Failure of Nutritional Knowledge in Science and Practice

“The idea that the same experiment will always produce the same result, no matter who performs it, is one of the cornerstones of science’s claim to truth. However, more than 70% of the researchers (pdf), who took part in a recent study published in Nature have tried and failed to replicate another scientist’s experiment. Another study found that at least 50% of life science research cannot be replicated. The same holds for 51% of economics papers”
~Julian Kirchherr, Why we can’t trust academic journals to tell the scientific truth

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue”
~Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, one of the leading medical journals where nutritional studies are published

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor”
~Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine

“Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”
~John Ioannidis, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

“Possibly, the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta‐analyses are unnecessary, misleading, and/or conflicted.”
~John Ioannidis, The Mass Production of Redundant, Misleading, and Conflicted Systematic Reviews and Meta‐analyses

“Nutritional epidemiologists valiantly work in an important, challenging frontier of science and health. However, methods used to-date (even by the best scientists with best intentions) have yielded little reliable, useful information.”
~John Ioannidis, Unreformed nutritional epidemiology: a lamp post in the dark forest

“Associations with cancer risk or benefits have been claimed for most food ingredients. Many single studies highlight implausibly large effects, even though evidence is weak. Effect sizes shrink in meta-analyses.”
~Jonathan Schoenfeld & John Ioannidis, Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review

“Some nutrition scientists and much of the public often consider epidemiologic associations of nutritional factors to represent causal effects that can inform public health policy and guidelines. However, the emerging picture of nutritional epidemiology is difficult to reconcile with good scientific principles. The field needs radical reform.”
~John Ioannidis, The Challenge of Reforming Nutritional Epidemiologic Research

“Incoming residents to a pediatric residency program appear to be deficient in basic nutritional knowledge. With the ever increasing burden of obesity and its associated co-morbidities on society, it is imperative that medical education focuses on preparing physicians to appropriately counsel all populations on proper nutrition.”
~M. Castillo, R. Feinstein, J Tsang & M. Fisher, Basic nutrition knowledge of recent medical graduates entering a pediatric residency program.

“Many US medical schools still fail to prepare future physicians for everyday nutrition challenges in clinical practice. Nutrition is a dominant contributor to most chronic diseases and a key determinant of poor treatment outcomes. It cannot be a realistic expectation for physicians to effectively address obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hospital malnutrition, and many other conditions as long as they are not taught during medical school how to recognize and treat the nutritional root causes.”
~Kelly Adams, W. Scott Butsch & Martin Kohlmeier, The State of Nutrition Education at US Medical Schools

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I’ve written about this topic before. In some of those earlier posts, I used a few of the above quotes. But I also came across some new quotes that emphasize the point. I decided to gather them all together in one place without analysis commentary, as they speak for themselves. I’ll allow myself to make a single note of significance.

A lot of medical research is done by doctors. In Rigor Mortis, Richard Harris points out that doctors aren’t generally well educated and trained in research methodology or statistical analysis. My cousin who does medical research confirmed this observation. On top of that, doctors when they were back in medical school also weren’t taught much about diet and nutrition — interns right out of medical school get about half the nutritional questions wrong, which would be a failing grade.

So, combine doctors not trained in research doing research on diet and nutrition which they never learned much about. It is not surprising that nutritional studies is one of the worst areas of replication crisis. The following are the prior posts about all of this:

Flawed Scientific Research
Scientific Failure and Self Experimentation
Clearing Away the Rubbish
Most Mainstream Doctors Would Fail Nutrition

* * *

Bonus Video – Below is a speech given by Dr. Aseem Malhotra at the European Parliament last year and another speech by Dr. Michael Eades. Among other things, he covers some of the bad methodologies, deceptive or misleading practices, and conflicts of interest.

Sometimes research is intentionally bad because of the biases of funding and ideological agendas, an issue I’ve covered numerous times before. It can’t all be blamed on the insufficient education of doctors in their doing research. After the video, I’ll throw in the links to those other pieces as well.

Cold War Silencing of Science
Eliminating Dietary Dissent
Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Monsanto is Safe and Good, Says Monsanto

On Health or Lack Thereof

Millennials’ health plummets after the age of 27: Study finds the generation has unprecedented rates of diabetes, depression, and digestive disorders
by Natalie Rahhal

  • After age 27, all major measures of health start to decline sharply for millennials, according to a new Blue Cross Blue Shield Report
  • Millennials have higher rates of eight of the top 10 most common health conditions by their mid-30s than generation X-ers did at the same age
  • As their health continues to decline, millennials stand to cost the American health care industry and economy steep sums

It's all downhill from here: A depressing graph shows steep health decline that begins after age 27 and continues until death for millennials
It’s all downhill from here: A depressing graph shows steep health decline that begins after age 27 and continues until death for millennials

Effect of Dietary Lipid on UV Light Carcinogenesis in the Hairless Mouse
by Vivienne E. Reeve, Melissa Matheson, Gavin E. Greenoak, Paul J. Canfield, Christa Boehm‐Wilcox, and Clifford H. Gallagher

Isocaloric feeding of diets varying in lipid content to albino hairless mice has shown that their susceptibility to skin tumorigenesis induced by simulated solar UV light was not affected by the level of polyunsaturated fat, 5% or 20%. However a qualitative effect of dietary lipid was demonstrated. Mice fed 20% saturated fat were almost completely protected from UV tumorigenesis when compared with mice fed 20% polyunsaturated fat. Multiple latent tumours were detected in the saturated fat‐fed mice by subsequent dietary replenishment, suggesting that a requirement for dietary unsaturated fat exists for the promotion stage of UV‐induced skin carcinogenesis.

Therapeutic benefit of combining calorie-restricted ketogenic diet and glutamine targeting in late-stage experimental glioblastoma
by Purna Mukherjee, Zachary M. Augur, Mingyi Li, Collin Hill, Bennett Greenwood, Marek A. Domin, Gramoz Kondakci, Niven R. Narain, Michael A. Kiebish, Roderick T. Bronson, Gabriel Arismendi-Morillo, Christos Chinopoulos, and Thomas N. Seyfried

Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive primary human brain tumour that has resisted effective therapy for decades. Although glucose and glutamine are the major fuels that drive GBM growth and invasion, few studies have targeted these fuels for therapeutic management. The glutamine antagonist, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine (DON), was administered together with a calorically restricted ketogenic diet (KD-R) to treat late-stage orthotopic growth in two syngeneic GBM mouse models: VM-M3 and CT-2A. DON targets glutaminolysis, while the KD-R reduces glucose and, simultaneously, elevates neuroprotective and non-fermentable ketone bodies. The diet/drug therapeutic strategy killed tumour cells while reversing disease symptoms, and improving overall mouse survival. The therapeutic strategy also reduces edema, hemorrhage, and inflammation. Moreover, the KD-R diet facilitated DON delivery to the brain and allowed a lower dosage to achieve therapeutic effect. The findings support the importance of glucose and glutamine in driving GBM growth and provide a therapeutic strategy for non-toxic metabolic management.

Writer’s block
by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

Anyway, to return to the main issue here, which is that medical science may now be incapable of self-correction. Erroneous ideas will be compounded, built on, and can never be overturned. Because of a thing called non-reproducibility.

In most areas of science, there is nothing to stop a researcher going back over old research and trying to replicate it. The correct term is reproducibility. In every branch of science there is currently an acknowledged crisis with reproducibility.

‘Reproducibility is a hot topic in science at the moment, but is there a crisis? Nature asked 1,576 scientists this question as part of an online survey. Most agree that there is a crisis and over 70% said they’d tried and failed to reproduce another group’s experiments.’ 2

This is not good, but in medical research this issue is magnified many times. Because there is another in-built problem. You cannot reproduce research that has been positive. Take clinical trials into statins. You start with middle aged men, split them into two groups, give one a statin and one a placebo. At the end of your five-year trial, you claim that statins had a benefit – stopped heart attacks and strokes and suchlike.

Once this claim has been made, in this group, it becomes unethical/impossible to replicate this study, in this group – ever again. The ethics committee would tell you that statins have been proven to have a benefit, you cannot withhold a drug with a ‘proven’ benefit from patients. Therefore, you cannot have a placebo arm in your trial. Therefore, you cannot attempt to replicate the findings. Ever.

Thus, if a trial was flawed/biased/corrupt or simply done badly. That’s it. You are going to have to believe the results, and you can never, ever, have another go. Ergo, medicine cannot self-correct through non-reproducibility. Stupidity can now last for ever. In fact, it is built in.

When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes
by David Epstein

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

In a 2013 study, a dozen doctors from around the country examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade—2001 through 2010—that tested a current clinical practice, from the use of antibiotics to treat people with persistent Lyme disease symptoms (didn’t help) to the use of specialized sponges for preventing infections in patients having colorectal surgery (caused more infections). Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced; 138 articles supported the efficacy of an existing practice, and the remaining 79 were deemed inconclusive. (There was, naturally, plenty of disagreement with the authors’ conclusions.) Some of the contradicted practices possibly affect millions of people daily: Intensive medication to keep blood pressure very low in diabetic patients caused more side effects and was no better at preventing heart attacks or death than more mild treatments that allowed for a somewhat higher blood pressure. Other practices challenged by the study are less common—like the use of a genetic test to determine if a popular blood thinner is right for a particular patient—but gaining in popularity despite mounting contrary evidence. Some examples defy intuition: CPR is no more effective with rescue breathing than if chest compressions are used alone; and breast-cancer survivors who are told not to lift weights with swollen limbs actually should lift weights, because it improves their symptoms.

A separate but similarly themed study in 2012 funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, which sought to reduce spending on needless procedures, looked across the same decade and identified 156 active medical practices that are probably unsafe or ineffective. The list goes on: A brand new review of 48 separate studies—comprising more than 13,000 clinicians—looked at how doctors perceive disease-screening tests and found that they tend to underestimate the potential harms of screening and overestimate the potential benefits; an editorial in American Family Physician, co-written by one of the journal’s editors, noted that a “striking feature” of recent research is how much of it contradicts traditional medical opinion.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. The 21st Century Cures Act—a rare bipartisan bill, pushed by more than 1,400 lobbyists and signed into law in December—lowers evidentiary standards for new uses of drugs and for marketing and approval of some medical devices. Furthermore, last month President Donald Trump scolded the FDA for what he characterized as withholding drugs from dying patients. He promised to slash regulations “big league. … It could even be up to 80 percent” of current FDA regulations, he said. To that end, one of the president’s top candidates to head the FDA, tech investor Jim O’Neill, has openly advocated for drugs to be approved before they’re shown to work. “Let people start using them at their own risk,” O’Neill has argued.

So, while Americans can expect to see more drugs and devices sped to those who need them, they should also expect the problem of therapies based on flimsy evidence to accelerate. In a recent Stat op-ed, two Johns Hopkins University physician-researchers wrote that the new 21st Century Cures Act will turn the label “FDA approved” into “a shadow of its former self.” In 1962, Congress famously raised the evidentiary bar for drug approvals after thousands of babies were born with malformed limbs to mothers who had taken the sleep aid thalidomide. Steven Galson, a retired rear admiral and former acting surgeon general under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, has called the strengthened approval process created in 1962 the FDA’s “biggest contribution to health.” Before that, he said, “many marketed drugs were ineffective for their labeled uses.”

Striking the right balance between innovation and regulation is incredibly difficult, but once remedies are in use—even in the face of contrary evidence—they tend to persist. A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association papercoauthored by John Ioannidis—a Stanford University medical researcher and statistician who rose to prominence exposing poor-quality medical science—found that it took 10 years for large swaths of the medical community to stop referencing popular practices after their efficacy was unequivocally vanquished by science.

Science institute that advised EU and UN ‘actually industry lobby group’
by Arthur Nelson

An institute whose experts have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels is, in reality, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity, according to a peer-reviewed study.

The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”.

But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence-peddling.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Sarah Steele, a Cambridge university senior research associate, said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.”

The New Faces of Coke
by Kyle Pfister

Of the 115 individuals Coca-Cola admitted to funding, here’s a breakdown:

By sector, 57% (65) are dietitians, 20% (23) are academics, 7% (8) are medical professionals (mostly Doctors), 6% (7) are fitness experts, 5% (6) are authors, 3% (3) are chefs, and 1% (1) are food representatives. I was not able to identify sectors for two of the funded experts.

Kellogg Paid ‘Independent Experts’ to Promote Its Cereal
by Michael Addady

Kellogg paid council experts an average of $13,000 per year, according to emails and contracts obtained by the Associated Press. The payment was for expert to engage in “nutrition influencer outreach” and refrain from offering their services to products that were “competitive or negative to cereal.”

Outreach usually meant one of two things: Experts would claim Kellogg was their favorite brand on social media, or they would tout the cereal during public appearances. Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Charles told Fortune in a statement that the experts’ association with the company was disclosed at public appearances.

Additionally, the experts’ connection to the company may have affected some of their published work. For example, an independent expert was involved in publishing an academic paper in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that defined a “quality breakfast.” Kellogg had the opportunity to edit the paper and even asked that the author remove a suggestion about limiting added sugar (something the sugar industry has also been accused of doing with heart disease research).

FDA: Sampling finds toxic nonstick compounds in some food
by Ellen Knickmeyer, John Flesher, and Michael Casey

A federal toxicology report last year cited links between high levels of the compounds in people’s blood and health problems, but said it was not certain the nonstick compounds were the cause.

The levels in nearly half of the meat and fish tested were two or more times over the only currently existing federal advisory level for any kind of the widely used manmade compounds, which are called per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances, or PFAS.

The level in the chocolate cake was higher: more than 250 times the only federal guidelines, which are for some PFAS in drinking water.

Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Tara Rabin said Monday that the agency thought the contamination was “not likely to be a human health concern,” even though the tests exceeded the sole existing federal PFAS recommendations for drinking water.

Why smelling good could come with a cost to health
by Lauren Zanolli

About 4,000 chemicals are currently used to scent products, but you won’t find any of them listed on a label. Fragrance formulations are considered a “trade secret” and therefore protected from disclosure – even to regulators or manufacturers. Instead, one word, fragrance, appears on ingredients lists for countless cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. A single scent may contain anywhere from 50 to 300 distinct chemicals.

“No state, federal or global authority is regulating the safety of fragrance chemicals,” says Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “No state, federal or global authority even knows which fragrance chemicals appear in which products.”

Three-quarters of the toxic chemicals detected in a test of 140 products came from fragrance, reported a 2018 BCPP study of personal care and cleaning brands. The chemicals identified were linked to chronic health issues, including cancer.

Scientific Failure and Self Experimentation

In 2005, John P. A. Ioannidis wrote “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” that was published in PloS journal. It is the most cited paper in that journal’s history and it has led to much discussion in the media. That paper was a theoretical model but has since been well supported — as Ioannidis explained in an interview with Julia Belluz:

“There are now tons of empirical studies on this. One field that probably attracted a lot of attention is preclinical research on drug targets, for example, research done in academic labs on cell cultures, trying to propose a mechanism of action for drugs that can be developed. There are papers showing that, if you look at a large number of these studies, only about 10 to 25 percent of them could be reproduced by other investigators. Animal research has also attracted a lot of attention and has had a number of empirical evaluations, many of them showing that almost everything that gets published is claimed to be “significant”. Nevertheless, there are big problems in the designs of these studies, and there’s very little reproducibility of results. Most of these studies don’t pan out when you try to move forward to human experimentation.

“Even for randomized controlled trials [considered the gold standard of evidence in medicine and beyond] we have empirical evidence about their modest replication. We have data suggesting only about half of the trials registered [on public databases so people know they were done] are published in journals. Among those published, only about half of the outcomes the researchers set out to study are actually reported. Then half — or more — of the results that are published are interpreted inappropriately, with spin favoring preconceptions of sponsors’ agendas. If you multiply these levels of loss or distortion, even for randomized trials, it’s only a modest fraction of the evidence that is going to be credible.”

This is part of the replication crisis that has been known about for decades, although rarely acknowledged or taken seriously. And it is a crisis that isn’t limited to single studies —- Ioannidis wrote that, “Possibly, the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, and/or conflicted” (from a paper reported in the Pacific Standard). The crisis cuts across numerous fields, from economics and genetics to neuroscience and psychology. But to my mind, medical research stands out. Evidence-based medicine is only as good as the available evidence — it has been “hijacked to serve agendas different from what it originally aimed for,” as stated by Ioannidis. (A great book on this topic, by the way, is Richard Harris’ Rigor Mortis.) Studies done by or funded by drug companies, for example, are more likely to come to positive results for efficacy and negative results for side effects. And because the government has severely decreased public funding since the Reagan administration, so much of research is now linked to big pharma. From a Retraction Watch interview, Ioannidis says:

“Since clinical research that can generate useful clinical evidence has fallen off the radar screen of many/most public funders, it is largely left up to the industry to support it. The sales and marketing departments in most companies are more powerful than their R&D departments. Hence, the design, conduct, reporting, and dissemination of this clinical evidence becomes an advertisement tool. As for “basic” research, as I explain in the paper, the current system favors PIs who make a primary focus of their career how to absorb more money. Success in obtaining (more) funding in a fiercely competitive world is what counts the most. Given that much “basic” research is justifiably unpredictable in terms of its yield, we are encouraging aggressive gamblers. Unfortunately, it is not gambling for getting major, high-risk discoveries (which would have been nice), it is gambling for simply getting more money.”

I’ve become familiar with this collective failure through reading on diet and nutrition. Some of the key figures in that field, specifically Ancel Keys, were either intentionally fraudulent or really bad at science. Yet the basic paradigm of dietary recommendations that was instituted by Keys remains in place. The fact that Keys was so influential demonstrates the sad state of affairs. Ioannidis has also covered this area and come to similar dire conclusions. Along with Jonathan Schoenfeld, he considered the question “Is everything we eat associated with cancer?”

“After choosing fifty common ingredients out of a cookbook, they set out to find studies linking them to cancer rates – and found 216 studies on forty different ingredients. Of course, most of the studies disagreed with each other. Most ingredients had multiple studies claiming they increased and decreased the risk of getting cancer. Most of the statistical evidence was weak, and meta-analyses usually showed much smaller effects on cancer rates than the original studies.”
(Alex Reinhart, What have we wrought?)

That is a serious and rather personal issue, not an academic exercise. There is so much bad research out there or else confused and conflicting. It’s about impossible for the average person to wade through it all and come to a certain conclusion. Researchers and doctors are as mired in it as the rest of us. Doctors, in particular, are busy people and don’t typically read anything beyond short articles and literature reviews, and even those they likely only skim in spare moments. Besides, most doctors aren’t trained in research and statistics, anyhow. Even if they were better educated and informed, the science itself is in a far from optimal state and one can find all kinds of conclusions. Take the conflict between two prestigious British journals, the Lancet and the BMJ, the former arguing for statin use and the latter more circumspect. In the context of efficacy and side effects, the disagreement is over diverse issues and confounders of cholesterol, inflammation, artherosclerosis, heart disease, etc — all overlapping.

Recently, my dad went to his doctor who said that research in respectable journals strongly supported statin use. Sure, that is true. But the opposite is equally true, in that there are also respectable journals that don’t support wide use of statins. It depends on which journals one chooses to read. My dad’s doctor didn’t have the time to discuss the issue, as that is the nature of the US medical system. So, probably in not wanting to get caught up in fruitless debate, the doctor agreed to my dad stopping statins and seeing what happens. With failure among researchers to come to consensus, it leaves the patient to be a guinea pig in his own personal experiment. Because of the lack of good data, self-experimentation has become a central practice in diet and nutrition. There are so many opinions out there that, if one cares about one’s health, one is forced to try different approaches and find out what seems to work, even as this methodology is open to many pitfalls and hardy guarantees success. But the individual person dealing with a major health concern often has no other choice, at least not until the science improves.

This isn’t necessarily a reason for despair. At least, a public debate is now happening. Ioannidis, among others, sees the solution as not difficult (psychology, despite its own failings, might end up being key in improving research standards; and also organizations are being set up to promote better standards, including The Nutrition Science Initiative started by the science journalist Gary Taubes, someone often cited by those interested in alternative health views). We simply need to require greater transparency and accountability in the scientific process. That is to say science should be democratic. The failure of science is directly related to the failure seen in politics and economics, related to powerful forces of big money and other systemic biases. It is not so much a failure as it is a success toward ulterior motives. That needs to change.

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Many scientific “truths” are, in fact, false
by Olivia Goldhill

Are most published research findings false?
by Erica Seigneur

The Decline Effect – Why Most Published Research Findings are False
by Paul Crichton

Beware those scientific studies—most are wrong, researcher warns
by Ivan Couronne

The Truthiness Of Scientific Research
by Judith Rich Harris

Is most published research really wrong?
by Geoffrey P Webb

Are Scientists Doing Too Much Research?
by Peter Bruce

Of Mice and Men and Environments

Here is one of the most important issues we face. It effects a wide array of scientific research. But it also has vast implications for our lives and our entire society. It is about the power of environments, including even the slightest of differences.

A mouse’s house may ruin experiments
Environmental factors lie behind many irreproducible rodent experiments.
by Sara Reardon, Nature Journal

It’s no secret that therapies that look promising in mice rarely work in people. But too often, experimental treatments that succeed in one mouse population do not even work in other mice, suggesting that many rodent studies may be flawed from the start.

“We say mice are simpler, but I think the problem is deeper than that,” says Caroline Zeiss, a veterinary neuropathologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Researchers rarely report on subtle environmental factors such as their mice’s food, bedding or exposure to light; as a result, conditions vary widely across labs despite an enormous body of research showing that these factors can significantly affect the animals’ biology.

“It’s sort of surprising how many people are surprised by the extent of the variation” between mice that receive different care, says Cory Brayton, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. At a meeting on mouse models at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, UK, on 9–11 February, she and others explored the many biological factors that prevent mouse studies from being reproduced.

I came across this issue in a book by David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us. The book is about genetics and IQ. But he brings up many other issues, such as the difficulties and problems of research.

He discusses a mouse study that demonstrates the power of environmental factors. It is far worse than the above article indicates. Even when all known factors are carefully controlled, the results can still be far different, to the point of being divergent in particular areas.

Below is the passage from Shenk’s book (Kindle Locations 1624-1657). I’ve shared before, but it bears repeating.

To say that there is much we don’t control in our lives is a dramatic understatement, roughly on the order of saying that the universe is a somewhat large place. To begin with, there are many influences we can’t even detect. In 1999 , Oregon neuroscientist John C . Crabbe led a study on how mice reacted to alcohol and cocaine. Crabbe was already an expert on the subject and had run many similar studies, but this one had a special twist: he conducted the exact same study at the same time in three different locations (Portland , Oregon; Albany, New York; and Edmonton, Alberta) in order to gauge the reliability of the results. The researchers went to “extraordinary lengths” to standardize equipment, methods, and lab environment: identical genetic mouse strains, identical food, identical bedding, identical cages, identical light schedule, etc. They did virtually everything they could think of to make the environments of the mice the same in all three labs.

Somehow, though, invisible influences intervened. With the scientists controlling for nearly everything they could control, mice with the exact same genes behaved differently depending on where they lived. And even more surprising: the differences were not consistent, but zigged and zagged across different genetic strains and different locations. In Portland, one strain was especially sensitive to cocaine and one especially insensitive , compared to the same strains in other cities. In Albany, one particular strain— just the one— was especially lazy. In Edmonton , the genetically altered mice tended to be just as active as the wild mice, whereas they were more active than the wild mice in Portland and less active than the wild mice in Albany. It was a major hodgepodge.

There were also predictable results. Crabbe did see many expected similarities across each genetic strain and consistent differences between the strains. These were, after all, perfect genetic copies being raised in painstakingly identical environments. But it was the unpredicted differences that caught everyone’s attention. “Despite our efforts to equate laboratory environments, significant and, in some cases, large effects of site were found for nearly all variables,” Crabbe concluded. “Furthermore, the pattern of strain differences varied substantially among the sites for several tests.”

Wow. This was unforeseen, and it turned heads . Modern science is built on standardization; new experiments change one tiny variable from a previous study or a control group, and any changes in outcome point crisply to cause and effect. The notion of hidden, undetectable differences throws all of that into disarray. How many assumptions of environmental sameness have been built right into conclusions over the decades?

What if there really is no such thing? What if the environment turns out to be less like a snowball that one can examine all around and more like the tip of an iceberg with lurking unknowables? How does that alter the way we think about biological causes and effects?

Something else stood out in Crabbe’s three-city experiment : gene-environment interplay . It wasn’t just that hidden environmental differences had significantly affected the results. It was also clear that these hidden environments had affected different mouse strains in different ways— clear evidence of genes interacting dynamically with environmental forces.

But the biggest lesson of all was how much complexity emerged from such a simple model. These were genetically pure mice in standard lab cages. Only a handful of known variables existed between groups. Imagine the implications for vastly more complex animals— animals with highly developed reasoning capability, complex syntax, elaborate tools, living in vastly intricate and starkly distinct cultures and jumbled genetically into billions of unique identities. You’d have a degree of GxE volatility that would boggle any scientific mind— a world where, from the very first hours of life, young ones experienced so many hidden and unpredictable influences from genes, environment, and culture that there’d be simply no telling what they would turn out like.

Such is our world. Each human child is his/ her own unique genetic entity conceived in his/ her own distinctive environment , immediately spinning out his/ her own unique interactions and behaviors. Who among these children born today will become great pianists, novelists, botanists , or marathoners? Who will live a life of utter mediocrity? Who will struggle to get by? We do not know.

Race Realism and Racialized Medicine

I came across the passage below (pp. 143-145) which brings up one of the most important problems. I came across this in the essay “Evolutionary Versus Racial Medicine: Why It Matters” by Joseph L. Graves, Jr. It is from the collection Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture:

Thus far, health disparity research and literature has not incorporated the full evolutionary medical approach. Generally, when biology is addressed as a cause of disparity and the focus has been on genetic differences that exist between reputed racial/ethnic groups, the evidence supporting the connection has been tenuous.5 The logical errors concerning genetic causality result from either ignoring or misunderstanding evolutionary genetics. The lack of training in evolutionary biology among medical researchers and practitioners accounts for this oversight.6 In particular, biomedical scientists often confuse the existence of geographically based genetic variation as proof of the existence of biological races. They also incorrectly assume that genetic differences in loci associated with complex diseases between populations is one of the causes of health disparity.7

[ . . . ] Despite the fact that most physicians practice medicine as if biological races are clearly defined in modern humans, there are few scientists or physicians who can or are willing to construct an argument to support racial medicine. The modern medical literature still utilizes nineteenth-century anthropological categories in group studies. For example, a recent search of Entrez Pubmed (conducted on January 6, 2010) utilizing the term “race” returned 114,305 articles from the human biomedical literature. More specifically, searches on Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid race returned 52,846, 22,667, and 38,792 citations, respectively. While one can still debate the utility of the term “race” in the human biomedical literature, almost no one defends the idea that nineteenth-century racial categories are legitimate or that these (Caucasian, Mongoloid, or Negroid) are of much use in twenty-first-century research.

This touches upon a similar point I previously came across in a context that had nothing to do with race and racialized medicine.

It’s not just that most medical research about race is problematic. In general, medical research is one of the most problematic fields of research. It’s not just that most medical researchers and practitioners lack training in evolutionary biology. Most of them also lack training in research methodology and analysis. Anyone can do research and many doctors are interested in doing research, but it isn’t their field of expertise. Because of this, medical research is often of a lower quality and so less reliable.

We know so little about genetics. Considering what we do know, there appears to be many people doing research who don’t even understand that small amount. Medical researchers are still using obsolete racial terms from centuries ago, really?

The context for this is race realism which reminds me of capitalist realism. The two seem to go together. Both offer a pessimism about human nature, whether seen as humans constrained to their genetics or to their greed. This kind of false pragmatism is the most dangerous thing our society faces. It blinds us to the larger reality that surrounds us. It precludes new possibilities and unconsidered solutions.

When researchers think ideologically instead of scientifically, the entire scientific method is undermined. This racial realism isn’t reality. It is an ideology about reality. The racial ideology is being used as an assumption upon which to base research instead of a hypothesis to be tested. This makes it inevitable that the ideological results sought are found. By dividing the data according to a social construct, those social constructs are reified. This is how structural racism operates.

Race realists believe genetics causes and contributes to not just race but IQ, poverty, violence, mental illness, and just about every other aspect of society. All problems are the inevitable results of inborn traits. It is a genetic determinism that often goes hand in hand with a cultural determinism, ethnicity being the connection between the two. With this worldview, there is very little to be done about any problem other than keep the genetically inferior people out of our communities and out of our country. Build walls and gated communities.

There is no room for compassion and hope in such a reactionary worldview. There are no solutions, just damage control.

The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!

A Dangerous Pragmatism


Let the Dissection of the Tea Party Corpse Begin

I’ve only skimmed this, but it looks worthy of a deeper study. It apparently is the first large-scale political science survey of the Tea Party. It’s published in The American Prospect and written by Abby Rapoport.

Three New Facts about the Tea Party

For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.

Until now. The results of the first political science survey of Tea Party activists show that the constituency isn’t going away any time soon—and Republicans hoping the activists will begin to moderate their stances should prepare for disappointment. Based out of the College of William and Mary, the report surveyed more than 11,000 members of FreedomWorks, one of the largest and most influential Tea Party groups. The political scientists also relied on a separate survey of registered voters through the YouGov firm to compare those who identified with the Tea Party movement to those Republicans who did not. (Disclosure: The political scientist leading the survey was my father, Ronald Rapoport, with whom I worked in writing this piece.)

For the first time, we can now look at what a huge sample of Tea Party activists believe, as well as examine how those who identify with the Tea Party differ from their establishment GOP counterparts. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the study:

[read more]

Fear Of Terrorists Influences Parents – Study

Here is further evidence of how people become socially conservative when in a social situation that causes fear and stress. I’ve brought this up before because it explains why social conservatives have motivation to fear-monger.

As the researchers concede, these experiments aren’t proof that thoughts of terrorism have a uniquely negative effect on parenting. Exposure to images of an attack might simply have increased the parents’ stress level, “which could then translate into harsher and more controlling social interactions with their children.”

But they note previous research has found a link between terror threats and authoritarian political beliefs. The notion that this mindset could slop over into domestic decision-making seems entirely plausible.

Either way, it’s one more example of how fear can inspire behavior one may later regret. So in turbulent times, perhaps it’s wise to avoid reading the newspaper before heading to the nursery. It’s never a beautiful day in Mr. bin Laden’s Neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean you and your children need to live there.

Disturbing Study Highlights Racism

The Visible Hand:
Race and Online Market Outcomes
Jennifer L. Doleac and Luke C.D. Stein


Do prospective customers behave differently based on sellers’ perceptible race or signals about sellers’ socioeconomic class? Does the answer to this question depend on whether a customer lives in an area that is racially segregated or plagued by property crime? We investigate these questions in a year-long experiment in which we sold iPods through local online classified advertisements throughout the United States. Each ad features a photograph of the product being held by a hand that is dark-skinned (“black”), light-skinned (“white”), or light-skinned with a wrist tattoo (traditionally associated with lower social class). We find that black sellers do worse than white sellers on a variety of metrics: they receive 13% fewer responses to their advertisements and receive 17% fewer offers. These effects are similar in magnitude to those associated with the display of a wrist tattoo. Conditional on receiving at least one offer, black sellers receive offers that are lower by 2 to 4%, despite the self-selected — and presumably less biased — pool of buyers. In addition, buyers corresponding with a black seller behave in ways that suggest they trust the seller less: they are 17% less likely to include their name in e-mails, 44% less likely to accept delivery by mail, and 56% more likely to express concern about making a long-distance payment. We find that black sellers suffer particularly poor outcomes in thin markets; it appears that discrimination may not “survive” in the presence of significant competition among buyers. Furthermore, black sellers do worst in markets that are racially segregated and that have high property crime rates. The latter result suggests that at least part of the explanation is statistical discrimination — that is, buyers being concerned about the time and potential danger involved in the transaction, or that the iPod is stolen goods.

Sense of Place, of Home, of Community… or lack thereof

As I work as a cashier, I always have plenty of time to read and there are often newspapers available. Otherwise, I’d be mostly ignorant of old media. There is something quite relaxing about reading a paper. Anyways, the pleasure of physical reading material isn’t the point of this post. I just wanted to give credit to the dying old media.

The real reason for this post is an article I came across in the Wall Street Journal:

The Homeward Bound American
By Jennifer Graham


That article is about the data from recently published research:

Residential Mobility, Well-being, and Mortality
By Shigehiro Oishi and Ulrich Schimmack

The research is about moving and the impact it has on children (family being a topic that has been on my mind recently: Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison). I guess it does relate to old media and to the world that once was. It may be hard to believe that there was a time when moving was uncommon. Once upon a time, every town probably had at least one if not several newspapers offering local perspectives on everything. Could you imagine reading the same newspaper your whole life which was reported by and which reported on the same local people you knew your entire life?

In the United States, though, the stable community has always been more of an ideal than a reality. We are, of course, the land of immigrants, the land of a people constantly moving Westward. At this point, it might be in our very genetics. All the people with homebody genetics stayed in their homelands while their restless family members ventured to the New World. Those who weren’t given a choice in making this ocean trip, such as slaves and refugees, often had their entire culture destroyed and their connection to their homeland lost. Americans are a rootless people, whether by choice or not (which I’ve written about before: Homelessness and Civilization; in that post, I point out the Christian theology of homelessness).

It took Americans to create something like the internet which has challenged old media and traditional communities. Even the media Americans create tend towards rootlessness. A lot of good things have come out of this American attitude of embracing innovation, of embracing the new. It’s easy for us to rationalize our national character as being a great thing. Americans idealize optimism, but optimism can’t deny reality. No matter how willing we are to move (with about half the population moving in their lifetime), the above linked research shows that it doesn’t necessarily lead to healthy results. I intuitively felt this to be true, but until now I haven’t had hard data to support my intuition.

My thoughts on the matter are influenced by my own personal experience. I’m an American and I think I’m a fairly typical American in many ways. I moved around some while growing up. By the 8th grade, I had lived in 4 states. The place I spent my high school years in was a large city and so it wasn’t conducive to developing a sense of home and community. I actually ended up longing for the previous town we had lived in because I had many friends there and it was a small town with more of a stable community. In the different schools I went to, there was always a core group of kids who had known each other their entire lives. I could see the immense difference between them and I. This may have been made even more clear because I spent my early years in the Midwest before having moved to South Carolina. Along with the sense of having loss my home and my friends, I experienced some major culture shock. The entire time I lived there, South Carolina never felt like home. My brothers and I moved back to the Midwest as soon as we had an opportunity. I suspect this somewhat transitory childhood has had long-term impact on myself and my brothers.

Let me first point out some of the results of the research. Here is from a Science Daily article about the same research:

Moving Repeatedly in Childhood Linked With Poorer Quality-of-Life Years Later, Study Finds

The researchers found that the more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being at the time they were surveyed, even when controlling for age, gender and education level. The research also showed that those who moved frequently as children had fewer quality social relationships as adults.

The researchers also looked to see if different personality types — extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism — affected frequent movers’ well-being. Among introverts, the more moves participants reported as children, the worse off they were as adults. This was in direct contrast to the findings among extraverts. “Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships,” said Oishi. “This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends quickly and easily. Less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends.”

The findings showed neurotic people who moved frequently reported less life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being than people who did not move as much and people who were not neurotic. Neuroticism was defined for this study as being moody, nervous and high strung. However, the number and quality of neurotic people’s relationships had no effect on their well-being, no matter how often they had moved as children. In the article, Oishi speculates this may be because neurotic people have more negative reactions to stressful life events in general.

The researchers also looked at mortality rates among the participants and found that people who moved often as children were more likely to die before the second wave of the study. They controlled for age, gender and race. “We can speculate that moving often creates more stress and stress has been shown to have an ill effect on people’s health,” Oishi said. “But we need more research on this link before we can conclude that moving often in childhood can, in fact, be dangerous to your health in the long-term.”

My brothers and I all have some predispositions toward such things as introversion, depression and anxiety. I don’t think any of us deal with stress all that well. Of course, I can’t know how we would’ve turned out if we hadn’t moved around so much. The only comparison I can make is with my parents. Unlike their children, they had relatively stable childhoods at least in terms of growing up in a stable communities (I know my mom even lived in the same house while growing up, the house that her father built). The difference is that they chose to move after they had become adults and their relatively stable childhoods seemed to have provided an internal sense of stability that allowed them to adapt well to moving to new places. If they hadn’t wanted to move or decided they didn’t like their first move, they could’ve chosen not to move away from their home or they could’ve chosen to immediately move back to their home community. As children, my brothers and I had no such choice because our parents chose for us.

I’m of mixed opinion. I don’t know how much parents can be blamed, especially in the past. Much of this research is recent and so people didn’t used to know about it. On the other hand, my parents knew stability and have always stated a belief in family values. So, why didn’t it occur to them that a stable home and community might be an integral part of family values? To generalize beyond just my parents, why do conservatives (and other Americans as well) idealize the nuclear family as an isolated entity with extended family and community simply being nice things to have around if convenient? Part of me wants to pick on the conservatives because they particularly seem obsessed with the 1950s sitcom ideal of the suburban nuclear family. But to be honest I have to admit that this warped view of family cuts across ideological lines.

At the same time, Americans are obsessed with the idea of community maybe for the very reason we lack a traditional sense of community. I’ve heard Europeans note that Americans are very social in that we constantly like starting and joining groups. In the Midwest, there is even a popular type of group whose sole purpose is to welcome new people to the community. Over all, Midwesterners have more of a real sense of community because early farming communities were so isolated. Midwestern pioneers, quite differently than Southerners, were highly dependent on their neighbors for survival. My observation is that Southerners tend to base their sense of community on their sense of family rather than the other way around. As a general rule, beyond mere formalities, Southerners (in particular middle to upper class Southerners) aren’t very friendly with their neighbors. For example, when a Midwesterner invites you over for coffee they genuinely mean it, but when a Southerner invites you over for coffee it may just be a formality.

As for myself, I internalized from a young age the Midwestern sense of community and neighborliness. It’s not that I live up to it in my personal behavior, but it does form what feels normal to me. Because of this, my disjointed and rootless sense of the world somehow feels wrong. It seems to me the world shouldn’t be this way… and yet it’s the way my world feels. I’m not as close to my family as I wish I were, but I feel that a disconnection has formed in my family that can’t be bridged. One of my brothers became married and had kids. He ended moving away to a nearby town, but he is busy and is incapable of disentangling himself from his wife and children. My other brother has moved around following his career. He essentially has become like my dad in not settling down. Part of him values family and part of him likes the distance moving around provides. None of us in our family get along perfectly well and I think we all value distance to some extent, but I can’t help wondering if it could have been different. If our parents hadn’t sacrificed family and community for career (we were latchkey kids with both parents working), would our family have been much closer than it is now?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s too late now. My parents made their decisions and the time lost can’t be made up. They had been down South for a couple of decades and only recently moved back to the Midwest. My brothers were at one time all living in the same town as I am now living in, but that hasn’t been the case for a number of years. The brother that has been moving around quite a bit did for a time move back to the area before moving away again just as my parents were moving into town. Even though my parents used to live here and used to have many friends here, they’ve been away too long and my dad in particular left behind the community he felt a part of in South Carolina. When you spend so much time apart in different communities and in entirely different regions of the world, you lose the basic daily experiences on which personal relationships are built. The people my parents know generally aren’t the same people I know. In chasing money and career, why didn’t my parents consider the clear possibility that it would undermine our entire family? People always think there is time later on to develop personal relationships, but then after retirement one realizes that some things once lost can’t be regained.

It pisses me off. I always wanted a family I could rely upon, but on an emotional level (which isn’t rational) I don’t have a sense of trust towards my parents. I don’t fundamentally believe they would necessarily be there for me if things ever went wrong. I understand it isn’t entirely rational. My parents do value family and they are caring people. It’s just that I have this very basic sense of disconnection. I’ve lived in this town longer than anywhere else and I love this town. It’s my home. Still, I don’t feel entirely connected to even this place, to the community that I’m surrounded by. My sense of place is always in the past, in the memories of my childhood in this place. It’s hard to explain. When I moved away after 7th grade, I spent years going over and over my memories of this place. Once I returned, everything had already begun to change. So, my sense of place is only loosely connected to the place itself. My suspicion is that it would be different for someone who lived in the same place their whole life because the place would have changed as they changed. One’s personal changes would be grounded in the changes in one’s sense of place. Once you move away, you can never come home again. So, it’s more than a desire for a stable sense of family. It’s a desire for a stable sense of community, a stable sense of place, a stable sense of personal reality. My whole life I’ve wanted to fit in, wanted to feel like I was accepted, like I belonged. Instead, I feel broken.

Of course, I’m not special. Everyone grows up and everyone loses their childhood, but it seems particularly traumatic for those who have moved around, most particularly if they have certain personality traits. Even so, this sense of malaise seems to be a common factor of modern civilization. From my studies, it’s my understanding that indigenous tribal people don’t share this sense of malaise… not until they’re introduced to modern civilization. We moderns are extremely disconnected from the world around us. Even the person who has never moved is unlikely to have a deep sense of place as was once common when all humans were indigenous.

I noticed the above research was mentioned in an article in The New York Times (Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage? By Pamela Paul) which led me to another article:

The Roots of White Anxiety
By Ross Douthat

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

The reason I mention this article is because rural areas represent the last communities that have maintained some semblance of stability, although it’s eroding quickly. These poor, rural whites maintain their communities and their poverty by not moving much. That is what the author of this article didn’t fully comprehend but which some readers made note of in the comments:

dc wrote: “The issue is class, not race, not political affiliation, and certainly not religion.”

Yes, class AND culture… the two being inseparable.

Poor rural people (of any race or religion) are less willing to sacrifice family and community for social advancement in terms of education and career. They’re less willing to play the moving game. But, in a society that doesn’t value the rural culture, such stable cultures aren’t likely to represent the best of society. Loss of family farms and the decline of small towns has caused rural communities to become impoverished and so they have tons of social problems, but these communities once were relatively good places to live and to raise a family… and they still are in some ways. The article does make a point that whites have reason to be worried, paranoid even, about the undermining of this traditional rural culture. Still, no one in particular is to blame. What America is becoming is an almost entirely inevitable result of how America began. It’s noble that these rural folk self-impose (consciously or not) an isolated sense of community. They choose to homeschool their kids and send them to state schools or community colleges. By doing this, they maintain their family ties.

My parents, on the other hand, were willing to make sacrifices that many rural people are unwilling to make and because of it my parents have been more successful in their careers. My parents apparently weren’t contented to just be working class or to otherwise limit their careers to one specific community.

It makes me wonder about the future, my personal future and the future of society. I don’t feel optimistic about my own family and community. My depression and introversion combine in such a way that I lead a fairly isolated life. What really saddens me is that I’m far from unusual. Are people like me merely a sign of what our society is becoming? What is the future of communities and families? As a society, will we ever again collectively value community more than career, family more than success? Will we ever stop building ugly, soul-destroying suburban neighborhoods? Will the warped ideal of the nuclear family ever be brought back into alignment with concrete realities of the world we live in? Is there any hope for modern people to regain the sense of place without which “home” becomes a mere abstraction?

Marshmallow Test vs Candle Test

I just saw this video about the marshmallow test.

The first thing I noticed was that the emphasis was on the belief we should teach our kids more self-control because it leads a to a more focused mindset and so increases the probability of traditional success. My immediate response was that psychological research shows that people are born with such traits and there is a limit to how much you can cause your child to change. It’s good to teach kids self-control, but I don’t think it’s good to force the ideal of “success” on young children. Kids should to an extent be allowed to be kids and allowed to be their natural selves.

I’d heard of the marshmallow test before, but I decided to post about it because it connects to another video I recently saw (and posted about: Rise of the Creative Class & Second Axial Age).

In the second video, another study shows an interesting contrast to the Marshmallow test. The more that the self-controlled, success-focused mindset is increased the more that innovative thinking decreases. Traditional schooling has focused on self-control, but as I described in my other post innovative is gaining a higher priority in our society. If you want to know who will be the geniuses, I’d bet on the kid who didn’t follow the rules in the marshmallow test and instead did something unexpected.