Mistakes were made, but not by me

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If you are anything like I am, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how on earth people can cling to the low-fat diet when all the data out there shows it is vastly inferior to the low-carb diet in virtually all parameters. If you’ve had great results yourself with a low-carb diet, you’ve also probably wondered why it is so hard to persuade others to try it. And you may have asked yourself – as I have asked myself – why every little study that comes out purporting to show that low-carb diets are somehow dangerous gets media coverage out the wazoo while studies showing the superiority of low-carb diets are ignored.

If you have pondered all this, have I got the book for you.

A few weeks ago I followed the recommendation of one of the readers of this blog and purchased the book Mistakes Were Made, (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. This book gave me the answers to all the above questions. The good news is that now I know why people have the prejudices and biases they have. The bad news is that now I know how really difficult it is to change them. The sort of good news is that I can keep a watchful eye on my own tendency (which is inherent in everyone) not to slip into the same prejudiced, biased way of thinking myself.

Mistakes Were Made is one of the better books I’ve read in the last couple of years. It is well written, humorous in places, tragic in others where the devastating effects of pigheaded bias have lead to disaster, and informative all the way through. I can give it my highest rating as a must read book for all intelligent people.

The authors, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, are both distinguished social scientists who have published widely and have been in clinical practice for years. Their writing is the model of clarity and devoid of the jargon for which most psychologists are infamous. It’s been a long time since I’ve pored through a book containing so much literally life-changing information that was such a pleasure to read.

Why do people make crazy decisions, then stick by them when all evidence should point them in the opposite direction? It all starts with an internal effort to resolve dissonance.

The book begins by giving the reader the real, psychological definition of cognitive dissonance, which the authors refer to as the engine of self destruction.

The engine that drives self-justification, the energy that produces the need to justify or actions and decisions – especially the wrong ones – is an unpleasant feeling…called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.” Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (and, after all obesity is a health risk, too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways.

Dissonance is disquieting because to hold two ideas that contradict each other is to flirt with absurdity and…we humans are creatures who spend our lives trying to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd.

Once we find our selves in a position in which we are on the horns of a cognitively dissonant dilemma, we try to reduce our stress by making a decision that resolves the dissonance. Once we’ve made that decision another factor enters the picture. One we’re all familiar with: the confirmation bias.

Dissonance theory also exploded the self-flattering idea that we humans…process information logically. On the contrary: If the new information is consonant with our beliefs, we think it is well founded and useful: “Just what I always said!” But if the new information is dissonant, then we consider it biased or foolish: “What a dumb argument!” So powerful is the need for consonance that when people are forced to look at disconfirming evidence, they will find a way to criticize, distort, or dismiss it so that they can maintain or even strengthen their existing belief. This mental contortion is called the “confirmation bias.”

What this means is that Dean Ornish and others like him are not any stupider than the rest of us. Ornish believes (or so he says) in the sanctity of animal life and is a PETA supporter. This viewpoint would create great dissonance if he ate meat. But there is a ton of evidence that eating meat is a healthful thing to do and there is evidence that a vegetarian lifestyle is not so healthful. I am sure Ornish knows this, but to resolve his dissonance he has decided that the vegetarian diet is more healthful, and he chooses to consider only that evidence that confirms his bias. When scientific research produces irrefutable evidence that is counter to his bias, he distorts the meaning of the data to one more consonant with his bias. Look here to see what I mean.

What he should be doing is using the scientific method to try to shoot down his own theories.

The scientific method consists of the use of procedures designed to show not that our predictions and hypotheses are right, but that they might be wrong. Scientific reasoning is useful to anyone in any job because it makes us face the possibility, even the dire reality, that we were mistaken. It forces us to confront our self-justifications and put them on public display for others to puncture. At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.

Instead of trying to justify why his way of thinking is correct, Ornish should be trying to puncture holes in it. If he tries hard and can’t refute his own idea, then it probably has some merit. But he isn’t the only one guilty of that method of operation, we pretty much all do the same thing.

Consider this quote from Lenny Bruce after he watched the televised Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate in 1960.

I would be with a bunch of Kennedy fans watching the debate and their comment would be, “He’s really slaughtering Nixon.” Then we would all go to another apartment, and the Nixon fans would say, “How do you like the shellacking he gave Kennedy?” And then I realized that each group loved their candidate so that a guy would have to be this blatant – he would have to look into the camera and say: “I am a thief, a crook, do you hear me, I am the worst choice you could ever make for the Presidency!” And even then his following would say, “Now there’s an honest man for you. It takes a big guy to admit that. There’s the kind of guy we need for President.”

We’ve all seen this in action in politics. Have you ever pointed out the failings of a candidate to someone who is a fan of that candidate and had him/her say: “Oh, they all do that.” How many times have you said that about your own candidate? It’s called resolving dissonance because you can’t support a candidate who is a crook, cheater, embezzler, whatever, but if whatever your candidate is alleged to have done is simply something ‘they all do’ then you’re off the hook. No cognitive dissonance.

Mistakes Were Made describes how pharmaceutical execs read the data in a way that makes their drugs look like gifts from God. It ain’t greed. Most pharmaceutical execs are no different than you and I – they are nice, friendly, intelligent folks who love their families and wouldn’t consider doing anything harmful. So how then can they promote statins to everyone who breathes despite the evidence that statins don’t do any good for most people and are actually harmful to some? If they thought they were harming people they would be deep in the throes of cognitive dissonance, so they make the decision that they are really helping people, then use confirmation bias to convince themselves they really are helping people. And they ignore or blow off any data to the contrary as the ramblings of malcontent alternative healthcare types.

And it not just pigheadedness that keeps people thinking the wrong way once they’ve made a decision. Their brains actually change.

Neuroscientists have recently shown that these biases in thinking are built into the very way the brain processes information – all brains, regardless of their owners’ political affiliations. For example, in a study of people who were being monitored by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) wile they were trying to process dissonant or consonant information about George Bush or John Kerry, [researchers] found that the reasoning areas of the brain virtually shut down when participants were confronted with dissonant information and the emotion circuits of the brain lit up happily when consonance was restored. These mechanisms provide a neurological basis for the observation that once our minds are made up, it is hard to change them.

This book describes how the combination of cognitive dissonance and the confirmation bias are involved in the medical profession, scientific research, business, law, police work, love and war. The chapter on recovered memory is alone worth the price of the book. And could be a surrogate chapter for the history of the low-fat diet: a ton of trouble due to doctrinaire adherence to a faulty hypothesis.

Many books such as this one are great at the start with all the early chapters filled with valuable info, but then the book runs out of steam. It becomes obvious that the author didn’t have enough material to stretch to a full-length book because the chapters near the end are filled with fluff. Not so with Mistakes Were Made. I gained some of my most valuable insights from the later chapters. In my opinion the book is a winner from beginning to end.

I’ll leave you with one last quote, this one from Albert Speer, the architect of Hitler’s war machine. Speer’s description must mirror the way academic physicians feel with their unshakable faith in the power of the low-fat diet and statin drugs to cure the world.

In normal circumstances, people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.

Buy the book and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Hat tip to Sue for recommending the book to me.

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54 thoughts on “Mistakes were made, but not by me

  1. Great post, Dr. Eades,

    I come across many of these tricks in my field (finance/economics) and I’m constantly monitoring myself for them rearing their ugly head in my own views. As you say, nobody is immune from such thoughts. It’s a fascinating subject and really makes you understand people (and yourself) a little better, I think.

    A while back I suggested that maybe you were too hard on one of the low-fatters on Tim Ferris’s site. (Although agreeing with you the whole time that he was wrong.) As you say, people don’t give bad advice because they’re trying to hurt anyone. And that guy sure wasn’t following his particular set of dietary guidelines thinking they were bad for himself!

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I definitely plan to check this one out.

    I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

  2. I certainly will get it and read it. I haven’t read a book review quite so positive in a long while.

    At the risk of pimping my own blog, I’d like to say that I have come to the same conclusion about my own pro-LC attitude and the need to take a hard look at it from time to time.

    For instance in this entry I lament the apparent lack of credible opponents to the LC lifestyle. If anyone reading this knows of someone who’s writings are worth following up on this count, I’d be glad to hear about it.

    That way I can “attempt to refute the hypothesis” as Gary Taubes so successfully did with the “calories in, calories out” belief.

  3. If you liked that book, you should read The Black Swan if you haven’t already.

    Fantastic book with many similar themes.

    I’ve read it and enjoyed it although I found it a little overwritten and repetitive for my taste.

  4. There is a grain of truth to low-fat, IMO, because you get rid of the PUFAs and processed trans fats. But beyond that, it’s just a lot of scientifically untenable nonsense. Saturated fats reverse artery blockage, while PUFAs make it progress. Dean Ornish is simply wrong. He has never done any study that compared his diet ALONE against a low-carb diet (no meditation, no counseling, no group support, no smoking cessation). Because he knows that he would lose. He’s a coward and he doesn’t have the guts to put his moolah where his mandibles are. Come on, Dean. Let’s see a study comparing low-fat to low-PUFAs-and-trans-fat. Then we will know whether it’s “fat” in general that’s bad or just certain TYPES of fat in the modern diet.

  5. Ah, but what if you (and I), are actually the ones whose brains shut down when presented with the evidence for low-fat diets? How can you tell?

    Don’t think that hasn’t occurred to me from time to time, even before reading this book. I always hearken back to my extensive experience with patients who had been on low-fat diets, then made almost miraculous improvement on the low-carb diet. And I had first hand experience. When I first started to gain what ultimately became a fair amount of weight, the first diet I ever went on was the Pritikin diet.

    This book has helped me look at pro low-carb studies more closely. I, like everyone else, have a confirmation bias. When I read a study abstract that says the data show that the low-carb diet performs better than a low-fat diet in whatever parameter happens to be tested, I take it for granted that the study was valid because it confirms by own low-carb bias. No more. I’m going to start tearing into low-carb studies with the same zeal I use in tearing into low-fat studies just to see if they hold up.

  6. The cover of the book is good for a laugh. I will pick this book up in the near future. I am very familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance and the notion of testing one’s theories; i have a background in marketing and research, and people persistently try to justify or legitimize purchase decisions that they know are poor. Humans, were a funny lot! I think that alot of low-carbers are skilled in the art of testing hypothesis, in that alot of low-carb people make the transition to such a diet after ‘testing’ other dietary approaches.

    As a side note, isn’t that low-carb study in Alert Bay, BC, a step in the right direction or what? I see the lead doctor has a Protein Power link on his site. Great stuff!

    Great stuff, indeed. And I think you are correct about low-carbers being more skilled in testing dietary hypotheses since most have tested other diets first.

  7. I’m ordering the book right now. Thanks for the recommendation. I know this all too well having been through it with a church organization I was once involved with. It can be very disheartening and depressing when you finally confront the truth and can no longer resolve these contradictions in beliefs. I was very angry with myself for quite a while.

    FYI: I believe there’s a typo on the second to the last line.

    Hey Javier–

    I think you will really profit from the reading. Let me know what you think.

    Thanks for the heads up on the typo. All fixed now.

  8. Dr Eades,
    This is a book on my “to read” list and if you enjoyed this you would really enjoy “Don’t Believe Everything You Think – The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking ” by Thomas Kida. Great insight into the errors we make in our judgement and thinking.
    Like your blog and check it everydyay…thanks for educating all of us…well, some of us because many still don’t get it.

    Scott T

    Thanks for the book tip. Glad you enjoy the blog.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  9. “But the book and read it. You’ll be glad you did.”

    Actually, I’d rather buy it .

    Buy it, but it, what’s the difference. 🙂

    And to think, I actually proof read the thing.

    Got it fixed. Thanks.

  10. Intuition its powers and perils…written perhaps 4 yrs ago Myers is superb. Have a looksy

    Thanks for the tip, Simon. Haven’t heard from you in a while – glad to see you’re still kicking.

  11. Hey there,

    Boy do I enjoy and have learned so much from your blog and your books! There is a book that is sweeping across the nation right now that I have also learned so much from. They have sold over 100,000 copies in just a couple of months , it’s been on the best seller list on all the major lists and they are giving 100 percent of all the profits from the book to charity!!! The title is Launching A Leadership Revolution by Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady! It really woke me up and made me realize how important it is to lead ourselves before we can lead others so I have re committed to stick to my eating plan so I can be an example (leader) in my own home! I hope you read it and decide to talk about it here. It really has made a difference in the way I look at things just like you said about this book! Thanks for letting us know about this book and for all you do!!!!

    Thanks for the book tip – I’ll take a look.

  12. Where things get fuzzier for me is when questions are no longer ‘scientific,’ yet we want to find ‘logical, scientific’ answers to them. What should I do with my life? What do I enjoy? Is there a ‘God?’ What is a ‘good’ life? Is there such a thing as an ‘objective’ view of such questions? Are even these questions subject to ‘confirmation bias’ based on our own deeper world-view? One of my favorite books in this respect is Dr. Armand Nicholi’s “A Question of God” comparing and contrasting Sigmund Freud’s life and writings with C.S. Lewis’. At the very least, the book increased my depth of respect for BOTH men immensely.

    I think it was William James who wrote something to the effect that the nature of science was to try to reach ‘beyond itself’ to answer questions that weren’t necessarily best addressed by science. I may have it wrong, though, I’ll have to go back and look for that.

    Thanks for the book tip. I’ll give it a look.

  13. Oh, no, now you’ve made me have to go to Amazon and order yet another book! And I’ll probably also have to order something from my wish list so that I qualify for free shipping.

    Just wondering: Do the authors address within the book how it is that some people do change their minds and experience conversions to another way of thinking? That does happen, after all.

    Do they address stubborn religious beliefs or conversions at all? (Another of my interests.)

    Yes, people do change their minds and convert, just not very often. The book does discuss these cases. You won’t be disappointed.

  14. I just bought it at Amazon, used, for $8.86. And, I’m really happy with my daily dose of Nordic Krill. I guess you could say that I’m an Eades’ groupie.

    I’m glad the krill oil is working for you, and I know you won’t be disappointed in the book when you get it. As to the Eades’ groupie thing…

  15. Following ( between the “********” ‘s ) is a short post from The Corner blog of National Review on-line. It’s talking about smoking, but imagine what will happen if it spreads to “diet”, as the poster actually suggests in the last line? Only it might not be for failure to recommend exercise. What about failure to recommend low carb? Or worse. What about failure to recommend low fat? A double tragedy.

    *********************
    ‘Nice medical practice! It would be a shame if something were to happen to it…’ [David Freddoso]

    This press release reveals what could be the next big racket — something worthy of Eliot Spitzer’s legal extortion and abuse of office:

    States May Warn Doctors to Follow Smoker Treatment Guidelines or be Sued for Medical Malpractice

    State health commissioners may soon begin warning about medical malpractice law suits which could be brought by smokers against physicians who fail to follow federal and other guidelines in treating them…Public interest law professor John Banzhaf…has written to the health commissioners of the fifty states suggesting that they warn their state’s doctors about such law suits based upon a recent article in a leading medical journal and an even more recent study about saving smoker lives.

    The letter notes a recent study which shows that physicians are killing more than 40,000 American smokers each year by failing to follow federal guidelines which mandate that the doctor warn the smoking patient about the many dangers of smoking and provide effective medical treatment for the majority who wish to quit…

    “Since physician malpractice kills over 40,000 smokers annually – more than motor vehicle or product liability accidents – it should not be surprising if antismoking lawyers, as well as those in private practice working on contingency fees, find physicians who deliberately flout federal guidelines to be a major target of litigation.”

    “Kills over 40,000?” I thought smoking killed people, not the failure of doctors to urge smokers repeatedly to quit. As if doctors aren’t facing enough challenges already, here’s someone willing to increase all of our medical bills even further.

    What next? Sue doctors who are not zealous enough in urging the obese to exercise?

    *******************

    – John

    Food for thought, that’s for sure.

  16. One of my favorite quotes about the value of the scientific method goes like this:

    “Science is one of the few disciplines where you can win a considerable reputation by proving yourself wrong.”

    Great quote, but not true in all cases. Ancel Keys won his considerable reputation by ‘proving’ himself right when he was wrong as can be, and was, in fact, one of the major architects of the obesity epidemic.

  17. Another group that must be very diligent about this is lawyers. If you can’t tear apart your own case better than someone else, you are in for a thrashing. So I think this sort of analysis can be taught.

  18. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”
    –Daniel J. Boorstin

    I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  19. Hmmm, I am reading this as a musician who loves unresolved dissonance in musical compositions. What’s funny is I always feel that a dissonance needs no resolution, though I know it is causing some listeners to experience way too much tension. I love it. I love dissonant chords and I am wondering if that is why I make dissonant choices in life. I low carb, I home school, my beliefs are based on Jehovah’s Witnesses, I love music that is a little off or should I say dissonant. I want to finish the Barin Trust Program befir I purchase another book. I am such a slow reader. But I will get to this and see if I learn more about myself. Thanks Doc.

  20. You’re welcome. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book as much as I thought you would. I hope all these readers will link to Amazon through your blog when they buy it and generate some revenue for you. If I access amazon.com through your site, then on to amazon.ca, will you still get credit?

    The Alert Bay study documentary was well done, although they just had to make sure we all know that this diet could be really bad, however good the results. The hired nutritionist resolved her cognitive dissonance by acknowledging that although a traditional diet (fish fresh from the sea) was probably OK, the same nutrients bought from the market would constitute a dangerous diet. Huh?

    Thanks again for the tip on the book.

    Yeah, I guess she resolved her dissonance successfully.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  21. Hi Dr. Eades:

    To me, low fat is just a way for people to insist that they can eat piles of carbs without a price tag (lets face it, some carbs taste good). I remember when I started eating a low fat diet just to improve my health many years ago (I was not overweight and only about 19% body fat), even though I was not a big sweets person, I immediately starting eating ju-jubes and low fat brownies etc. on a regular basis thinking that I had hit on a good thing. But something did not make sense in the corners of my mind but of course, I believed those around me who promoted low fat eating for good health would never do anything to hurt my health. After gaining fat and feeling like a marshmellow (coincidentally a low fat food), and questioning the negative change, a few years later I found protein power through a radio ad and somehow knew it made sense. And here I am! They were not to blame; I was because of my belief in their beliefs.

    By the way, last night, on CBC, there was a documentary about a group of people in BC who changed their diet by returning back to their ancestoral beliefs about diet. You can see more about it at http://www.cbc.ca\docs.

    It is so wonderful to see our lives change in a positive way through a change in diet. Not only do we adopt a diet that makes sense scientifically, we also adopt the belief that we deserve to eat well, not be hungry and have good health and we can have all of these things at the same time. Jackpot!

    I’m glad you’ve done so well switching over to low-carb. It does make one a believer.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  22. I am going to buy the book you recommended. Reading Protein Power 7 years ago after 25 years as a low fat/vegetarian was a strange experience. I would read something you had written and my brain would correct your statements to the lowfat viewpoint. I could go for paragraphs before I felt the cognitive dissonance, go back and re-read to finally get it. If I hadn’t been very sick (I was motivated) I couldn’t have finished the book. Thank you both Drs Eades for writing a clear logical book.

    I’m glad you kept reading.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  23. John quoted on the value of the scientific method: “Science is one of the few disciplines where you can win a considerable reputation by proving yourself wrong.”

    However, isn’t science actually the exact opposite of that? The hardest thing in science is that you can only prove a theory (or hypothesis) wrong, but never right. Yet just about the only way to make a living in science is to try to prove the opposite, i.e. to convince that the hypothesis or theory in question is right. And it is so, because the funding for science always comes for the right-proving, not for breaking a theory, right?

    So no wonder, that Keys did what he did with success, in spite of being terribly wrong.

    However, due to the same inverse logic in proving in science, Keys’s errors can actually be proven, even with science… and in spite of his success 🙂

    Regards
    Leena

    Ps. Interesting book tip, indeed, Dr Eades!

  24. That Boorstin quote reflects one of my favorites credited to the great philosopher from the state of Missouri, Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain):

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    And I’d like to add our collective apologies to Dr. Mike for adding at least 10 more books to his reading list in this thread, and to Dr. Mary Dan for adding more stacks to the various ‘boar’s nests’ around the Eades’ household.

    No apologies needed. At least to me – MD may have another opinion however.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  25. I’ll check it out. I love the Lenny Bruce quote, too. I’m a Democrat (sorry), and I remember watching the VP debate during the 2004 election all by myself and thinking, “Oh, c’mon, Edwards, can’t you do better than that? Cheney’s making you look like a fool.” The next day, all my Democrat friends were crowing about how Edwards won the debate! I was the only Democrat I knew who thought that Cheney made hamburger out of Edwards. I was like, “Did you all watch the same debate I did?”

    Another book along the same lines is Calculated Risks by Gerd Gigerenzer. He discusses how our basic statistical illiteracy allows authors of studies to claim some things that don’t really hold water. (It’s possible the study authors themselves are not too statistically savvy, so they believe what they say.) Put that together with the confirmation bias, and it’s no wonder everyone in my office is scarfing down Lean Cuisines and fat-free (but high-sugar) yogurt for lunch and thinking it’s good for them.

  26. Spitzer….feel desp. for his Mrs and kids but for him…he was a moralizing prig and he ironically screwed himself in the keister.Good riddance

    I usually really feel sorry for people in this situation, but I’ll make an exception for Spitzer. He made his career ruining others – turn about is only fair. But in this case, he ruined himself.

  27. I reserved the book online through the library and checked it out yesterday. I’m glad to see it has inspired you to be more skeptical of the low-carb studies, Mike. I think there are a lot of ambiguities in most of these studies. The most valuable studies would be long-term and based upon total mortality and morbidity. Instead, we often see short-term studies that are looking only at “markers” or “surrogate end-points” which are meaningless. I would like to see studies where total mortality and morbidity are the end-points. You might have less heart disease by eating a certain way, but more depression, suicide, cancer, stroke, and homicide. That is no bargain. Everyone dies of something. I’d rather die in my sleep painlessly than disabled and/or obese in a wheelchair, like Ancel Keys. We should be skeptical of all “science” and we should first ask ourselves if they are even following the Scientific Method.

  28. Hi Dr. Mike, we haven’t had time to do much commenting lately, but we remain regular visitors to your blog and would like to complement you on this book review. Based on your review we plan to buy and read the book. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    One editorial comment, if we may, about the authors’ apparent willingness to give pharma executives the benefit of the doubt. Your review states the authors view as follows:

    “Mistakes Were Made describes how pharmaceutical execs read the data in a way that makes their drugs look like gifts from God. It ain’t greed. Most pharmaceutical execs are no different than you and I – they are nice, friendly, intelligent folks who love their families and wouldn’t consider doing anything harmful.”

    Would that this were true. Frankly, we would not be that generous in judging the motives of these execs, even granting that, case by case, they might come across as friendly, intelligent and even charming individuals. But is this reality? Based on the way pharma companies fudge and sometimes even distort the results of the studies they sponsor, together with the manner in which they market their products, it would seem that more skepticism about motive would appear to be in order. One glaring example is the “DTC” direct-to- consumer model which we all witness every day that we watch TV. This pharma marketing model (for which these execs are responsible) adds millions annually to the cost of the USA medical services system with arguably little real health benefit (and not a few adverse effects). This could rightfully be perceived as a public health menace that, in time, may also wreak the medical care system. (Cognitive dissonance indeed!). On these facts the only reasonable conclusion may be that, for the most part, it’s all about the $$; actually curing disease may in fact be the last thing on the minds of those who run the pharma companies because there’s less profit in it.

    Best,

    W/J

    I guess I just don’t have that jaundiced a view of the situation. If these execs really believe their products are helping people (irrespective of whether they really help people or not; the execs use the confirmation bias to convince themselves that they do help people), then why wouldn’t they want to encourage people to take them?

    Best–

    MRE

  29. Dr. Eades:

    The business world places sometimes unforeseen limitations on people due to insistence in believing something is correct when it is not. Someone I know, who has heart disease, can’t even get travel insurance unless he he has taken statins for 6 months and he loves to travel, so he is staying on them. He has questioned using the drugs but he is stuck between a rock and hard place. The pharmaceutical companies controlling influences extend in to many areas of peoples lives including a person getting travel insurance. It is an unfortunate situation really.

    Dogmatism ia a sign of that our brain is sleeping and a sign of our unwillingness to challenge our minds and exercise them; in other words, questioning things and getting the unbiased facts is a sign of the brain being active, adjusting and learning. On other hand, we are driven by our beliefs and values ultimately which are really opinions deeply etched in our brains through years and years of repitition. Waking up our minds and avoiding dogmatism is the way to help us look beyond our limiting beliefs. Easier said than done sometimes but it is very satisfying. And what do we have to gain? A better mind and a better life and in the case of our nutrition, a better physical condition. Ironically, I find better health enables me to exercise my mind more easily.

    Dr. Eades, you and your wife, are examples of people with brains that are fully awake. I appreciate your inspiration in this regard, as well, your help to us all on the health front. Thank you!

    Thanks for the kind words. I hate to hear that insurance companies are getting in the business of telling doctors what to prescribe. It’s frightening.

  30. Dr. Eades,
    You recently discussed the uneven results people have experienced with IF. I have a question regarding the potential for fat/weight loss from doing it. Do you think that if I did a couple of 18-hour fasts a week and otherwise ate low carb, while maintaining my metabolism at its current rate, that I should be able to lose some body fat? If I understand the mechanisms correctly, during the fasts my stored body fat should be burned for energy and during my eating periods no fat should be stored (due to low insulin levels), so theoretically this should result in a loss of body fat over time. Am I oversimplying things or not understanding the hormonal effects? Thanks.

    Give it a try and see what happens. I would bet that you would ratchet up your weight loss to some degree.

    Keep me posted.

  31. Hello Dr. E.
    I listened to ReachMD on XM Radio the other day and the doc warned his peers to prescribe Lipitor or look for a lawsuit when the patient gets heart attack. It made me sick. Doesn’t bode well for health freedom.

    As much as the statinators are in the press I think that plenty of docs can make the case using the literature that statins are worthless other than in one group: men under 65 who have had a heart attack. Irrespective of all the hoopla in the press the literature is pretty clear. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  32. Great post. I wish they had that book on audio CD for my trip I’m taking next week. I’ll have to pick up that book when I get back

    You’ll love it.

  33. Been a longtime fan of your work Dr. Eades.

    Out of curiosity, what did/do you think of Kevin Dill’s piece at http://lowcarbhit.blogspot.com/2008/02/colpo-and-eades-theyre-both-wrong.html ?

    I think he needs to read Popper a little more closely to learn what is really meant by a ‘Black Swan.’ I think that a metabolic advantage exists irrespective of diet – the macronutrient composition of the diet merely brings it out sooner or later. I also think people experience the metabolic advantage more as a function of genetics than of insulin resistance.

  34. As a mother of four, your post made me think of something psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld says: that being able to hold two contrasting thoughts at the same time (i.e.–cognitive dissonance) is a sign of emotional maturity. For example, small children think in either/or terms, and adopt black and white thinking. But a 12 year old can develop the capacity to accept two contradictory statements, such as, “Mom loves me” and “Mom is angry at me right now.”

    I think it is a sign of intelligence and emotional maturity to be able to accept that cognitive dissonance is a part of life. To use your example with Dr. Ornish: can he accept that his diet may be good for animals, but not the best for some people’s bodies? Does it have to be either-or?

    I know in my own life, I struggled for years to try and eat a vegetarian diet, because, I, too, didn’t want to eat meat. But physically, mentally and emotionally I feel much better eating animal protein. So I choose to accept that dissonance, to recognize that I’d prefer not to eat meat, but find ways to minimize it by eating organic, humanely raised animals.

    In other words, I don’t always have to make it all better. I can endure some discomfort in my life, and choose the best possible option. A solution doesn’t have to be 100% perfect to be the best one for me, and my body.

  35. If you want to read an amazing book on how the body works (and how it could work), I recommend The Body Electric. It goes into detail about how electrical signals we are routinly exposed to disrupt the body’s own signals. There is also a discussion about how certain electrical currents lead to the regeneration of limbs and body parts in various animals. Trust me Dr. Mike, this is right up your alley. The amazon address is here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Body-Electric-Electromagnetism-Foundation-Life/dp/0688069711/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

    Cheers

    It’s an extremely interesting book that I read long, long ago.

  36. Speaking of fudging how the growing movement to elevate carbs firmly on top of the ivory tower of healthful foods. Here’s a quote from a recent web posting on a symposium held last December on functional carbs.

    “More than just carbs
    Prebiotics and functional carbohydrates possess health effects beyond basic energy supply.

    CARBOHYDRATES are the single most important source of food energy in the world. The main sources of carbohydrates in the diet are starches in cereals and grains.

    The understanding of the role that carbohydrates play in human nutrition and health has made great strides in the past decades.

    Not only are carbohydrates a main source of energy, but this macronutrient also plays important roles in maintaining health.

    A symposium held in Singapore in December 2007 discussed the role of functional carbohydrates in physiology and health. Functional carbohydrates were defined as exerting health effects beyond basic energy supply. I was invited to co-chair this symposium and I would like to share with you the highlights from the discussion.”

    Jesus wept.

  37. Dear Dr. Mike,

    The most recent airing of 20/20 featured a story about a small town near the
    Italian Alps. The people in this town were considered newsworthy because they often
    lived into their 90s with virtually no heart disease, diabetes or obesity in spite of
    eating fatty meat, cheese, and cream. This “anomaly” was explained by genetics –
    most of the people were distantly related; exercise – the town is in a mountainous area; and lack of stress – the town is in a fairly remote mountainous area.

    In other words, any reason except diet.

    I suppose we must be grateful the researchers were willing to consider it even
    possible that anyone could eat that “artery clogging” food and remain healthy.

    A write-up about the show can be found on the 20/20 website in the Health
    section.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll take a look

  38. Am enjoying the book so far, but the author’s political bias is obvious. Most of the examples of bad behavior “just happen” to be Republicans – certainly the ones where they name names, and write with what seems to me some relish. You’d think they’d be on the lookout for their own bias, but such is not the case. Quite off-putting, but an otherwise good book.

    P.S. I’m not a Republican. Not Democrat either. Makes it easier to spot bias.

    I noticed that, too. But I’m so used to seeing that bias in academia that I tend to read right over it.

  39. Cognitive dissonance is indeed the perfect description of one friends’ reaction to Taubes GCBC. She can’t accept the conclusions, but cannot fault the evidence either. Her intellectual indigestion is causing her brain to freeze. Apparently she’s hoping that somehow, something will happen to allow her to reconcile these opposing viewpoints and she will not have to question her faith in nutritional dogma.

    Carbohydrate overconsumption is just too good of an explanation of the facts of metabolic disease to ignore. I know now how Bishop Ussher must have felt at some point as the evidence for the theory of evolution continued to accumulate.

    I’ll be curious as to how your friend ultimately resolves her dissonance.

  40. The prior comment reminded me of my wife’s cognitive dissonance regarding your work and Taubes work — she has no trouble accepting the research regarding the “evils” of sugar and white flour, but is clinging to her prior feelings of the “goodness” of whole grains and unprocessed carbs. Taubes does not make a clear distinction between the two types of carbs, and in looking at precolonial native African diets it does appear that there was a huge variation in the amount of unprocessed carbs that were eaten prior to the European “invasion” but regardless of the type of native diet, the addition of sugar and white flour to the diet brought on the “diseases of civilization.” Do you have any suggestions for me for how to answer her questions, other than my standard fallback that grains were not a significant part of any human diet prior to 10,000 years ago? Thanks.

    No answers other than the wealth of material showing the devolution of human health since the introduction of grains into the diet. If people don’t want to be persuaded, they usually aren’t.

  41. I saw a book on the health benefits of red wine at the mall this weekend, and it mentioned the province of Gers having wines particularly strong in tannins, and the author made much of this. Gers has the largest number of men living past the age of 75 in all of France. I got curious about their diet, and it turns out they live mainly on duck and goose (they eat twice as much foie gras as the rest of France.) They spread goose and duck fat on everything, even frying apples in it. I checked a nutritional almanac, and goose (whole) came in at about 82 percent calories from fat.
    This article from the New York Times ties all this in with your post; asked about the Gers diet, Ornish is quoted several times;

    “Heart attacks are less frequent in France, but they are still the leading cause of death there,”

    “We know that fats and cholesterol are not the whole story of heart disease,” he said. “But a single epidemiological study could overlook the things like positive social support systems or low stress that could even offset harmful dietary choices like pate or foie gras.”

    “What people don’t realize is that even if part of a fat has a beneficial mechanism, it cannot counterbalance the overall effect of fat in the diet,” he said.

    He says this even though the people in France who eat the most animal fat (probably) are the some of, maybe the longest lived.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CE7D81F3AF934A25752C1A967958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

    He’s working hard to get rid of his dissonance. He has another problem to deal with in accepting this type of information as valid – he would have to refute his life’s work and all his books. That would be a tough pill for anyone to swallow. He deals with the situation by coming up with ad hoc hypotheses to explain away the unexplainawayable and resolves his dissonance in the process.

  42. There’s a new post on Regina Wilshire’s “Weight of the Evidence” on low-carb diets in the native Canadian population. It’s long but very interesting! Just the story of the doctor’s experience with diabetes and low carb is impressive. Now when will the rest of the world wake up?

  43. Ornish: “We know that fats and cholesterol are not the whole story of heart disease … But a single epidemiological study could overlook the things like positive social support systems or low stress that could even offset harmful dietary choices like pate or foie gras.”

    The problem with Ornish’s statement is that he has never isolated those effects from his own studies. When will he do a study comparing his diet to a low-carb diet with no other lifestyle interventions? No stress reduction, counseling, group support, meditation, exercise, smoking cessation, etc. He criticizes epidemiological studies for overlooking confounding factors, but then he conducts studies on living people and makes the same unscientific error. He puts all the blame for disease on fat, without even considering all the PUFAs and trans fats as being a causal factor in the modern epidemics of disease. So, he’s a hypocrite, and he never worries about confounding variables in his own mult-intervention studies.

    I’ve made the same observation many times.

  44. As noted above, The NYT article quotes Ornish — “’What people don’t realize is that even if part of a fat has a beneficial mechanism, it cannot counterbalance the overall effect of fat in the diet’, he said.”

    What of fish oil, and krill oil, then? The words imply a zero-fat diet would be best. Probably a sound bite, but the careless wording betrays the dissonance.

    Indeed!

  45. People of the Forum Hola..Due to Library constraints and genital cuffing ( and more seriously, slightly that is, me pledging not to buy harcovers anymore) i only ad Good Cals Bad etc for a week or whatever.

    So i didn’t read it all.
    If Senor Taubes marshalls the evidence that
    1 cutting cals doesnt work
    2 upping he exercise doesn’t work

    Does he actually come to any suggestions aside from the low cal lifestyle ?

    As i don’t have a copy it dawned on me the other day i might have missed massively if he drew other conclusions

    If anyone can edify me i’d be well chuffed.

    Am at supachramp at yahoo dot com

    And inadavce thanks so very much for yr kindness in asnwering.
    A room in Vancouver await should you visit on hols..seriously.

    Simon (Aloicious Fellows)

    Hey Simon–

    The conclusion is that the scientist who have done most of the nutritional ‘science’ over the past few decades, the ones who have gotten us to the state of confusion we’re in, are a pretty sorry lot. Since Taubes is neither a scientist nor a diet doctor he doesn’t really come up with recommendations other than for a study or two that ought to be done to clarify things. He is clearly an advocate for the low-carb diet based on the enormous amount of research that he has unearthed from decades back showing its efficacy.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  46. A Bear Stearns exec was quoted as saying (to the effect of) “I never knew this much greed dominated Wall Street.” Hello? This is a great example of just how totally clueless people are.

    I worked in a drug company and I can tell you my co-workers really believed they were helping people – even when the statistics showed otherwise. Massive cognitive dissonance.

    From Bear Stearns, to Drug Companies, to a President thinking he is saving the world by blowing it up, human nature is full of endless surprises!

  47. Ahem…did i get erased or am i in suspension plse ?

    Nope, I’ve just been traveling and had limited access to the computer.

  48. “What people don’t realize is that even if part of a fat has a beneficial mechanism, it cannot counterbalance the overall effect of fat in the diet,” he (Ornish) said.

    That same syntax could be used to temper the ‘resistant starch’ hoopla that’s spreading now.

    Agreed.

  49. Sir Webmaster Whomever……were my comments received please ?

    I sent two and neither register as waiting for moderation.

    Please advise.

    Comments received.

  50. Great Post Dr. Mike!

    I will definately be getting this book. I totally understand the message it’s conveying. After a bad divorce and 20+ years in a govt job (horrors!) I adopted a personal mantra. “The truth is what you believe it to be”. We all have our own truths, and through rationalization, ignorance, or just plain stubbornness, if we think it’s the TRUTH then it is..period. A hard and sometimes hurtful lesson to learn, but nonetheless enlightening and if you let it be, very freeing. Hopefully, we can learn from others and adjust our truths as needed, but don’t count on it. After years of hurt and frustration trying to help others see the “real truth” about any number of things, I realized that I should spend those efforts making sure my truths were true for me using facts and resources that I trust (still a perception, but hey..)

    Thanks for all your interesting posts. You’re willingness to explore many avenues of thinking as well as continue to learn all you can is an inspiration and a joy to read 🙂

    -Kim

    I look on things a little differently. I like to think of the real honest-to-God truth as being represented by a big circle. Then I think of my own definition of the truth as a big circle. The more these two circles overlap, the greater my sanity. I also like to use that same representation as a measure of sanity as a function of our picture of ourselves verses other’s pictures of us. I think of a big circle representing a person’s view of him/herself and another big circle as the rest of the world’s view of that person. The more overlap, the greater sanity in the individual so evaluated.

    Cheers

  51. I have racked my brain trying to remember where I read or head the quote below but I do know it’s been some years ago. It has saved my sanity when trying to have “discussions” with certain people in my life. Be it politics, religion, lowcarbing or any number of other subjects. I know when I hit that brick wall and I recite this quote in my mind – and just move on. Besides at 66 I need to keep my blood pressure on an even keel. LOL

    “To those who believe – no proof is necessary. To those who disbelieve – no amount of proof is sufficient.”

    I think the quote is from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s a good one and right on the mark.

  52. Does the April 8 New York Times article by John Tierney related to this topic give you any cognitive dissonance regarding cognitive dissonance?!

    Best

    Yep. I’ve always been intrigued by the Monty Hall problem. Good article.