Category: Pseudoskepticism/ Scientism
An associate of mine, an amateur skeptic with professional zeal, says that without telling me he was acting on my recommendation to look into the Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type books, found that Dr. D'Adamo denies wheat to all four blood types in his recommendations, a little feature I hadn't picked up on. "Therefore, he's just another quack, and can be disregarded." While even if the 4-type denial is true, which I haven't checked out for myself yet, having just had this conversation, I feel a little more sympathy for it, being someone with celiac sprue. My associate, however, won't admit he has psoriasis! He said if I used that word again in talking with him, he would never communicate with me again. I was hoping to edge him toward some empirical improvement with the blood type diet, but that was ended by the hammer-fall of his judgment, at least for the present. -Peter
I'd have your friend check the book again. His calculations are off.
If we look at whole wheat
Total incidence of type A secretors = 34.2%
Total incidence of type AB secretors = 1.7%
Total percentage of the population in which whole wheat is at least 'neutral' is 36%
If we look at spelt wheat
To find the total percentage of the population in which spelt wheat is a least 'neutral' (an avoid only for type O non-secretors; about 8% of the population) is even easier. Spelt has a higher mucopolysaccharide and lower gluten content that whole wheat, which may help modulate its pro-inflammatory proteins a bit, I think.
Subtracting that serotype leaves about 92% of the population (perhaps; there are other possible reasons against) who can use spelt type wheat.
However, these numbers may be optimistic: evidence suggests that our sensitivity to gluten containing foods is on the rise.
I think we will see many possible correlations between the diseases of industrialized society (such as diabetes and obesity) and their current wheat and corn based diets.
I have happened across a book I think will be of interest to you. Have never seen a reference to this on the message board. It's called 'Eat to Live', by Joel Fuhrman M.D. The book is on diet and weight loss but has a 7 page piece - critique of the BTD. At least this guy did a bit of research. -Thanks Bruce.
Maybe you should bring it up on the Forums and see what kind of discussion ensues.
I've don't know Dr. Fuhrman and have not come across his name in any of the research areas of biology and genetics that I study. I'd like to see him stick to his own projects rather than find the time to inveigle his readers with tales and criticisms of his competitors.
There was a wonderful TV program on Isaac Newton the other night. It seemed (at least to me) that every time Newton announced a new discovery --the polychromatic nature of light, the reflecting telescope, Calculus-- this other guy (whose name I forgot) would write a critique simultaneously claiming that Newton was wrong and he that had discovered this earlier anyway. Newton apparently got seriously bent out of shape by these types of shenanigans.
Stephen Jay Gould had an interesting take on this, as part of a response to criticisms of his theory of 'Punctuated Equilibrium' (1):
THE MOST UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL. If none of the foregoing charges can bear scrutiny, strategists of personal denigration still hold an old and conventional tactic in reserve: they can proclaim a despised theory both trivial and devoid of content. This charge is so distasteful to any intellectual that one might wonder why detractors don't try such a tactic more often, and right up front at the outset. But I think we can identify a solution: the "triviality caper" tends to backfire and to hoist a critic with his own petardâ€”for if the idea you hate is so trivial, then why bother to refute it with such intensity? Leave the idea strictly alone and it will surely go away all by itself. Why fulminate against tongue piercing, goldfish swallowing, skateboarding, or any other transient fad with no possible staying power?
Gerhard Uhlenbruck, one of our IfHI speakers, says it differently:
Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.(2)
I have my own aphorism to add:
Negative reviews of popular diet books are too often found inside of other popular diet books.
I'm actually flattered that someone would go to the trouble of writing a seven page refutation of my theory. However, I don't have the time or energy to write a seven page reponse, so this must do.
But finally, I leave you with the words of my Tang Soo Do Sa Bom:
You want to show me something you've read? Great. Get out there on the floor and show me.
(1) Stephen Gould 'The Structure of Evolutionary Thinking' (2002) Belknap, Harvard Unveristy Press.
The AMA seems to be at it again. Despite their near monopoly on health care funding and their protests that they have no interest in combating other healing arts, new legislation being proposed make it amply clear that they are willing to risk possible restraint of trade problems in an attempt to limit the scope of practice of non-MD health care providers such as chiropractors, naturopaths, psychologists, nurses and acupuncturists.
The Health Care Truth and Transparency Act would make it illegal for any licensed health care provider who is not a medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or doctor of dental medicine (DDM) to make any statement or engage in any act that would lead patients or the public to believe that they have the same or equivalent education, skills or training as an MD, DO, DDS, or DDM.
Now, I'll be the first to agree that I've met a few wacky naturopaths and chiropractors in my time. I've also met a few MDs, dentists and osteopaths who were even crazier and more dangerous than even the nuttiest naturopath. I'll even agree that naturopaths don't have the same education as MDs --NDs have more clinical nutrition training, for one, while MDs typically receive more surgical and emergency room training. So what benefit would there be in drawing specific conclusions about a single individual from the particular letters after their name?
On June 27, representatives John Sullivan (R-OK), Charles Bass, (R-NH), Michael Bilirakis, (R-FL), Michael Burgess, (R-TX), Joe Shwarz, MD (R-MI) and Pete Sessions (R-TX) introduced in the House the Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2006, (H.R.5688). This proposal is a direct result of the AMA efforts to limit scopes of practice for health care providers who are not medical doctors. You want to contact your representatives and request that they limit any serious consideration of this misguided legislation.
Truth is a funny thing, as Pontius Pilate once noted. We should be wary when professional and governmental institutions purport to wrap themselves up in it.
Does a word every just get stuck in your head? Today's word is definitely nincompoop.
Interesting word. I like â€˜nincompoopery' as well. Apparently the origin is quite old, but uncertain. It's not used much nowadays; the New York Times used it five times in the last year. In its April 3, 2001 edition, it referred to Americans referred to as "nutritional nincompoops."
Recent BTD sightings in the popular and scientific literature would make it appear that the American consumers are not the only nutritional nincompoops.
This morning I picked up a recent issue of Women's Health magazine, featuring such sound nutritional research as â€˜The Cheetos Diet,' and came across a comparison of the online diet support sites (you know, eDiets, Weight Watchers, etc.)
eDiets came out pretty well; the only down side was its inclusion of the Blood Type Diet, which in the words of Food Scientist Jennifer Anderson "is scientifically unsound."
Wall-papering your house from the mail slot in the front door is 'scientifically unsound'. Putting out a fire with gasoline is 'scientifically unsound.' Scotch-taping bottle rockets to your sneakers and expecting to fly is scientifically unsound. How, pray tell, is factoring blood type into health calculations 'scientifically unsound'?
A common criticism of my work with blood type and diet seeks to brand the BTD theory as a â€˜pseudoscience.' Now, according to most accounts, a pseudoscience is â€˜any body of knowledge, methodology, or practice that is erroneously regarded as scientific, and which fails to meet the criteria met by science generally.'
According to most accepted sources, a pseudoscience can be identified by a combination of certain characteristics. So, let's see how the BTD measures up:
Asserting claims or theories unconnected to previous experimental results.
It is amply demonstrated in the scientific literature that ABO blood type and secretor status possess biological significance outside of the realm of transfusion science. Roughly 1/3 of all published studies on blood type polymorphism measure some sort of physiologic response, typically having to do with digestion, immunity and circulation.
Asserting claims which cannot be verified or falsified (claims that violate falsifiability).
Falsifiability is the notion that if something cannot be made false, it cannot be proven or disproved. For example, the notion of constructing an anti-cancer diet for type A could be said to be logical based on the fact that virtually 90% of all published studies show a higher rate of malignancy in type A over the other types.
To say otherwise (i.e that type O had a higher occurence over type A) would be to falsify this fact.
Using type A again, we could also say that a cardio-protective diet would be more appropriate in type A, since virtually all published studies show a higher rate of heart and artery disease in type A over the other blood types. Again, to say otherwise would be to falsify this fact.
Not only do we know the occurrence of these facts, we have biomedical reasons for their existence; for example, many types of cancers mimic the type A antigen, and with regard to heart disease, type A has higher levels of cholesterol and more arterial inflammation than the other blood types.
Other studies show that type O have more of a type of inflammation made worse by wheat, whereas non-secretors have lower level of intestinal enzymes that help the body assimilate fats and calcium. Every fact behind the Blood Type Diets neatly falls within the framework of being falsifiable.
Asserting claims which contradict experimentally established results.
No aspect of the characterizations or recommendations of the Blood Type Diets contradict established experimental results. In fact, the inherent flexibility of its doctrine help explain information and results which would otherwise appear aberrant, such as the inability of herd type epidemiology to produce cogent answers to the ongoing debates in nutrition, and the simultaneous persistence of multiple heterodoxies (paleodiet, vegan, etc.)
Failing to provide an experimental possibility of reproducible results.
All aspects of the Blood Type Diets are eminently testable. Ongoing research is monitoring at a variety of recognized biomarkers (soluble endothelial factors, breath hydrogen, to name two) and their modulation as a direct result of adopting a specific blood type diet protocol. Unfortunately, one of the more dire consequences of our internet fueled ability to mudsling to a scale unknown previously is that nascent ideas can easily die stillborn under a barrage of ad hominem and ad hoc attacks, inhibiting serious consideration from independent researchers. This can be especially dangerous to subsequent scholarly analysis; though any scientific theory should be able to withstand the scrutiny of honest research, even if its ultimate goal is to disprove its claims.
Failing to submit results to peer review prior to publicizing them.
I have authored a number of peer-reviewed papers that examined the influence of specific dietary patterns on individuals of differing ABO groups. Predictably enough, they attracted little or no attention at the time of publication. It was only when I wrote a book for the general public, did any of my work attract any sort of attention at all.
By claiming a theory predicts something that it has not been shown to predict.
The characterizations of the digestive strengths and weaknesses of the ABO blood groups and secretor types are a matter of public record; any one with the interest and free time can explore the existing research on MEDLINE or any of the citation services. As I have said time and again, I have merely reassembled and reorganized prior, largely disorganized material into a cogent collection of facts, That as I understand it, is the basis of virtually all scientific development. Paradoxically, if my training as a naturopathic physician was a liability with regard to my ability to develop this theory in a conventionally scientific environment, it was a distinct advantage with regard to the development of a vista broad and flexible enough to knit the disparate facts about blood type, diet and physiology together in the first place.
By a lack of progress toward additional evidence of its claims.
I think the emerging sciences of nutrigenomics and metabolomics will for the first time give the Blood Type Diets the type of intellectual and conceptual framework necessary to allow for their proper place in science to be established. Far from inhibiting or lacking progress towards additional evidence, the Blood Type Diets probably need at least another decade to allow for the genomic discoveries to penetrate traditional medical sensibilities.
This last point illustrates what would be a much more resourceful way to depict the Blood Type Diets: As Protoscience.
Protoscience is a term sometimes used to describe a hypothesis which has not yet been tested adequately by the scientific method, but which is otherwise consistent with existing science or which, where inconsistent, offers reasonable account of the inconsistency. In essence, a Protoscience is an area of science which is in its formulative stages. Some authorities substitute â€˜Frontier Science' for Protoscience. I can accept that as well.
In general, pejorative terms like â€˜Pseudoscience' are often employed by skeptics and critics, and may often have ulterior motives behind them, such is the politics of science and health care these days.
However, just as we have pseudoscience, let us not forget that we also have â€˜pseudoskeptics' as well. A pseudoskeptic is an individual who claims to support "reason" and the "scientific worldview", but frequently uses logical fallacies, attempts to silence opponents, and employs various invalid strategies of persuasion. Funny enough, pseudoskepticism is a class of pseudoscience, masquerading as proper skepticism.
Historically, how many protoscientific discoveries (Galileo's Astronomy and Harvey's discovery of the circulation of blood are two that come to mind) would have at the time of their publication been classed as pseudoscience when in fact they were on the very frontiers of discovery?
Pseudoskeptics have often taken their shots at me and my work. Yet I wonder how some of these folks get away with a skeptical stance about something they appear to know so little about? How often is what we call skepticism is just the simple lack of curiosity?
Now, is this a tome in defense of the inalienable right to be protoscientific?
There is a lot of junk out there. Just the other day I received a hostile email from a book reader who chastized me for not 'being honest' about the 'whole secretor thing.' Apparently my lack of honesty in this person's mind centered around my withholding the knowledge that we can change our secretor status with color therapy.
Note: I used quite a bit of material from the Wikipedia for his blog. Paradoxically, Wikipedia features one of the more pseudoskeptic representations on the BTD to be found. But hey, I still love it.
'Low-Fat Diets Flub a Test' proclaims today's main editorial from the always peripatetic New York Times:
"The baffling results came from a $415 million study of almost 49,000 women age 50 to 79 who were tracked for eight years, with repeated exhortations to the low-fat dieters to stick to the regimen. In findings announced this week, the almost 20,000 women on low-fat diets had essentially the same incidence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, heart disease and stroke as the 29,000 women who followed their normal eating patterns. The results clearly surprised the investigators and may sound the death knell for the belief that reducing the percentage of total fat in the diet is important for health."
Among other concerns, restricting fish, nuts, and seeds immediately cuts off any source of Essential Fatty Acids such as Omega-3. Low fat dieters are also more at risk of suicide.
Eat your rabbit food.
Not unexpected. There's huge amounts of money at stake: Grant money, book sales, you name it.
Although it took me the better part of my first two decades in practice to realize it, a truly resourceful approach to nutrition is not very complicated:
It is the foods that you identify as benefical for a specific person and which truly feed him, that make him more healthy. Telling a person what to avoid will sometime make him less sick, but only rarely more healthy.
I've never seen anyone improve on a diet of rice cakes and lemon water.
Future low fat gurus may want to ponder the wisdom of cajoling sick people into draconian dietary measures.
Now, before anyone thinks that this is the ultimate validation of all things Atkins, the study also found that an increased consumption of carbohydrates and grains is safe and healthy - contradicting the claims by proponents of low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins that high carbs increase the risk of diabetes. Those in the study "did not show any signs of diabetes, their triglycerides were normal and their blood glucose was normal," said Dr Elizabeth Nabel, director of the US's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which sponsored the $415 million study.
So, now that we know who lost, when do we find out who won?
Not any time soon. That won't happen until researchers start incorporating specific markers of genetic individuality into their study designs: Polymorphisms (like ABO blood type and secretor status); single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and metabolomics (the study of genetic differences by analysis of metabolic end products).
Until then, we will constantly be left with conflicting results and confounding, competitive theories.
Could it be that the idea was right, but the execution wrong? That the cause of some cancers does have to do with fat, but not in a way that is addressed by a low fat diet?
In other words, suppose toxins and free radicals in fat tissue do cause breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, but (unfortunately) a low fat diet in and of itself does nothing to help eliminate them?
And perhaps paradoxically, in some people, actually concentrates them instead?
Then you have a reasonable experimental model for the case of the life-long vegan who gets breast cancer.
One of my teachers used to tell us that there were two types of medical students: The first type, who go through four years of medical school; and the second type, who go through the first year of medical school four times.
Sadly, we seem destined to go through this first phase of nutrition research a few more times.
Anyway, some other news:
Put up some new sound files in the Media Center. The first is an extract of a lecture I gave at the Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine. The second is part one of the 'Century of Blood Type Science' lecture given as the keynote address at IfHI 2003. I hope you enjoy them.
You can access these sound clips by clicking this link.