17

votes

Is paleo more science or pseudoscience?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 30, 2012 at 2:22 PM

I was reading my blog feed this morning, and this image came across from one the atheist / skeptic blogs I follow:

Science v. Pseudoscience

Now, I definitely feel there's a lot of pseudoscience out there (sadly, sometimes espoused here on PH). When I read the right side of that image, I have observed these issues in the paleosphere. However, when I read the left side of that image, I imagine all the (often quite polite) conversations I've had with family, co-workers, and even online: these tend to be simple, scientifically curious, and quickly dismissive of poor science. So, my personal experience of "paleo" is strongly grounded in science, but I see a heck of a lot of pseudoscience out there.

For example (but not that I agree I or disagree!):

  • Fixed ideas: "Grains are bad, mmmk?"
  • No peer review: There is some actual review (see Cordain's response to "Meat is bad" controversey), but is more "mindshare" needed to get out from the seeming dearth?
  • Selects only favorable discoveries: For me (and I'm guilty of this too), personal anecdotal stories are often weighted VERY heavily.
  • Sees criticism as conspiracy: I think the "paleosphere" - from the intelligentsia to the proles like me - are guilty of this. Sadly, I think responding to criticism is perceived as actually increasing the "tin foil hat"-itude of the responder.
  • Non-repeatable results: like "favorable discoveries", I think to finally squash being labeled as a fad, more and more and yet more scientific experiments need to be run to change the "mindshare" of paleo acceptance.
  • Claims of widespread usefulness: "ZOMG I CURED MY DIABEETUS!" is awesome. However, I think paleo appears, quite literally, as a magical / snake-oil solution to a real world problem. We feel/know it works, but how do we change the perception of others?
  • "Ball park" measurements: I don't think the paleosphere is so bad with this one. If anything, we demand to see "the numbers" quite often.

Where do you place your experience of "paleo" between science and pseudoscience?

Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 31, 2012
at 05:35 AM

Personal science: I am my own lab rat. I used to play "what if" games with the blood glucose meter all the time.

Add2c0ce1ddf585c5057c3c0e7ca1a43

on March 30, 2012
at 08:24 PM

"personal science" could be reconstructed scientifically into single subject design, otherwise known as time series designs. These are valid studies that demonstrate using scientific methods how changes can be seen at the individual level. Although it may not be generalizeable to the general population the particular method can be repeated and resubstantiated.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:21 PM

"arterycloggingsaturatedfat" ohmygodsotrue :-)

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:20 PM

I *like* your comment, but "personal science" is a subset of pseudoscience, is it not? If results are not verifiable and reproducible, it's not science. This is true even if the experiments were helpful to your health or not.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:19 PM

I *like* your comment, but "personal science" is a subset of pseudoscience, is not? If results are not verifiable and reproducible, it's not science. This is true even if the experiments were helpful to your health or not.

5759bd89db5f73cabe0a6e8f8e6e1cb9

(1467)

on March 30, 2012
at 05:24 PM

I am pretty good at checking references since reading 'Bad science' by Ben Goldacre. He teaches you how to distinguish between bullshit research and good research.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on March 30, 2012
at 05:12 PM

It is difficult to find ANY science about nutrition that doesn't venture into pseudoscience territory, too many biases, data manipulation, etc. "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."--Benjamin Disraeli. And yet, nutrition is my favorite thing to study, go figure. Maybe it is because we have so few proven absolutes I know I'll never be bored. As unreliable as the right side of the chart is, depending on funding, ego, etc., even the left side of that chart rarely remains untainted.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on March 30, 2012
at 05:03 PM

+1 billion......

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 30, 2012
at 04:37 PM

Anyone can add references to anything. It takes some skill to be able to know if they are good

35b2cb4d450e5288895c255dfdfff35d

(5828)

on March 30, 2012
at 04:18 PM

Yup, n=1 is all that matters. The peer reviewed science is a good starting point but not necessarily a good ending point.

Fb677d93955eb0fac597e3d94db92980

(1115)

on March 30, 2012
at 04:12 PM

I like the personal science idea. In the end, all that matters is n = 1.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on March 30, 2012
at 03:44 PM

The good thing is that quite a few people in Paleo talk of paleo principles, heuristics, milieus, and that sort of thing. Much of paleo is pure speculation, some ideas based on better science than others, but still quite a bit of speculation. The bad thing is that the people talking about the quantum effects of starch seem to be winning a lot of mindshare. I don't know if the average person can tell the difference between science and pseudoscience that well, let alone good science and bad science.

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10 Answers

best answer

6
8e10b687e328468783a72c55b64710e8

on March 30, 2012
at 08:23 PM

I'd say paleo is borderline pseudoscience, but compared to other (more popular) views like veganism and hardcore raw foodism (typically vegan), it's still on the good side and makes a whole lot more sense. At least here, people are willing to say "It depends on the person".

16
35b2cb4d450e5288895c255dfdfff35d

(5828)

on March 30, 2012
at 03:13 PM

There is a third column that needs to appear in the table -- personal science. While it may be great to go with peer reviewed science, the only thing that matters is what works for your body.

The longer I study and experiment with different ways of eating the more I realize that Paleo works for the same reason that many other ways of eating work. If you get people off of junk carbs and junk fats then they get better. That's why vegans can clear so many symptoms, and low fat people, and juice fasters, and raw fooders too. The question is, what happens long-term with any of these particular diets? A diet that's good for cleansing and healing is often not good for maintenance and growth.

So, will Paleo work long-term for people? The verdict is still out and your mileage will vary. I'm concerned that the "science" of Paleo will drive people to being very rigid with their diets where if people followed personal science and experimented with their diets they'd find one that worked for them. And, that "perfect diet" would likely change over one's life. So, in my book, if Paleo is giving you better health than your last diet then enjoy that success but don't get complacent.

Plus, diet is far from the only factor that influences health.

There's this great quote from a spiritual teacher that has always stuck with me: "It's a great blessing to be born into a religion and a terrible curse to die in one."

35b2cb4d450e5288895c255dfdfff35d

(5828)

on March 30, 2012
at 04:18 PM

Yup, n=1 is all that matters. The peer reviewed science is a good starting point but not necessarily a good ending point.

Fb677d93955eb0fac597e3d94db92980

(1115)

on March 30, 2012
at 04:12 PM

I like the personal science idea. In the end, all that matters is n = 1.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:20 PM

I *like* your comment, but "personal science" is a subset of pseudoscience, is it not? If results are not verifiable and reproducible, it's not science. This is true even if the experiments were helpful to your health or not.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:19 PM

I *like* your comment, but "personal science" is a subset of pseudoscience, is not? If results are not verifiable and reproducible, it's not science. This is true even if the experiments were helpful to your health or not.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on March 30, 2012
at 05:03 PM

+1 billion......

Add2c0ce1ddf585c5057c3c0e7ca1a43

on March 30, 2012
at 08:24 PM

"personal science" could be reconstructed scientifically into single subject design, otherwise known as time series designs. These are valid studies that demonstrate using scientific methods how changes can be seen at the individual level. Although it may not be generalizeable to the general population the particular method can be repeated and resubstantiated.

Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 31, 2012
at 05:35 AM

Personal science: I am my own lab rat. I used to play "what if" games with the blood glucose meter all the time.

6
5b69a02dadcae753771921d913909215

(1457)

on March 31, 2012
at 02:55 AM

Compared to what??

Seems like the paleo-sphere is more open to the scientific method than the medical community.

6
B4661e44912c6f7c5eb26f36d15dd604

on March 30, 2012
at 02:51 PM

"Fixed ideas: "Grains are bad, mmmk?""

While this may be a problem for some paleo adhering lay people what I've seen of leading paleo thinkers has me thinking that they are more open minded than even the normal scientific community. Lay people have this problem even in other nutritional ideologies "arterycloggingsaturatedfat"

"Claims of widespread usefulness: "ZOMG I CURED MY DIABEETUS!" is awesome. However, I think paleo appears, quite literally, as a magical / snake-oil solution to a real world problem. We feel/know it works, but how do we change the perception of others?"

Honestly I think that Paleo works out wildly better than SAD not only because of paleo specific nutrition ideas but also because of the huge focus it puts on whole foods, which anyone with a mind for/scientific background in nutrition will tell you is a healthful direction to be moving.

To answer the question Science for sure, even if it were to get completely dis proven Tomorrow I'd still say the same thing.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on March 30, 2012
at 06:21 PM

"arterycloggingsaturatedfat" ohmygodsotrue :-)

5
64433a05384cd9717c1aa6bf7e98b661

(15236)

on March 30, 2012
at 03:11 PM

I think there is some clear science showing the paleo diet outperforming other diets. It takes time to fund and perform studies, here are some early ones though.

http://www.yaboga.com/paleo-metabolic.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19604407

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17583796

http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/7/1/85

4
F4b9ff9c2f7e7670253a22851b6542cf

on March 31, 2012
at 02:40 AM

Paleo is not "a science". It's a lifestyle translated from a variety of evidence, including some discovered with the scientific method, some from shared experience, some from tradition, and some from common sense.

2
35412fa4716863d799e089830ea48ba6

on March 31, 2012
at 06:19 AM

ruthless peer review is not the domain of good science.

2
Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 30, 2012
at 08:08 PM

I don't think reliance on holy writs such as Taubes and Cordain is useful to define paleo. There's too much sensationalism. I don't think that the deconstructionist and messianic elements are helpful either. These books are for modern obese people, written with profits in mind, and not much different from a plethora of other diet books on the market.

I prefer an N=1 interpretation of what paleo was, and how that could improve my own modern life. Right now, reading The Leopard's Tale (well spent book money IMO) I'm having problems getting much past how Neolithic humans lived 400 generations ago. There was hunting and gathering, meat and grain eating, cooking in ovens, and a social structure entirely foreign to any modern concept. Would "paleo" have improved the life of these ancestors? Presumably they had adequate amylose to thrive on starches, but did they have enough relict intestinal length to have processed their ancestor's presumably high meat diets? Answers to these questions seem more pertinent to me in deciding whether any ancestrally eaten calorie is good or bad.

1
5759bd89db5f73cabe0a6e8f8e6e1cb9

(1467)

on March 30, 2012
at 03:15 PM

That's interesting. It would be interesting to hear what others have to say about it but I was once trying to scan the references in the 'paleo solution' and 'the vegetarian myth' but there were too many. There are many peer reviewed papers on the dangers of grains, the gluten issue and the lack of causation between saturated fat and CHD.

I was thinking to myself today that if I went to the Dr and he told me that my blood tests were worrying I would probabaly still stick with paleo because I feel fraking great most of the time.

5759bd89db5f73cabe0a6e8f8e6e1cb9

(1467)

on March 30, 2012
at 05:24 PM

I am pretty good at checking references since reading 'Bad science' by Ben Goldacre. He teaches you how to distinguish between bullshit research and good research.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 30, 2012
at 04:37 PM

Anyone can add references to anything. It takes some skill to be able to know if they are good

0
Bc211e7b7250f37594a9ba5b04b1bf19

on August 18, 2013
at 05:40 PM

@george? What are you talking about? Of course "ruthless peer review" is within the domain of good science. When my PI wanted to publish a paper on her research she could not get published until 6 peers (re: experts in the same field as my PI) tore apart her study and made their remarks. Peer is a relative to term depending on the subject.

For example: Were you a professional "peer" to Dr. Watson circa 1953? Not unless you knew enough about biochemistry to verify their study that showed DNA structure. Consensus among lay people is worthless in science. Their "peer review" is even less useful.

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