internet-Famous Zero Body Fat Model

So Myth #1 we should dispel, is that fat is bad—it isn’t. Zero body fat is not only incredibly difficult to achieve, it’s not ideal either. A minor amount of body fat allows your body to operate at its best.

Don’t be fooled by fitness competitions. Those people (who are quite healthy) dehydrate and ironically make themselves temporarily unhealthy prior to a competition, to give a false impression of looking healthy, only to restore that body fat and water weight as soon as the competition is over. As Men’s Health points out in this article, an 8% – 20% is generally considered most healthy.

Fat is the first thing your body converts to energy when needed. Once all the fat is gone, muscle will be converted to energy next—which is what occurs during starvation. Eventually your body will consume vital organs like the heart and lungs, and then you’re dead.

So be thankful you have evolved to have some fat. It doesn’t do work inside your body, unlike muscle and organs, making it ideal for storing energy, so you don’t consume the things you actually need to live.

So back to the Darwinian goodness. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have a grocery store to go to, and ancient man didn’t evolve from apes with farming implements in their hands. So sometimes meals were few and far between. Thus we evolved a way to overeat when we have access to food, store that potential energy in our bodies, and put it to use when needed later—this overeating impulse is in our nature.

But if you know we’re predisposed to overeat, you can make a conscious decision not to, thus maintaining a healthier diet. Very few of us are in a situation where we have a legitimate concern over finding a regular source of food.

The next myth we should bust, is that you get fat from eating fat. The reality is that this was a false narrative pushed by the sugar industry, because sugar is a much larger contributor to obesity than fat, and that’s a less than ideal marketing campaign. So how is eating fat somehow less fattening than eating sugar? Instead of me trying to elaborate on this complex issue here, allow the good folks at the Cleveland Clinic to explain.

Various Types of Sugars

I know it seems counter-intuitive, because you’d think eating fat means you add those fat cells to your own fat cell count. But your fat cell count doesn’t change after adulthood, it’s the volume in them that does. So eating animal fat means you have to digest it and it’s constituents go into your own fat.

Basically, as was mentioned earlier, not all foods convert to energy as easily as others, requiring more work from your digestive system to convert them to energy. So despite fat and sugar having similar caloric content, your body has a much easier time doing so with sugar, than fat.

But before you jump on the anti-sugar bandwagon, let’s discuss that a bit. I’ve heard people argue sugar is a toxin or poison. In biology, the saying goes that “everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.”

Glucose metabolism in the brain ~Nature.com. Click image for story

As is explained quite well in this National Center for Biotechnology Information article, “Glucose (component of sugar) is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain, except during prolonged starvation.” It goes on to point out that glucose fuels muscles as well. It cannot be overstated how important it is for you to have some level of sugar in your diet.

So while enough of any substance can be toxic, sugar is not a poison in any traditional sense.

But care should be taken to get the right amount. What’s the right amount? I know you know the answer to this by now, ask your registered dietitian. Again, your needs are unique to you, and any magic number published somewhere, as if it somehow works for everyone, is false by virtue of its one-size-fits-all premise.

But nonetheless, if you’re medically overweight (not the kind of overweight healthy or underweight body dysmorphia  sufferers describe as overweight because they’ll never believe they’re skinny enough), it’s probably a fair assumption that your calorie and sugar counts are high.

So how do we fight obesity? We all know that portion control and exercise are the two bits of dietary advice that never go out of favor. But because they’re difficult and require work, many seek the latest diets pushed by celebrities who look great, or self-help gurus who tried something and it worked (anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence folks.)

Most of these diets don’t work for a number of reasons. Not the least of which, is some of them are absolute nonsense with no basis in biology. Others are decent enough premises, but the issue goes back to us evolving to store up as much energy as is available to us at the time, in preparation for potential future fasting. This mechanism sadly works against you when you do successfully lose weight.

For instance, let’s imagine your ideal weight were 150 lbs, but you had gotten up to 200 lbs. If you do successfully drop that 50 lbs, while this number is ideal for you, your body has adjusted to the idea of you being at 200 lbs., and will continue to trigger the hunger reflex until you eventually get back to 200 lbs. So the best way to combat obesity, is to stop it before it starts. While it’s not impossible to lose it and keep it off, it is significantly more difficult.

This brings me to my next point—those poor starving kids in Africa. When we talk about portion control, the one tactic you’ve likely never heard of, but should be your tactic “du jour,” is intuitive eating (stopping when you feel full). Your body evolved a mechanism to tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full for a reason. Why would it make sense to listen to the impulse that’s telling you to eat, while ignoring the one yelling at you to slow your dinner roll?

Within the intuitive eating framework Cara Harbstreet RD from Street-Smart Nutrition advises there’s a phenomenon called the:

“satisfaction threshold”. It’s the point (or the bite) you reach to achieve maximum satisfaction from a food. When you eat past that point, each bite becomes less and less satisfying and you derive less pleasure from the eating experience. It can’t be ignored that we eat for other reasons than fuel. To say food is only eaten for fuel is like saying humans only have sex to reproduce. There’s many other motivators there, so identifying the point where you feel satisfied from a food can be the signal to stop eating. I’ve told clients to go home and bake a pan of brownies and count how many bites they take before they get bored or burnout with the sweetness and texture. Amazingly, more often than not, it’s only two to five bites, and not the whole pan although they could go that far if they wanted to. If that’s the case, we work on mindfulness and awareness because they aren’t tuned into what their body/brain is telling them.

Many of us grew up with the notion that we needed to eat everything on our plates, because there are starving kids in Africa, and therefore we shouldn’t waste food.

First of all, you’re not going to send your leftovers to starving kids in Africa. So I assure you, they do not care, nor are assisted in any way by you overeating. If you want to help those kids, send them money, or promote gene-edited foods (aka Genetically Modified Organisms GMOs) that are specifically developed to grow in these places. Before you ask if GMOs are unsafe, there’s not one shred of evidence showing them as unsafe, and because they’re engineered to resists pests, and reduce pesticides, they’re often more safe than their non-edited counterparts.

Human conditioning is a very powerful thing. If you teach someone something early and often, they can believe it the rest of their lives, even if they’re constantly exposed to compelling evidence of the contrary. So teaching kids to overeat is quite possibly at the heart of our obesity epidemic, because we’ve taught them that despite our obesity epidemic…well, you know…those starving kids in Africa need you to keep eating. I myself, knowing all that I’ve written here, still have a hard time stopping when I’m full because of this powerful bit of conditioning.

Addressing the idea that this food is wasted is slightly more complicated. Pretty much all food is organic. Don’t get me started on the FDA’s sadly anti-science definition of organic, (This was in response to those with fears of man-made foods and pesticides), I’m talking about the actual definition from chemistry, a simple carbon-based compound. This means that if you throw it in the garbage, and it goes in a landfill, it will biodegrade and fuel new organic life forms. There’s little to no harm done by chucking it in the bin, except for maybe the attraction of pests.

There are two scenarios regarding food waste:

  1. Excess food goes in the trash can
  2. Excess food goes through your digestive system, makes you fat, then goes in the toilet.

When viewed from this paradigm, hopefully you see the trash can as the better alternative. Either way, if your body didn’t need it, it’s ending up as waste, literally nothing, and I mean nothing good comes from eating it in that moment.

The actual waste is in the energy spent by the people who brought it to market, like the farmer’s tractor and the truck to haul it to the store, when you didn’t actually eat it. But, all that waste occurred before it ever ended up on your plate. So throwing it away after-the-fact, does no additional harm.

Nonetheless, waste is bad, so there’s a couple of things you can do to prevent it going forward:

  1. Don’t Overfill Your Plate: If you can go back for seconds, underfill the plate. Go back for more only if you’re truly still hungry. Heck, getting up for 30 seconds to get another plate even counts as a tiny bit of exercise.
  2. Get smaller plates:
    Same portions, but smaller plate on right looks fuller, and tricks you into thinking you ate more.

    (<–Click to see explanation of this mental trick.) Sure, you’re only tricking yourself, but if it works, it works.

  3. Stop Rewarding Restaurants Who Over-Serve: Tell them they give you too much food, and you may not return as a result. Maybe they’ll take it to heart, and cut back in the future. It saves them money, after all. Frequent a restaurant serving more responsible portions, or offer a smaller portion as an option. A free-market eventually listens.
  4. Ask for Less at Restaurants: I often tell the people at Chipotle for instance to give me about half the rice as usual. They may not give you a discount, but you’ll be less fat for the same price. Technically, that’s a win-win for you and them. Stop thinking of it as them getting one over on you—it was your request after all. Plus, if you like their food, you’re helping them stay in business if you save them money by allowing them to give you less.
  5. Leftovers: If you must frequent a restaurant that overserves, stop as soon as your full, and take the rest home for later. It doesn’t have to be destroyed in one sitting. Heck, you can even purposefully cut the meal in half, and plan to take the other half home before you dig in.
  6. Always Err Low: We’ve all been in the drive through, and debated one hamburger or two, small fries or large, etc. Always order the lesser amount. You’ll usually still be full when you’re done. You can always keep a snack on hand just in case. But you’ll avoid overeating because you’re full but you accidentally ordered too much and don’t want to throw it away.
  7. Always Err Low #2: Now that you’ve learned to back off at the restaurant, take that skill to the grocery store. Cara Harbstreet RD advises: A lot of food waste happens inside the home (restaurants are equally at fault) but when I dive into a food budget with someone, more often than not it turns out they’re throwing away large amounts of perishable foods like fruits, veggies, fresh herbs, dairy, meat, and poultry that goes uncooked or is cooked, but not used as leftovers. If you overstock your pantry, there’s also a chance you’ll cook more than you need so you don’t throw it away, meaning you’ll be tempted to eat more too.

Hopefully these little chicken nuggets of food science and skepticism will help you to rethink the way you eat, and help you be better parents, healthier adults, and better consumers. This obesity epidemic is not a virus floating around in the air needing a complex biological cure, it’s a simple habitual issue that small behavioral adjustments can end in one generation or two, if we simply make the effort.

Oh, and I almost forgot, don’t be afraid to spice things up a bit! As it turns out, capsaicin, the stuff in peppers that makes them spicy, triggers your body to heat up (that’s why you start sweating when you eat it). In doing so, it can burn off more of that energy you’re storing in your fat cells. Check the report out here.

 


Registered Dietitian – Host at Street Smart Nutrition @StreetSmartRD

 

Special thanks to Cara Harbstreet RD, host at Street Smart Nutrition. Follow her on social media: Twitter: Cara Harbstreet RD and Facebook: Street Smart Nutrition. Her input was quite helpful in putting together this post, and her website is full of great food info.

log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action

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