Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Context is everything....

And when you take something outside of it you can make things seem like whatever you want.

Case in Point: Eric Berger's blog post today on food regulations.

As much as we may hate food regulation, it works. Eric Berger, Chron.Com
Now a new study (see abstract) suggests those efforts have borne fruit. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found that blood levels of trans-fatty acids in white U.S. adults decreased by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009.

“Findings from the CDC study demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts in reducing blood TFAs and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important public health goal,” said Christopher Portier, director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

The study does not provide a causal link, but it does suggest that strong labeling guidelines, public health campaigns and some regulations can limit the consumption of harmful foods
Great, all well and good. We're all for people having full information when it comes to lowering levels of unhealthy substances in their diet, if they so choose.

What Berger didn't mention was why Trans Fats were so prevalent in our diet in the first place. You got it, government food regulation. You see, back in the day it was felt that margarine was inherently healthier than butter and other animal fats, so the government promoted its use. This lead to the rise of the lipid theory which (in a really simple description) laid the blame for most heart related illnesses on fats. Specifically: saturated fats. It turns out now that this wasn't the case, that the "Trans" fats the government then promoted (with strong urging by large food corporations) was actually akin to shooting yourself with a bazooka, from a heart health perspective.

It's not unusual to find this lack of historical context in many of Berger's scientific arguments. He tends to only report on, or pay attention to, theories that line up with his existing beliefs, casting everything else off to the "junk-science" realm.*

The important thing to remember is that humans don't know quite as much about the physical realm as our scientists think they do. We see things happen, but explaining why they happen is currently beyond science. Belief that we know everything is why proponents of post-normal science believe that the "science is settled" on Anthropogenic Global Warming, why "fat" was once removed from all "diet" food in the name of cheap, low-calorie carbohydrates and why the scientific method came with an expiration date.

One last (quick) point: Reporting on science does not make one a science expert, nor does blogging about the same. I'm no expert, but I understand context, and history. A large swath of the "scientific" community seems to be hell-bent on removing consideration of prior events from current observations. That mistake is giving us the "scientific" mess we have today. It's led to greater political influencing, and created some pretty spurious results.

*Junk science, ironically, is a closer description of the methods of most legitimate scientists these days, substituting the observable world for the world of computer models. Garbage in, Garbage out.

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