| Expertise versus opinions, in obesity and global warming
By PAUL C. CAMPOS
Scripps Howard News Service
June 12, 2008
During the last couple of years, whenever I’ve pointed out that claims of an “obesity crisis” are not well supported by evidence, and that many of the supposed solutions for this “crisis” are likely to do more harm than good, I’ll hear from people who tell me that everything I’m saying applies equally well to the subject of global warming.
At first glance there are some striking similarities between the two topics. Unfortunately, I can’t judge whether those similarities are merely superficial, or whether, like the purported “obesity epidemic,” global warming represents a moral panic over a relatively minor or imaginary problem.
The reason I can’t judge that question is that it took me several years to develop genuine expertise about the relationship between weight and health. By contrast, I have no expertise whatsoever in regard to the extremely complex question of the extent to which human activity is causing the planet to get warmer, and what can or should be done about it.
Thus when it comes to climate change, I’m at the mercy of the people our culture sanctions as authority figures on this subject. Given that I’ve concluded (like many other researchers who’ve studied the issue in depth) that the standard line taken by various authority figures regarding weight and health is seriously flawed, this is an uncomfortable position to be in.
Yet it’s also an inevitable one — after all, no one can develop genuine expertise on more than a handful of subjects at best. All of us must rely almost wholly on authority figures for almost everything we believe.
Some general points, however, are applicable to any controversial topic.
First, experts tend to overstate their actual knowledge. The honest answer to a great many questions would be, “that’s an extremely complicated issue, and we really have no idea what the answer is, because our data isn’t good enough, and therefore our theories are still inadequate.”
But that doesn’t make for a very good media sound bite, or allow for the kinds of practical recommendations beloved of government agencies and the like. (Nor, needless to say, is it a good way to get a grant funded).
Second, the concept of “objective science” is a myth. Science is always done by scientists, which is to say by human beings, who are just as prone to various personal prejudices and ideological biases as all the other members of the species.
For example, in regard to climate change, everyone has some pre-disposition, and often a strong one, to a particular view of the subject. Thus for those of an environmentalist bent, human-caused global warming is exactly the sort of thing they expect to happen. Those who put great faith in technology and market forces have just the opposite bias.
Third, what are presented as purely scientific positions are often moral judgments in disguise. For instance, many people who are concerned about “obesity” think that it’s bad to eat a lot of food and to be sedentary, whether or not these things increase health risk.
In other words, supposed medical concerns about fat are often actually moral objections to what those who voice such concerns consider a symptom of sloth and gluttony.
Similarly, much concern about global warming seems to be driven by a sense that a relentlessly consumerist society keeps us from being in a harmonious relationship with the earth.
Does being aware of such things help one tell the difference between a real crisis and a fake one? My opinion is that it may — but I’m no expert on the matter.
Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu
Organic food might be better for the environment but it’s not more nutritious.
Organic foods can be expensive, sometimes costing nearly twice as much as their non-organic counterparts, yet many of us cling to one thought when shelling out the extra dough: Organic foods are better.
Not when it comes to nutrition. Mineral for mineral, vitamin for vitamin and protein for protein, organic foods stack up just the same as non-organic foods. In 2012, researchers at Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System reviewed more than 200 studies comparing nutritional levels in organic and conventional foods, as well as the health of people who ate both types. What they found is that plant and animal foods have the same amount of vitamins, no matter how they’re grown. The only possible exception resides in the dairy section, where organic milk, cheese and yogurt were sometimes reported to have elevated omega-3 levels.
If you continue to cling to your free-range sensibilities, take heart: Organic food does have one overriding benefit. If it’s on the menu, you won’t be as likely to ingest antibiotic-resistant bacteria or pesticides because of the animal-raising and produce-growing methods. In fact, one study detected pesticide levels on about one-third of the non-organic produce tested, as opposed to 7 percent of the organic produce examined. However, even conventional foods rarely exceeded the U.S. government’s allowable level of pesticides .
The point of this blog is to foster sensible, rational debate on things environmental. It seams to me that over the last decade or so the green movement, as it was intended by it founders back in the 1960’s has been progressively high-jacked by the New age earth religions and the west hating anti-capitalists.Who espouse their views disguise as environmentalism. Generally they are anti-science.
What I want to achieve with this blog is to bring in realistic scientifically researched study and solutions to our environmental dilemma.