I have had a few exchanges with Paul Mason over the past couple of months. Most of the time he has explained concepts well, and I agree with his explanations.
What he gets wrong is the level of confidence that he has that these concepts are true. This is like much in the low-carbohydrate dieting space: plausible hypotheses are frequently passed as scientific fact, while everyone else is held to a much higher standard.
One would think that, given the consternation of the low-carbohydrate diet community at the weakness of evidence for, e.g. the American dietary guidelines, that this very same community would itself be very careful with the evidence. They are not. They have chosen to fight what they think to be fire with their own fire.
My own consternation came to a head recently, when, after seeing Paul tweet about his newly published chapter in Karim Khan and Peter Brukner’s Sports Medicine textbook, I pointed out that even the very first quote of Hippocrates in the book chapter was not something that Hippocrates actually said:
Snarky sure. So I beg forgiveness: snark is how I survive on Twitter, which is a veritable madhouse. Besides, in the Harvard Grant Study, humor was among the healthiest of ways to deal with psychological stress. So that’s my humor.
But, it’s also true: what does a misquote say about the factual soundness of the rest of the chapter? I mean, if your opening quote is contrived, what about the rest?
So Paul went on the offensive, and rightly…
I didn’t think I could give it a take that would result in a productive discussion. So I didn’t want to try. But Paul persisted, and I accepted.
I read the first few pages, and my eyes nearly rolled out of my head: it was exactly what I had expected. One weakly defensible hypothesis after another, presented as scientific fact, which, according to Paul, fools, conspirators, and other actors in bad faith from The Establishment had committed to suppressing through a deadening avalanche of bad science. And then, one criticism of dissenting views after another, presented as definitive. Next, references that provided weak support or used poor methods presented as conclusive. It goes on.
I thought: it will take 200 hours of digging, picking apart the distortions, and correcting them. And who will read it anyway? So I sat on it, planning to write something but procrastinating, mostly despairing of being able to do anything meaningful about this.
Paul decided to go on the offensive, again, here:
And the rest of that thread consists of Paul haranguing me about saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat and trying to pigeonhole me about my “views”. I mostly tried not to engage.
But what I realized is this: if I could do that work and break down Paul’s chapter, and demonstrate why it is a misuse of evidence, and people would actually commit to reading it, it might be worth my time. I wouldn’t be writing for myself. And if I feel confident that I can persuade intelligent people–and I do feel confident–then this could actually be quite a fulfilling exercise.
It would also help me to work out my own thoughts about what constitutes an impartial evaluation of nutrition science.
So I created a reading challenge. Here’s the gist of it. If you are a hardcore carnivore/LCHF type but open-minded, you can sign up for the reading challenge and commit to reading one hour of what I write.
Tit-for-tat with each such commitment, I myself will commit to an hour of research and writing.
So if I get 100 sign-ups, I will commit to researching and writing for 100 hours. And I work at a minimum rate of 10 hours per month, which is sustainable for me. So no concerns about spending tons of time writing for no reason:
Lo-and-behold, I received 90 commitments. So now I am committed to 90 hours. This will be the first post fulfilling that commitment. For those signed up, I will be sending out an email with an update when the first 10 hours are over and each month when the work is complete thereafter. When I have written an hour’s worth of reading content (as measured by an algorithm), people who have already signed up will also be able to sign up a second time.
If you are stumbling across this post from outside of Twitter, take a moment to read the Twitter thread. If you meet the criteria to sign-up and want to commit, please do. The sign-up form is at the end of the thread.
For those who do not meet the criteria but still want to follow this series and receive updates about it, please sign up using the form here.
Now, why the title? This is about Paul Mason and Daniel Freedman’s book chapter, isn’t it? It is. But after looking through the chapter, it is obvious to me that Paul’s book chapter actually represents “current low-carbohydrate thinking”, in general. All of the contentious claims about fiber, saturated fat, red meat, macronutrient intakes, epidemiology, etc.: everything is there.
Thus, I want to use Paul’s chapter to scrutinize “low-carb science” as a whole. But I don’t want to just say the chapter is wrong. I want to go deeper. I want to get to the heart of current methodological controversies within nutrition science itself. And I want to explain why “low-carb science” does it wrong. And I want to do it in the most minute, meticulous detail, point-by-point, error-by-error, explaining painstakingly why they are errors and what a better way might (or might not) be–to a degree nobody has done before.
It’s a big thing to take on. That’s why I asked for a commitment before starting this. Thank you for starting on this journey with me. If I continue to get commitments, I will be continuing this series throughout the entire remainder of my Ph.D. I would be honored and excited to do so.
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