Public Policy Demands Science Be “Settled and Certain”
Public Policy Requires Junk Science
In our previous post on this subject, we canvassed how much “official” dietary and food advice of the past fifty years is turning out, not just to be counter productive, but actually harmful. This advice has been delivered with emphatic certainty, as if those giving it were utterly convinced of the accuracy and truthfulness of what was being purported. And they no doubt were.
The reason for such certainty turned upon the overwhelming veracity of Science. The discipline which exploded all myths, errors, and superstitions, replacing them with certainty and truth was Science. That is an overwhelming presumption of our world. “Science says” is tantamount to the word of a god in our understanding–an understanding held in common by officials, governments, scientists, the Commentariat and even the common man.
Much of the research into diet and human health relies upon statistical research and analysis. Much of the research and inferences there-from are flawed.
Moreover, always lurking in the wings are suppressed assumptions–quasi-religious assumptions–informing, controlling, and shaping the “science”. The first of these is the attempt to repudiate death itself.
Achieving longevity is a driving goal of all health science and the resulting dietetic paradigms. Death must be put off as long as possible. Somewhere between the Epicurean “eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die” and the cryogenic freezing of mortal remains to achieve eternal life lies reality and sanity. Death is a reality. It is a reality Christians do not fear, but look forward to. It is our last enemy, but it has already been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians long to live, but not for life’s own sake. We long to live “in the flesh” just as long as we can profitably serve God.
Hence, the inspired confession of Paul, to which all Christians subscribe:
For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live on in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith . . . (Philippians 1:21-25.)
The modern assumption is that death is always evil and must be put off as long as possible. It is the last enemy which has not been abolished. Official public health is bent to achieve longevity at almost all costs. When this translates into dietary advice it is almost always of the type, “Don’t eat or drink this or that, so that disease will be prevented and you will live longer.” Official dietetic policy seeks to impose this on the population through hectoring, lecturing, educating, and directed primary health care–all funded by taxing citizens, all for our own “good”.
But it turns out that every decision to eat or not to eat has trade-offs. It is now emerging that many of those trade-offs do far more harm than good. It appears that it would have been far more wise to follow the advice of the apostle Paul when it came to diet:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons . . . who . . . require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (I Timothy 3: 1-4).
We should be very wary, therefore, of people hectoring us with official advice about what foods are “good” for us, and what are not. It is far better to welcome all foods created by God as good, and maintain a diversity and balance in diet. Eating is a great joy and pleasure, for which we must be thankful. Food is one of the greatest blessings of creation: preparing it, cooking it, and eating it together is a slice of heaven on earth.
But Science tells us otherwise. In many cases, however, the science is junk. In the food and health field so much of the “research” is based upon statistical analysis, which looks for correlations between food types, or food elements, on the one hand, and diseases, on the other. Very, very quickly co-incidence morphs into fallacious inferences about causality, as in, “all people who die have spent their life breathing oxygen. Therefore, oxygen causes death and must be avoided at all costs.”
Causality is a complex business, and proving it scientifically even more so. See, for example, the entry “Causal Inference and Statistical Fallacies” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, here to get a flavour for the complexity involved and the dangers of fallacious inferences of causality. Despite this, public policy and advice require certainty. When it is lacking, the science will be “framed” as if it were certain, which immediately turns it into junk science.
The problem faced by hectoring public health authorities (that is, government funded officials) is that careful qualification does not a recommendation make. A campaign for public health would never get out of the gate unless it were framed as dealing with a clear and certain danger. No-one is going to take notice of a “campaign” which had a script reading, “It is possible that eggs, which contain cholesterol, cause higher cholesterol levels in humans, but it has not yet been proven.” No, it has to be: “cholesterol in eggs causes high cholesterol in humans: therefore, reduce or stop eating eggs.” That’s attention grabbing. That demands action. That overcomes inertia. It is also junk science.
The longer term damage done by such short-sighted ignorant wowsering is not insignificant. It builds over time a profound scepticism of governments and public officials, on the one hand, and a burgeoning incidence of conspiracy theories, on the other.
Worse, when it comes to diet and health, the advice more often than not turns out to be harmful, festooned with unintended negative consequences.
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