How do we deal with strange theories?

The Question posed on LinkedIn.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of this study the past couple days, there are a couple things bothering me in the coverage. First, I realize the point of the study was to show that most of the fat being burned is exhaled. However, this is somewhat a simplification and sort of gives the impression that the body is a bomb calorimeter (which is one aspect of many fitness/nutrition articles that bothers me anyway). I guess I would’ve personally addressed that in the explanation had I been the one to write it. Second, and more troubling to me, an unintended consequence of the way that this is covered means that many people are taking this to mean that hyperventilating or taking more oxygen in means that they will exhale more carbon dioxide and therefore lose weight without activity or diet changes. The second point is one I would have never thought to address in writing the article, so it’s made me wonder how far we have to go to address ‘strange unscientific theories’ that will pop up as a consequence of explaining research to those who aren’t as scientifically literate.”

My comment/advice:

Unscientific? Strange? The biochem knowledge seems stable (I learned the same thing in the early ’90’s with regards to carbon dioxide and water). Nothing strange about the metabolic pathways.

The paragraph about hyperventilation said do not do it and in no way advocates it. If the conclusion was to breathe more and pass out causing you to not eat as much, that would have been poor advice and potentially unscientific (passing out vs metabolic rate changes and so forth).

When Experts Get It Wrong

I’ve had a post about bacteriology and mycology in the works for sometime, but as I’ve yet to finish it off here’s a link to a study titled The paradox of human expertise: why experts get it wrong. I generally defer to the experts as they are the experts. Sometimes, the status quo is incorrect and people new to the scene or uneducated in what the current thinking is come up with radical ideas that are later shown to be vidicated. So in honour of those times when those not in the know are actually ahead of the curve, here’s the link: The paradox of human expertise: why experts get it wrong.

One of the true measures of an expert is they will admit when they get things wrong or do not know the answer.

Here’s a local version.

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The ABC’s Catalyst and Dodgy Science

Catalyst, a science digest program on the ABC, for the last three weeks has been running stories on the evils of sugar. I suspect a recent push by some nutritionists is the root cause. Not having the program constantly run stories about climate change is a nice change though – there is far much more science going on in the world than studies into humans increasing the mean global temperature over time.

Here’s a summary:

  • 3 weeks ago – diet and tooth decay
  • 2 weeks ago – how sugar is the new evil
  • 1 week ago – how energy drinks are dangerous

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