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Errors in Thinking: Not Acknowledging Conflicting Evidence

Posted Aug 18 2010 7:35am

I will start this post by saying that everyone is biased, including myself.  However, I think the more people close themselves off to conflicting evidence, the more biased and less reliable their thinking becomes.  As an antidote to that, I try not to automatically dismiss evidence that doesn't fit my pro-paleo viewpoint.

Let's take the example of Nathan Pritikin.  He advocated an extremely low-fat diet.  Now that high-fat diets are in vogue, many people would dismiss him without a second thought.  However, when he died of cancer there was no sign of heart disease whatsoever.  They even went as far as to publish his autopsy results in the New England Journal of Medicine.  So if high-carb is so terrible and low-carb is great, how did he end up with no heart disease? (Answer: he ate unrefined carbs.)

Another example: EPA and DHA from fish oil are now a hot topic, especially in regards to brain function and mood.  However, I read this interesting paper on the subject a couple months ago that I have yet to see anyone else talk about.  The  paper is "Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states", and reports that vegetarians actually reported significantly less negative emotion than omnivores.  So you have a group of people that consume virtually no EPA or DHA and yet they are not depressed and actually have less negative emotion than average.

In terms of personal experience, I was actually roomates with a couple of vegetarians for a year back in college.  These guys were not emaciated, depressed, or anything else.  If anything, they looked and acted healthier than the average college student.

Also, you have the two studies that I listed in the last post ( here and here ) that show a correlation between low-carb and higher mortality.  I knew before I even published the post that I would get comments saying these studies weren't convincing.  It was a virtual guarantee.  So were the studies not convincing because they didn't fit someone's viewpoint or because they actually weren't good studies?

One comment was that people who eat meat may be unhealthy in other ways.  But of course epidemiological studies try to account for these things.  In the study, they controlled for these unhealthy behaviors - smoking, alcohol, exercise, etc.

Another comment was that epidemiological studies have no value.  Really?  That's what all the Paleo science was originally based on.  Researchers looked at what modern paleo tribes ate and also found a lack of disease.  So all this evidence should be ignored?  So if epidemiological studies show Paleo is healthy, then that's okay, but if they show that low-carb could be unhealthy then they should be ignored.  Yes, that seems logical.

It's much easier to dismiss conflicting evidence that to enlarge a viewpoint.  Some people are taking the easy way out.

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