Missionary Zeal, Tender Toes, and a Modest Proposal

Bumper stickers

America is a nation of missionaries.  Not necessarily in the religious sense, although certainly there are plenty of scrubbed young men in white shirts and ties going around pounding on doors. But there are also many other causes that people are passionately attempting to recruit for. It has become a national trend for just about any conviction or set of values to be an object of religious fervor and persuasion. Just look at all the billboards, bumper stickers and Facebook soapbox updates.

Being a nonreligious person, I’ve always been lectured by Good Christians about how I’m going to hell if I don’t adopt their beliefs.  As a vegetarian, I’ve been lectured by meat devourers about how I’m going to wither away if I don’t get some animal flesh into my system, and just who do I think I am for not liking hamburgers anyway. (You might think that vegetarians are more likely to preach; but if my own experience and observation are any indication, it’s carnivores by a landslide.) As a gunless citizen, I’ve been lectured by gun fanatics about how they have a constitutional right to own guns, and guns make us safer, and I’m being anti-American by questioning either tenet. As an essentially apolitical person who’s only voted twice in my life, I’m lectured by “conservatives” about how if I love my country and want to save it from certain destruction and save us all from certain enslavement, I have to vote Republican. (Democrats also have their missionary element, of course; but it’s not nearly as extreme, as abrasive, as apocalyptic, or as deranged.)

That missionary zeal is often accompanied by a strong identification with the values in question, to the extent that when someone is opposed to those values, the zealot feels that his/ her intelligence or integrity is being impugned. Which is to say, if you reject someone’s religion, politics or whatever, they take it as a personal insult, or react as if you’d raped the Statue Of Liberty. Quite often you don’t even have to criticize; all you have to do is fail to live by someone else’s principles, and that will be interpreted as stepping on someone’s toes.  American ideological fanaticism seems to be connected to the world’s most tender toes.

But this phenomenon is not limited to ideology. It also spills over to personal preferences of any kind, such as taste in music or TV shows. When I was a film critic, it was not unheard of to receive death threats for panning the wrong movies.  And then, God yes, there’s sports.  Spectators have been known to attack and even kill each other over soccer matches or Little League games. In 2011, a baseball fan wearing San Francisco Giants attire to a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was jumped by two men in the parking lot who brutally beat him and left him unconscious – he spent several weeks in a coma and was left permanently disabled. Not to be outdone, some Giants fans got into an altercation with Dodger fans outside a bar near the San Francisco stadium, and one of the latter was fatally stabbed.

Which brings us to the real problem: missionary zeal sometimes morphs into crusader zeal; in which case the zealot is no longer content to convert or assert by persuasion, but resorts to force. On those two or three occasions in the past when I tried sporting bumper stickers myself, I had people throwing eggs and lighted cigars at my vehicle, and honking as they drove past so I’d be certain to observe them presenting their middle digits for inspection.

How did we get to this point? Is it the fast-pace, intensely competitive, angst-ridden contemporary lifestyle aggravated by the threat of terrorism? Is it confusion, alienation, and/ or just plain boredom? Is it an impressionable public whipped into an irrational froth by trash-talking media? Well, perhaps, but there’s certainly nothing new about being patronizing and/or antagonist toward The Others. There was a time when “heretics” could be horrifically tortured and murdered for deviating even one hair’s breadth from official religious dogma.  This kind of savage behavior has been around for a long time. Still, it seems likely that whatever remnants of it linger in modern American culture are either exacerbated by Limbaughism, or else Limbaughism just makes it appear worse than it really is. Or both.

Sorry to break the news, but the world is not holding its breath to hear your beliefs and convictions. Other people have their own, and are none too eager to have them compromised. If we lived in a rational world, people would gather all the information they could before committing to a belief. This is not a rational world. And most people first decide what to believe, then zero in on facts that seem to support the belief, while tuning out those that don’t.

Gun enthusiasts are not interested in hearing that guns mostly just create the illusion of safety — or that the so-called “constitutional right” to be armed is founded not on what the Second Amendment actually says, but on a highly subjective speculation about what the framers were thinking when they wrote it. “Pro-life” activists don’t want to hear that banning abortion is ineffective and probably even counterproductive. Climate science deniers and anti-vaxxers aren’t interested in scientific or medical research (except the “research” pushed by crackpots and quacks). Fox “News” devotees don’t want to hear that they’re being played like a cheap fiddle at a barn dance.

If and when people decide it’s time to reevaluate their convictions, they’ll do so without being prompted. In the meantime, there is nothing to be gained by telling them what idiots they are for not seeing eye to eye with you. Proselytizing is pointless unless the recipients are ready to make a change, and you just happen to be offering the change they’re looking for. (Actual missionaries tend to target people who are so desperate they’re willing to try just about anything.)

Which is why this blog is addressed to an audience of fellow skeptics, iconoclasts and freethinkers rather than an audience of die-hard ideologues or even the general public. My purpose is just to present information and ideas for people who might be interested. I have little interest in trying to change anyone’s mind about anything — I know how futile the attempt is. I have no cause to promote except uncovering the truth.

But surely it won’t be a contradiction of that directive to make a modest proposal with regard to both preachiness and thin-skinned toes: just lay off already, will ya? Why do you feel you have to let people know if you are offended by whatever they say about your beliefs and preferences? Why do you have to feel offended at all? How exactly do their words have any impact on you? Either they’re right, in which case you should reflect rather than react; or they’re wrong, in which case they’re exposing their own ignorance rather than any flaw of yours; or they’re neither right nor wrong, in which case you’re just two people agreeing to disagree, which is one thing that made America great.

And why would you feel that the rest of the world is entitled to your opinion? Perhaps you should consider that your own life is your best PR. In other words, if your values and convictions are really as great as you think they are, it will show; people can’t help noticing, so you don’t have to bring it to their attention.

Whatever your cause may be, you’re not helping it any by smearing it in people’s faces. Or by throwing a hissy fit when someone fails to go along with it.


  1. Have a Glenelg, West Coast, Scottish, British, Naturalized American, pat on the back! Keep up the good work. Tom.

  2. POP,

    I appreciate that if there is any theme or purpose to this website, it’s in edifying readers to be aware of some of the method used by those whose glorious work is dedicated to telling us what to think. I also know that, as a regular commenter here and on other sites, I have frequently entertained an inflated opinion about the importance of my own comments, and like so many who comment on Internet blogs, I am often made sadly aware that whatever I say, not matter how it is backed up by facts, or how much common sense I feel it contains, its still very hard to convince anyone of ANYTHING they don’t want to consider. but I do think that when I endeavor to make pertinent points, I need to grant a place of honor to the idea that some of my points, and some of what I say, might actually result in changing a mind or two.

    During the 2008 Senatorial contest between Al Franken of Minnesota and his incumbent opponent Norm Coleman, some of the most incredibly untrue and outrageously brazen comments that I have ever heard, were used by Coleman to convince anyone who might be inclined to distrust Franken, to be even more sure of his infamy downright criminality? Franken was demeaned and lied about in on one television ad after another. Viewers were treated to rapidly flashed newspaper clippings saying “Franken Hates women,” or worse. And many other outrageous assassinations on his character were presented in a breathtakingly vile and insidious manner. One ad featured a video image of Franken apparently shouting menacingly and gesturing wildly in ways that might have made Hitler proud, as a narrator’s voice asked, “Is Franken really the man you want to represent Minnesota?” etc. Luckily however, once the audio portion of that
    video became known, it was synchronized with Frankens actions, and showed that he was really only satirising the ultra competitive attitude of Senator Paul Wellstone’s father as he literally ran alongside his son during track and field events—loudly urging him ever onward. As it turned out, this expose happened just in time, since Franken only won after months and months of recounts, and eventually by only about 200 votes.

    The significance of this story lies in the fact that many alarmed citizens who witnessed the outrageous accusations made against Franken, wrote nearly hysterical letters to local opinion pages, imploring other Minnesotans not to vote for Franken, since he, “would make rape and incest legal,” and transform Minnesota into a “new Sodom and Gomorrah”! So obviously someone was believing all of the lies they had read and seen. And had the evidence exposing Colman’s treachery not been publicly introduced in time, its very probable that franken would never have won the election.

    So yes, very seldom does anything one has to say, really alter the beliefs or mindset of another, but if none of us ever tried to offer other viewpoints, or felt no need to expose political deceptions that are fooling the public, some voters woud have been willing to believe all of the lies told about Franken–or any other politician. So, to me opinions are important–at least to the extent of which how factually they might be developed, and, whether they might have a persuasive effect on some of those who have been deceived–even if such people are really very small in numbers!

    During close elections swing voting holdouts can send anyone to Washington based on the most vile lies and deception one can imagine. So even if a handful of these voters becomes aware of the attempts to convince them by using virtually any false persuasion in the book, its well worth it to make sure they know what is really going on. i.e. Sure is true that providing illustrations of strawman arguments, and exposing cherry picking for what it is, may never bring about even minimally effective changes in the minds of others, but, the world would be an even sadder place if we all throw up our hands and say, “I’ll never change anyone.” The old adage about all that evil needs in order to thrive, is for good people to do nothing, is very true, and very sorely needed. it should always continue to be recognized for the truthful advice it represents. And yes, I may require being convinced of actual facts myself—at least in certain cases, but I see nothing wrong with wanting to convince others, and once in a blue moon, even succeeding in doing so!

    • Peter W. Johnson, I think this will be the last post I will make on P.O.P. website since as you know, the topics we talk about repeat itself & other than you or possibly P.O.P., we discuss the same things. I have been as you know to Duluth MN in Fall 2008. I’ll still visit this site to read what P.O.P. says, but I don’t think I will comment anymore here because almost all my posts are copy/paste or copy&paste as I can’t think of anything else. P.O.P. here wrote of people who push their views but as known, people believe they are right. Yes, some people change their views but most people’s views stay mostly the same with some modifications after a certain age.

      I hope you Peter W. Johnson can give your thoughts. But for my final post on Propaganda Professor, I hope that you can give your views on animal welfare. While I’m a vegetarian & while I support animal welfare, I support hunting for food as long as the animal be it deer, duck or quail is quickly killed. If every1 were vegetarian, then hunting would mostly disappear. As long as people eat meat, animals will be killed for food be it farm animals or hunting. While if not mistaken there are fewer people hunting than they did in 1950s, hunting is not disappearing anytime soon because as long as people eat meat, animals will be killed on farms or in some cases hunted for food. That’s why as long as people eat meat, the animal must be swiftly killed whether it’s on the farm or hunted. I would rather see a hunter quickly shoot and kill a quail, duck, deer or rabbit and eat their kill vs. a python killing a rabbit. Yes, the python is doing what is nature, but nature can be cruel.

      I don’t believe people should be allowed to keep a monitor lizard or a python as a pet because those animals are not like a dog or a cat. As known, what has happened is that people have released monitor lizards and pythons into the Everglades when they got too big and these 2 have killed endangered species as the adult pythons and monitor lizards have almost no predators except for the American alligator.

      I support hunting the pythons and monitor lizards which are in the Everglades to protect the endangered species. I know that the U.S Humane Society opposes hunting the pythons and monitor lizards in the Everglades but this is what is needed to protect endangered species. Hunt the pythons & monitor lizards or put them in zoos or better yet, their natural environments they came from.

      Though I do not listen to country music, singer Miranda Leigh Lambert in addition to the good work she does to protect dogs with Pedigree dog food also hunts & fishes for food. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that it is consistent to support animal welfare & @ the same time have no problem with food hunting as long as the animal is humanely and swiftly killed. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that there are people who support animal welfare who have no problem with food hunting. I have a friend who has hunted deer, ducks & muskrat and she told me that she did this for food. She has same views as country singer Miranda Leigh Lambert has on dogs and she has done humane work with dogs. Another eg. would be radio host Rush Limbaugh (Rush Hudson Limbaugh) who did announcements for U.S. Humane Society in 2009. Though I don’t know if Rush hunts, he supports people’s right to hunt for food. Rush in 2009 did announcements for U.S. Humane Society where he speaks against dog fighting, animal abuse & he talked of his cat & how he loved his cat and so on. Should the U.S. Humane Society have not used Rush? Should Pedigree Dog Food & U.S. Humane Society take announcements from people on animal topics like country singer Miranda (Miranda Leigh Lambert) and Rush because 1 has hunted?

      • Abner,

        As far as being a vegetarian, I personally would find it very hard to give up eating meat. However there are many sources of protein besides those that come from the flesh of animals. So, vegetarians I suppose, are obviously more compassionate about animals than are meat eaters, and they are justified in considering their diets as being very healthy. If their chosen diet has been adopted because they oppose the cruel way that animals are slaughtered for meat, it just makes sense that depending on non-animal sources might be considered to be a somewhat more spiritual attitude, and, could result in providing a greater amount of food to an ever increasing population, and, will foster more kindness towards animals. Also, I AM surprised to learn that, as the POP said, most of the flack concerning vegetarians comes from meat eaters who criticize them–I would have guessed just the opposite is true. But as far as the topic of this post goes, I have nothing more to say about the tangent you just took the conversation on.

      • While I have no intention of promoting vegetarianism or any other “ism” in these pages, I AM planning a series of articles on the myths about meat. By the way, Peter, if you ever do decide to try vegetarianism, you probably won’t find it as difficult to give up meat as you expect.

      • Perhaps not, I know many veggies, nuts and fruits can be prepared in tasty ways, yet my life long love of meat would probably not die without a fight. But of course that has nothing to do with the virtues or faults of a vegetarian diet, and very little to do with the overall theme of this most recent post of yours.

  3. It will be interesting to read your articles on meat myths. First, because recent studies have contradicted older studies about how unhealthy animals products are. Second, because the diseases linked to meat consumption, notably heart disease and cancer, are largely modern diseases that correspond to the industrialization of food growth and processing. Third, because many vegetarians believe myths of their own devising that are not supported by medical, nutritional, scientific, or historical/anthropological facts. For example:


    • I’ve read them. A broad selection, not just cherry-picked. Plus a great deal of other material. Not to mention 40 years of experience. And I don’t expect to be making any claims.

      • This is science, not religion or philosophy. I have a Masters in Biochemistry and I worked for 15 years as a biomedical researcher. This is MY area of expertise.

        1. Yes, the link presents a broad selection of articles, but that’s because it deals with a broad selection of topics. Also, this is actually a good thing in science, because a conclusion is strengthened by a group of studies that deal with a variety of subjects that nonetheless come to the same conclusion.

        2. Stating the conclusion of a study and citing the reference so others can read the paper for themselves is not cherry picking; it’s standard scientific procedure. Scientists do it all the time, especially if the study being cited supports the conclusion of their own study, or serves as additional reading for a reference article.

        Besides which, it is both unscientific and intellectually dishonest to ignore or repudiate a study just because it presents a conclusion you disagree with, without explaining why you feel the study is flawed. For example, you may not like the fact that two meta-analyses involving 1.5 million subjects demonstrate that there is no correlation between red meat and heart disease or cancer (while establishing a clear correlation between these diseases and processed meats), but you have to take it seriously.

        3. “40 years of experience” cuts no ice in science; that’s just anecdotal evidence. That’s no different from someone saying they’ve healed by prayer for 40 years, or they’ve talked with dead people for 40 years, or they’ve predicted people’s future lives through astrology for 40 years. Without scientific evidence to back it up, it’s worthless. Cite me the studies you’ve done, the meta-analyses you’ve performed, the clinical trials you’ve supervised, and then your “experience” will be worth something.

        4. You’ve already made a claim, when you stated that the conclusion based on scientific research that meat is not just important for good health but also essential is a myth.

        Be very careful here; just because you criticize other missionary zealots for their unscientific and irrational arguments doesn’t mean you will be given the benefit of the doubt or a free pass when you make the same kind of arguments in favor of your own cause.

      • I should also point out, with regard to your “[p]lus a great deal of other material” that, while there are links to other nutritional information webpages, all of the numbered links are to actual scientific journal articles except one, and even that exception goes to an information page setup by the National Cancer Institute.

        It’s … disconcerting to see you try to poison the well by rhetorically discrediting these journal papers as propaganda rather than discuss them in an objective, rational fashion.

      • I am not “rhetorically discrediting” anything, as you are well aware. I’m doing what I’ve always done — studying material and finding its merits as well as its flaws. The links you provided, though they contain some half-truths, also contain some solid facts, and I’ll give due credit for that. They also, by the way, despite their pro-meat bias and your simplistic interpretation, implicitly acknowledge that meat is NOT essential in a healthy diet. Please be patient for my full discussion.

      • There is no claim — only a statement of fact. And I will address the other points in due course, including why 40 years of experience is indeed significant. Yes, you are a scientist and I am not. What I am, however, is extremely skilled and experienced in spotting inconsistency (both internal and external) and nonsense — even when they appear in scientific papers. By the way, your analogy of communicating with the dead, etc. is a false equivalence — which as it happens is the topic of a post I’m currently working on.

        I find it hard to believe that an actual scientist would equate “I’ve lived a healthy life without eating meat for 40 years” with “I’ve performed faith healing for 40 years”. The latter case is a claim that engaging in a particular activity proves its validity. I made no such assertion about vegetarianism. I just pointed out that since I have not eaten meat for years, then clearly eating meat is not absolutely required to live a long healthy life. (Unless you have some evidence that either I’m not really alive, or someone’s been feeding me meat for years without my knowledge.) It only takes one exception to discredit an absolutism (as I’ll be discussing in a future post). It’s neither science nor philosophy. It’s very fundamental logic.

  4. Although I originally thought the POPs mention of the disagreements between vegetarians vs Meat eaters, was just one insignificant example of the zealous way we Americans love to debate, and how we constantly need to feel we are right, the two of you are certainly proving that what we eat or don’t eat, has proven to be one among a very large number of impassioned controversies.

    I respect Biochemborg’s knowledge of Chemistry and Biology, and also the POP’s ability to do research, but If I may just add one pertinent observation—it seems to me that, especially in the fields of nutrition and health, scientists are constantly revising and re-evaluating their findings with practically each new study, and with every new bit of additional knowledge.

    As a heart patient I was warned not to eat fatty foods or those high in cholesterol, since these can contribute to clogging one’s arteries very easily. And because it does seem that most of us with heart ailments and high cholesterol have had a love affair with red meat–I have decided to stick to that original advice.

    If I’m not mistaken there are many different kinds of diets in different parts of the world that consist of far less red meat than does ours in America, and it seems that the countries and cultures that follow them, suffer from much less heart disease. Of course, as with anything else scientists study, there are a great number of variables that need to be considered, examined, and eliminated, before verifiable knowledge can be gained, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Biochemborg is aware of some very valid research that the rest of us are not.

    Since developing my heart disease, I have cut down a great deal on the amount of red meat I consume, and still make good use of my George Forman Grill. However, although I hear many changing bits of new information about heart health being discovered constantly, it just makes sense that, because those who have heart attacks are often notorious meat eaters and often have arteries that are almost completely blocked, it makes sense that too much read meat is not conducive to maintaining good health–especially for heart patients! But as I said, studies done in the fields of nutrition and health seem quite fickle and are being revised constantly, so as a friend of mine joked—perhaps we will diligently avoid all of the things nutritionists and heart Doctors tell us to avoid, and then, right before we die, we will hear that everything we thought was true about diet, is in fact, completely false. I have a great deal of respect for those who study the effects that certain diets have, but it seems those who do such studies have not yet come up with any single set of facts that are considered as being solid or infallible.

    Another area of research that seems to continually deliver insufficient or false promises, is that of cancer research. Over the decades I have heard one promising discovery and/or study after another,which have initially given researchers hope that they have finally developed a cure for cancer—only to find that clinical trials which may have worked on animals, just aren’t so promising when they are tested on human beings. In fact, we currently know that cancer is such a complicated illness composed of innumerable factors, that it may take many decades to find any reliable way to consistently produce remissions. Likewise the study and research done on red meat, heart disease, and how we treat heart disease, remains entirely fluid and changing with each newly discovered fact. But, because my father died at the age of 67 from a heart attack, I am going to keep playing it safe by reducing the red meat in my diet, while not become overly harsh or gung ho, on myself. That’s because one other important factor in human health, involves one’s personal feelings of calm, self worth and the ability to think positively about everyday life. I’ve come to believe that any diet or eating habits that make us FEEL healthy probably ARE healthy, at least to the extent that they relieve any psychological negativity that comes from struggling to develop spartan habits, while feeling that life is suddenly a pleasureless proposition—something commonly felt by those of us who are told, in effect, to give up eating everything we have ever liked in order to remain alive.

  5. “What I am, however, is extremely skilled and experienced in spotting inconsistency (both internal and external) and nonsense — even when they appear in scientific papers. By the way, your analogy of communicating with the dead, etc. is a false equivalence….”

    You really don’t know what you’re talking about. I told you, this is science, not religion or philosophy. The skill set you use to critique the latter has no efficacy when evaluating the former. Science is not logical; it’s methodological. You need an entirely different set of skills to determine if a study is scientifically accurate. Science works as well as it does because scientists follow a specific method that operates by certain conventions. These conventions can seem illogical and irrational to people who are not familiar with the method, but all scientists must follow them if they want their results to be accepted as true.

    [I should add before words are put into my mouth, that I am NOT saying only scientists can properly evaluate scientific evidence. I AM saying that anyone who isn’t familiar with how the scientific method works is unqualified to do so. You can become qualified, and without becoming a scientist (though that’s the best way), but until you do it is rather arrogant to claim that you can tell when science engages in nonsense when you have no idea what truly qualifies as scientific nonsense. Unless by nonsense you mean what you choose not to believe is true.]

    One of these conventions is the complete and total rejection of anecdotal evidence. This is because it is based solely on personal experience, not experimental evidence. It doesn’t matter how convinced you are that your claim is true; without evidence that science can study and evaluate, all it is is your personal belief, and science doesn’t accept belief as evidence.

    As such, it makes no difference what is being discussed. You could have said:

    “I know that aspirin lowers the risk of heart attacks because I’ve been taking it 40 years and I’ve never had a heart attack.”

    and as a scientist I would still respond with:

    “So what? We accept that aspirin lowers the risk of heart attacks because experimental and clinical data demonstrates this, not because you believe it.”

    The same would be true if you claim being a 40-year vegetarian makes you healthier than a meat eater. But in this case the available scientific evidence does not unambiguously support your claim even in general, and many times contradicts it.

    So when I said your claim of 40 years of experience was anecdotal evidence, I wasn’t committing a false equivalence, because I wasn’t making an analogy to similar claims made by pseudoscientific cranks. Your claim was a perfect example of anecdotal evidence because it was based on belief derived from personal experience instead of experimental evidence, and I gave additional examples that I figured you would be familiar with.

    Another problem with anecdotal evidence is the lack of experimental control. Let’s pretend you claim that being a vegetarian makes you healthier than a meat eater based on the past 40 years of your life. The problem is, how would you know it was due to not eating meat, and not instead due wholly or in part to regular exercise, taking supplements, genetics, etc? In other words, how could you be sure that just one aspect of your lifestyle/physicality was responsible for your good health? Science would test each of these aspects separately, to determine which, if any, had an effect on your health and to what degree. Personal experience rarely works that way.

    As such [still being hypothetical here], you really could not honestly say your good health came from not eating meat; you could not even be sure that not eating meat might have harmed you except for the supplements you took and your exercise to strength your body.

    By the way, I will concede that eating meat is no longer practically essential in our technologically advanced Western civilization thanks to nutritional supplements. But it is still theoretically essential, if for no better reason than without these supplements people who do not eat animals products would die of cobalamin deficiency. This happens in Third World countries where supplements either do not exist or are too expensive, and the local people are unable to eat meat or dairy products. While the number of nutrients available only from animal products is very limited, people who do not eat animal products and have no access to supplements tend to sicken and die.

    I think that qualifies as essential.

    • Wow. I suppose I should thank you for providing such a sterling example of my observation that people can react with hostility when their ideological toes are stepped on. But come on. You’re doing your best to start an argument — even presuming, for one thing, that I have no familiarity with the scientific method, or that I put my faith in “anecdotal evidence”. But if that’s not bad enough, you’re trying to start an argument about a series of articles that you haven’t even read — and indeed that haven’t even been written yet. As a scientist, are you really unable to see how irrational such a reaction is? (Particularly when you have just conceded that it doesn’t take a scientist to critique a scientific study, and that the stated overriding thesis of my projected discussion is correct. What gives with you, anyway?) How scientific is it to tell someone “you don’t know what you’re talking about” when you haven’t even heard what they have to say? And really — you “think that qualifies as essential”? Even if I gave you a pass on your bait-and-switch in substituting “animal products” for meat, I don’t give opinion preference over fact. Scientists aren’t supposed to, either. And anyone who’s read this blog as long as you have should know that sometimes it is indeed possible to find flaws in scientific papers without scientific training. The Kleck “study”, as I’ve pointed out, purports to show how often defensive gun use occurs, when in fact it shows how often gun owners claim it occurs. That’s a fatal flaw that even a fifth-grader should be able to spot.

  6. POP,

    I just want to add that in my previous post, I asserted many feelings that were based entirely on anecdotal evidence, however, I fully accept that in order to obtain reliable knowledge scientists must conduct research that takes into account the many variable that a particular proposition involves.

    Its not enough to just say, that because so many people die with clogged arteries, that red meat and the cholesterol and saturated fats it contains, undoubtedly
    were entirely responsible for the clogging. There are many other factors which Biochemborg mentioned, such as whether one takes supplements, gets enough exercise, or has a genetic history including heart disease among relatives. To me attempting to eliminate all of these unknowns is completely required in order to do valid research and, is a completely logical precautions to take when following the guidelines of the scientific method.

    That being said, I included anecdotal knowledge as part of my comment because it does seem that no matter how carefully various studies are done, in the realm of health and diet, the conclusions they reach are often revised and refined, over and over again. i.e. In cases where one uses supplements, conventional wisdom would of course tend to affirm the simple connection between vitamins and good health, since we know how different vitamins benefit us, and what biological processes they involve. But even so, I have recently heard of a study which has completely disputed the role of vitamins in facilitating health. Those who did the study apparently found little or no correlation at all between their use, and the state of one’s health—(sorry I can’t refer you as to where you can find this study), but I did hear about it, and it naturally made an impression on me. So, considering how often our knowledge about what is healthy changes, It seems then, that one just has to wonder why so many different scientific studies have reach so many different conclusions over the years–should we assume there have been certain variables left out of their research, or that, some studies are just not done as well as others?

    When it comes to my own heart disease, and the fact that I lost my father, and two uncles on his side of the family to heart disease, I have now decided that sometimes eating things that make one feel healthy may in fact, make one healthy. This is a definite possibility since struggling to stick to a strict dietary regimen may easily increase the psychosocial stress and anxiety in anyone’s life. And, I have noticed that if I buy and prepare the processed kinds of foods from the central aisles of my supermarket, many of those foods actually do not make me feel as healthy as fresh produce does. So, I know I should avoid bargain bags containing frozen meat full of salt and other additives. as well as frequent use of foods that can be made very quickly. I also think that occasional forays into the realm of self gratification may include eating foods that, although generally considered unhealthy, can actually make me feel healthy.

    Or course the scientific method enables us to learn many different things, but often the things discovered about nutrition and health, are so changeable and contingent upon so many different factors, that I feel justified in using my own intuition a bit, in order to actually FEEL healthy–even if I don’t always follow any particular diet religiously. However, I did not mean to imply that scientific research is always wrong, or that one’s own intuition is always right.

  7. When saying,
    “struggling to stick to a strict dietary regimen may easily increase the (psychosocial) stress and anxiety in anyone’s life.”

    I should instead have used the term (psychological), rather than psychosocial stress.

  8. Another problem with anecdotal evidence is the capacity for self-deception. This goes hand-in-hand with the problem of lack of experimental control. Since you can’t know which of the many factors involved in your lifestyle is/are the true cause of your good health, or even what might be hurting you without your knowledge, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that the one factor you consciously control is the true cause of your condition, based on your personal experience, especially considering the placebo effect. Not only are you likely to continue a factor that has little or no effect, you are also likely to ignore detrimental effects, especially if they are being masked by other factors.

    Though this is the basis for nearly all forms of self-deception, including most forms of pseudoscience, a case in point is a fad diet that was popular a few decades ago that advocated eating only fruit. The claim was that fruits contained enzymes that burned fat. The people who tried it did lose weight and as a result felt better and healthier, so according to their personal experience it really worked.

    Unfortunately, they ignored medical science which told them there was no evidence that fruit enzymes had such a property, and that they lost weight because they starved themselves. Those who followed the diet short-term, just to lose some excess weight, suffered no serious ill effects, and their bodies recovered from temporary damage when they went back to a proper diet, which reinforced the self-deception. However, those who followed it long-term ended up with deficiencies, even malnutrition, leading to serious, even permanent problems, and in some cases death. That was enough to turn off the general public, but self-deluded advocates still touted the benefits of the diet, and even today there are still people who advocate a diet of mostly or entirely fruits.

    Though there are meat-eating advocates who have deluded themselves into believing that meat is not just essential but mandatory, vegetarians are more likely to fall into this trap for the same reason as the adherents of that fruit diet. Someone who stops eating meat but makes no other change in his diet will lose weight and thereby feel healthier, and so can convince himself that vegetarianism is healthier based on his personal experience.

    However, his weight-loss is due to a reduction in his caloric intake and his body scavenging the protein it needs from his muscles. Exercise can compensate in the short-term, but the increased demand in energy will accelerate muscle degradation unless compensated by an increased intake in fat or carbohydrates. The better course is to increase the intake of proteins, but the primary vegetable sources of proteins — rice, legumes, and soybeans — also lead to an increase in carbohydrate intake. (Meat, on the other hand, has a very low carb content, and lean meat has a fat content similar to that of vegetable oils in a vegetarian diet while still providing essential saturated fatty acids.) If more carbs are eaten than the body can use, the excess is converted to fat, thereby defeating the purpose of not eating meat in the first place. That requires additional exercise to counter the weight gain, which demands a higher caloric intake, which demands more exercise, etc. Eventually a balance can be reached between caloric intake and energy requirements, but that lifestyle must be maintained indefinitely to prevent severe weight gain or loss.

    This is not to say that meat-eating does not require exercise (though eating meat makes it easier to establish and maintain a balance than eating carb-rich beans), but couch potatoes hoping that becoming vegetarians will lead to effortless weight loss will either be disappointed or hurt themselves as their bodies consume their own muscles. This is one reason why a high-protein low-carb diet can be so effective: it protects against muscle degradation while providing a source of energy that does not readily become stored fat (proteins are more likely to be turned into carbs for immediate use), especially if coupled with exercise. Since meat is the best high-protein low-carb food available, it makes sense that such diets emphasize meat consumption.

    Since humans evolved as omnivores while going through periods of predominantly vegetable, fruit, and meat consumption, the best lifestyle is a balanced diet of moderate lean meat and carbohydrate consumption coupled with copious helpings of vegetables and fruits, while limiting or avoiding processed meats, exceptionally fatty foods, and refined sugars. Extremes of any kind, even just the elimination of meat, leads to an imbalance that must be compensated for in ways that can make the situation worse. Even just substituting eggs and dairy products is better than not eating any animals products at all.

    This is not pro-meat propaganda; it’s plain common sense based on medical and scientific knowledge.

    As a final note, it is worth pointing out that, while the ability of science to correct and refine its knowledge over time is one of its major strengths, it ironically also plays into the hands of pseudoscience. People perceive science as having no consensus on proper nutrition, so when a pseudoscience such as that fruit diet or veganism comes along and says, “We have all the answers”, people are naturally attracted to them, especially when presented with anecdotal evidence from people who swear by the pseudoscience. And then their own personal experience reinforces what they’ve heard and deludes them. The problem with pseudoscience is that it never admits to a mistake and changes its knowledge. This is why fanatical vegetarians ignore legitimate science or call it nonsense when it contradicts their claims, even if their outdated beliefs actually hurt people as a result.

  9. Biochemborg,

    I know your last comment was directed to the POP, but I would like to add that I recognize the fact that many fad diets involve pseudoscience and self deceptions. And, It is usually much easier to take weight off in the short term, than to keep it off for the long term. Perhaps much of this problem has to do with many of the factors you mentioned?

    However, fad diets and easy gimmicky ones, aside, it does seem that objective knowledge gathered by science does change a great deal over time, and research seems to be an ever changing and evolving thing. I certainly recognize that self deception plays a big role, but psychological factors are none-the-less important.

    At first the typical heart patient is faced with the unpleasant possibility that he must give up so many things he once loved, that adjusting can easily involve anxiety and depression, and in turn, these states of mind may influence the way one’s body functions. So to me it makes sense that I should wisely stick to certain guidelines without becoming completely regimented concerning my eating habits. Although the mind body connection is definity a large part of health, and we still don’t understand large parts of it, it does seem that part of one’s regimin needs to include some feel good foods in order to maintain both mental and physical health. This may not be entirely understood by science, but I believe many scientists do accept it as a real and definite factor that often makes a great deal of difference. Of course the key is always moderation, and being able to make prudent changes without excess despair hindering one’s success.

    Still, Isn’t it true that nutritional science contains so many variables that it is often in need of revision and repair, despite the fact that at certain times different facts have been granted much more significance?

    Perhaps the accumulation of knowledge in the nutritional field is more consistent than I realize, since I certainly do NOT have the background in biochemistry that you do. But I would like to add one observation which might possibly reveal a significant factor concerning meat eaters; I know that certain Yogis do not eat meat, but not because of any scientific enlightenment, rather from becoming sensitive to the effects of adrenalin which is released into the systems of animals who experience fear when they die. Thus a Yogi’s physical health is directly in line with his mental condition and the mind body connection seems much more important to those who are attracted to disciplines like Yoga. Some Yogis will only eat fallen fruit, since severing the stems of fruits like apples to remove them from trees involves a small degree of violence. Of course I am not a Yogi nor do I practice Yoga, but I do think this is one bit of knowledge that indicates how much we have yet to learn about our physical and mental health, and how they compliment or deter one another. No doubt all the science you mentioned is rooted in facts, but I still think we should never assume that every bit of knowledge about food and health has been uncovered, or that all the factors in health have already been examined and the knowledge from them is already carved and set in stone–I am not saying you feel this way, just that science also needs humility in regards to the uncertain nature of many of its discoveries.

  10. Pardon me. Somehow I left two identical posts, after thinking that the first one did not post. I noticed that the personal information below seemed to be missing after the first one did not appear, but after including it, I discovered I had actually left these two identical posts. POP, you are perfectly welcome to remove one of them.

  11. Twice now it has been suggested that since science has yet to establish a definitive consensus on nutritional health, that permits people to substitute their own opinions for scientific information. The first time, I pointed out that the tendency of science to revise and correct itself is a strength, even though pseudoscience claims otherwise.

    This second time around I wish to point out two things. First, a definitive consensus DOES exist: well-balanced meals of moderate portions. Any “uncertainty” is in the details: meat-eating vs. vegetarianism, saturated vs. unsaturated fats, carbs vs. proteins, etc. Yet none of these change the importance of the consensus itself, just the definition of “well-balanced”, and even then, the shifts are minor, since the spirit of well-balanced implies a need for all forms of food. Only extremists insist upon all one form or another.

    Second, the problem is not with the science itself, but the reporting of the science. In other words, people are confused not because the science contradicts itself, but because the media oversimplifies the results and uses sensationalist headlines to grab their attention. For example, a study correlates increased consumption of saturated fats with increased mortality from heart disease; the media screams, “Butter and Lard Will Kill You!”, and reports that “scientists have shown that eating too much saturated fat increases your risk of death from a heart attack”. Then, another study correlates increased consumption of EPA and DHA (two saturated fatty acids) with decreased mortality from heart disease; the media screams, “Fish Oils Save Lives!”, and reports that “scientists have shown that, contrary to earlier results, saturated fats such as those in fish oils can lower the risk of getting a heart attack”.

    Of course, neither study established an actual causal link, just a correlation. Also, the later study did not contradict or disprove the previous study, it just refined it. However, the media distorts the true results into causative links, assumes the later study eliminates the former study, and then sensationalizes the whole thing to attract readers.

    Thus, any confusion on the part of the public is due entirely to the media representation, whereas reading the actual science eliminates the confusion.

    • I do know that what constitutes scientific consensus is not always accurately portrayed by the media due to its tendency to create sensationalistic headlines that will capture the attentions of readers. This also goes for the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists.

      Thanks for making me aware of just how often these types of distortions and misinformation occur. The problem is that, after such sensationalistic attention grabbing statements are issued, I seldom hear scientists make any prompt statements to correct the confusion. Again, this could be because falsehoods create many more customers, then does highly accurate science.

      My own specific point about the psychological trauma that myself and other survivors of any potentially fatal disease can experience, is, I believe, a bit different though.

      I havn’t got any nutritionists of biochemists to back me up, however, I think many psychologists and medical doctors have known for a long time about the roles that anxiety, depression, and stress have on health. Luckily in my case, my heart doctors have been aware of this fact and have never encouraged strict adherence to a diet free of any kind of salt, and saturated fats. Instead, when I guiltily confessed to my previous heart doctor, (now retired), about my continued use of caffeinated sodas, he said something like, (we don’t want you to live in a monastery Pete). This was a big relief because I am not the kind of person who can easily alter, or give up, the many habits and vices I have.

      Of course the knowledge of biology and chemistry probably represents the most critical lifesaving knowledge, and the psychological problems I experienced may be far less significant than the need to change my actual diet—I just wanted to point out that what is good for one person, may not necessarily good for another—especially in cases where diet and exercise are extremely essentials—although some patients like myself, cannot comfortably adapt to them.

      As to the actual large consensus among those who study nutrition and health, who are then frequently ignored because of the Press’s desire to produce dramatic headlines—thanks Biochemborg! I had no idea that the essential knowledge shared among professionals who study the effects of food, nutrition and diet, is shared by so many of them, and to such a great extent. The Press truly makes it seem just the opposite in far too many cases.

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