Feb 12 2015

Scott Adams on Science and Nutrition

In a recent blog post, Dilbert writer Scott Adams wrote:

What’s is science’s biggest fail of all time?

I nominate everything about diet and fitness.

Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.

From there he goes on what can charitably be called a rant against science, arguing that the public is justified in not trusting the findings of science because science has been wrong before. Adams’ criticisms, however, are based largely in his own misunderstanding of science.

He makes two major errors in his analysis. The first is to confuse mainstream media reporting of science with the science itself. The second is to have an incorrect image of how science progresses over time.

Here is his list of examples where science allegedly got it wrong:

I used to think fatty food made you fat. Now it seems the opposite is true. Eating lots of peanuts, avocados, and cheese, for example, probably decreases your appetite and keeps you thin.

I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.

I used to think the U.S. food pyramid was good science. In the past it was not, and I assume it is not now.

I used to think drinking one glass of alcohol a day is good for health, but now I think that idea is probably just a correlation found in studies.

I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.

Adams does have a point with his first example – in the 1970s and 80s preliminary evidence suggested that fat and cholesterol were bad, especially saturated fat. Dietary recommendations at the time included limiting total fat intake to 30% of total caloric intake. As is often true in science, the story is actually more complicated.

A recent review concludes that the recommendations at that time were not justified by the available evidence at that time. What we have learned since then is that the ratio of good fat to bad fat is more important than total fat intake. Dietary cholesterol is also not the problem we thought it was. Exercise and maintaining a lean body mass are probably more important than specific dietary factors. This does not mean, however, that you can eat as much fat as you want without consequences.

Further, Adams here is clearly listening to popular diet gurus, rather than following the more nuanced discussion happening in scientific circles. This is the core problem. If you look behind the curtain, scientists on such topics will have a range of opinions, the evidence is often complex and can be interpreted in multiple ways, and the current conclusions based on the evidence can be a moving target.

However, in certain areas, like diet and health, bottom line recommendations need to be made based on the best current evidence, even when incomplete. We can legitimately criticize government agencies for making premature recommendations based on the science. Also, popular diet fads and food industry marketing greatly exaggerate or exploit the science, turning preliminary findings into the low fat craze.

Adams is doing it again, countering the low fat craze with the more recent low carbohydrate craze. He is going to be disappointed again, because he is listening to self-help gurus rather than trying to understand what scientists are actually saying.

All his other points are far worse examples. There was never any scientific consensus on taking multivitamins. That was always supplement industry hype. He even says he knows it’s marketing, but does not seem to recognize the implications.

The US Food Pyramid is, at best, a representation of our current understanding of the science, even when we know the science is incomplete. In an applied science, we need to make decisions and recommendation based on incomplete science. When new evidence comes to light, the recommendations change. You might fault them for being too slow to adapt to changing evidence, but that is a criticism of a government agency, not the underlying science.

His point about alcohol is also valid. There was a debate for years about the possible health benefit of a small amount of regular alcohol intake. However, there was never a strong consensus around this conclusion, which was always controversial. This was based entirely on correlations in observational studies (you probably can’t ethically randomize subjects to drink alcohol). Observational studies are always tricky. In this case it’s possible that ex-alcoholics were contaminating the non-drinking group, dragging down their health outcomes and artificially making it seem that mild drinkers were healthier. When the ex-drinkers are eliminated, the effect tends to go away. Even still this is not entirely settled, but recent science has moved away from this hypothesis.

The problem here is that the media reports each small or preliminary study as if it is the consensus of scientific opinion. Maybe there is some token skepticism if you read deep enough into the article.

Drinking large amounts of water was always a myth, and never based on science nor officially recommended by any scientific organization.

In his list Adams gives a range of examples from outright myths, to premature hyping of preliminary findings, to government agencies making bad calls or even just properly reflecting the advance of our scientific understanding. All of this relates to how the media reports science, how the self-help industry exploits science and the public, how industries market pseudoscience or preliminary science, and the challenges of making recommendations based upon incomplete science. None of this is actually a criticism of science itself.

Adams gives a glimmer of understanding this point, writing:

So one could argue that the media and the government (schools in particular) are to blame for allowing so much non-science to taint the field of real science.

But he raises this objection, it seems, only to refute or ignore it. He dances around the issues, but then just comes to what seems like an emotional conclusion:

Perhaps my expectations were too high. I expected science to tell me the best ways to eat and to exercise. Science did the opposite, sometimes because of misleading studies and sometimes by being silent when bad science morphed into popular misconceptions. And science was pretty damned cocky about being right during this period in which it was so wrong.

The only legitimate point here I will grant him is that “science” (which I will interpret as scientists and scientific institutions) were “silent” in the face of popular misconceptions. I agree that scientists need to be much more proactive in communicating science to the public, countering pseudoscience, countering marketing exploitation of bad science, and correcting popular misconceptions. I do think the situation has improved in the last 40 years, but we are not there yet.

I don’t think he can justify his conclusion that science was “cocky.” If you read the actual literature a very different picture emerges. Again he is just confusing popular misconceptions with the actual science.

It gets worse:

The pattern science serves up, thanks to its winged monkeys in the media, is something like this:

Step One: We are totally sure the answer is X.

Step Two: Oops. X is wrong. But Y is totally right. Trust us this time.

The media is hardly the “winged monkeys” of scientists. The media is a problem that scientists have to manage. I will say that scientists and the press offices of universities also play their negative role in hyping research findings. I am not trying to blame all problems on the media. This is simply not a problem with the science itself, or the conclusions of scientists, but with how science is communicated to the public, at every level from scientist, to press office, to mainstream media.

Throughout Adams’ sloppy reasoning he is also consistently misunderstanding how science progresses. He argues that the average citizen is justified in not trusting science, because:

So how is a common citizen supposed to know when science is “done” and when it is halfway to done which is the same as being wrong?

This is wrong, and you can see this error wind its way through his entire argument. In his argument above, step 1 is not “we are totally sure X is right,” but rather, “the current evidence supports X to this degree.” Step 2 is not, “X is wrong and Y is right,” but, “X is incomplete, the story is more complex, and we have to modify X with Y.”

Science is not wrong until it is completely right. Rather, science makes ever more detailed approximations of reality. Science gets deeper, more nuanced, and more complex. It does not simply change one dogma for another separate dogma (as Adams’ “X” and “Y” examples imply).

With regard to diet, for example, Adams believes that science failed his generation with wrong recommendations, even going so far as to blame science for the increase in obesity and diabetes. Even in the 1970s, however, the science of nutrition had the basics correct. Most of the major nutrients were identified, we knew to a fairly accurate degree how much was needed, even leading to successful public fortification programs. We understood the macronutrients and their metabolism fairly well. The basic recommendations were to eat a varied diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a lean body mass. Those basic recommendations were true and still are true.

Things got more complicated when we tried to drill down deeper, adjusting, for example, the ratio of macronutrients to tweak vascular risk, for example. Scientists were moving beyond basic health to adjusting subtle risk factors. They correctly identified the role of fat and cholesterol, but the story was more complex. The type of fat was important, genetics is very important, and dietary cholesterol turned out to be unimportant. Still, their recommendations were not unhealthy, they were just not optimal.

Following the bottom line advice of the 1970s would not make you a fat diabetic. Adams is simply wrong in this accusation. Of course, there is disagreement over what caused the obesity epidemic, but no one is blaming the scientific recommendations of the time. The self-help diet industry is partly to blame, peddling fad diets rather the a sustainable healthy lifestyle. There is still debate about the relative contributions of increased sedentary lifestyles and increased caloric intake. The food industry has been feeding us more calories, while proclaiming their products “low fat” or “low carb.” It’s a complex public health issue, but the science is not to blame.

Adams goes on to make a third general error in his article. He says we need to ask why the public distrusts science, and then offering as the answer that science has betrayed the public trust. Actually, scientists have asked that question, and the answer is not what Adams claims. People distrust science when it conflicts with their valued beliefs, or when science suggests a solution or intervention that conflicts with their beliefs. People are happy to trust science when it does not conflict with their ideology or narrative.

In short – Adams gets it entirely wrong in his article. He misunderstands science, the history of science, and the relative roles of media and various industries in communicating and distorting science. There is a legitimate criticism to be made in terms of scientific institutions putting more resources and value into communicating science to the public, but Adams barely gives this point a glancing blow.

Ironically, Adams is contributing to the public misunderstanding of science in his article. He is contributing to the very problem about which he is complaining.

45 responses so far

45 Responses to “Scott Adams on Science and Nutrition”

  1. rpotter1000on 12 Feb 2015 at 8:43 am

    The criticisms you’re addressing here are probably the most common anti-science opinions I come across–even more than anti-evolution, anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, anti-climate science, etc. I often try to counter with friendly arguments similar to yours, but I tend to have a little trouble forming my argument, and I get a little whiny. This post really nails it and will help me better articulate my responses (assuming it comes up again. It’s not like I’m looking for it.)
    Also, why is Neurologica not on Facebook? I’d like to like things without sharing them. Neurologica needs to spread more, but sharing blog posts can be off-putting. The ever-so-gentle like would be nice. Also, that’s how I like to see when my my favorite authors post new things in their blogs and web pages. So, do it!

  2. 5UpMushroomon 12 Feb 2015 at 8:55 am

    This is so typical of Scott Adams. He talks with an air of authority on subjects that he’s completely clueless about, and if things heat up he’ll double down. His arrogance knows no bounds. He should stick to Dilbert and office culture.

  3. Steven Novellaon 12 Feb 2015 at 9:05 am

    rpotter – the SGU Facebook page promotes NeuroLogica (https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsguide) We thought this we be more effective than a separate Facebook page. Every NeuroLogica post is promoted on the SGU page, which currently has 629k likes.

  4. rpotter1000on 12 Feb 2015 at 9:10 am

    Excellent, thanks! I should have thought of that.

  5. jblumenfeldon 12 Feb 2015 at 9:35 am

    After all this time, and after all his pseudoscientific BS, why are we still spending any time on Scott Adams?

  6. carbonUniton 12 Feb 2015 at 9:42 am

    “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

    For a moment, I confused Neil Adams with Scott. Big difference in the type of post! Very disappointing to see that Scott does not get it. Thought he was smarter than that…

    (I’m glad I don’t have to suffer FB to see this blog. 😉

  7. MKandeferon 12 Feb 2015 at 9:58 am

    I like “Asimov’s Axiom” from the relativity of Wrong:

    “When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wronger_than_wrong

    A succinct way of responding to the “science has been wrong before” argument.

  8. Ori Vandewalleon 12 Feb 2015 at 10:01 am

    Scott Adams’ examples are indicative of the incorrect argument he’s making. He says, “I used to think X, then it turned out X was wrong.” There are two possibilities here: that X is wrong, or that he was wrong to ever think X was right. If the latter is true, then it’s either a problem of his judgment or of science communication. We can probably safely blame both.

    Additionally, he has this weird idea that science should have some magical power to simply know the right answer to difficult questions. But science is a process. It builds up over time. Blaming science for slowly revising answers is like blaming Ford for offering the Model T instead of the Mustang in 1908.

    And, of course, he’s making this whole argument on his magic, all-knowing box, using technologies (personal computers, the internet, etc.) that simply didn’t exist when he was younger. The idea that science just randomly spurts out different wrong answers over time is belied by the undeniable progress we see all around us every day.

  9. John Danleyon 12 Feb 2015 at 10:04 am

    Argumentum ad perfectum writ very, very large.

  10. RickKon 12 Feb 2015 at 11:56 am

    “With regard to diet, for example, Adams believes that science failed his generation with wrong recommendations, even going so far as to blame science for the increase in obesity and diabetes.”

    Baloney. When did science EVER recommend that people consume larger portions, more McDonalds, more potato chips, more french fries and more soda?

    When did science EVER say it’s good to spend 23.5 hours/day sitting or lying down?

    America’s health problems are overwhelmingly about calories in versus calories out, and the science on that has been clear for a very long time.

  11. RickKon 12 Feb 2015 at 11:58 am

    MKandefer, thanks for reference. Hadn’t seen that before.

  12. Heptronon 12 Feb 2015 at 12:32 pm

    It’s funny because I literally read this Neurologica article back-to-back with this news article:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/old-cholesterol-warnings-steeped-in-soft-science-may-be-lifted-in-u-s-1.2953462

  13. DanDanNoodleson 12 Feb 2015 at 1:02 pm

    “This is so typical of Scott Adams. He talks with an air of authority on subjects that he’s completely clueless about, and if things heat up he’ll double down. His arrogance knows no bounds.”

    You must read a different blog than I do. Adams very, very frequently says something to the effect of, “I’m just shooting my mouth off about what is going through my head right now, feel free to eviscerate these ideas in the comments.” Another common quote: “Never take the advice of a cartoonist on [x].” It’s hard for me to think of a LESS arrogant blogger.

    (It is true that his writings get taken out of context a LOT. So if you are reading about his blog, rather than the blog itself, you might get a different impression.)

    On this particular post, a lot of people (including myself) pointed out the flaws in his reasoning.

  14. Vytason 12 Feb 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Good post.

    But who officially speaks for science with regard to nutrition or health issues? Many top journals sit behind pay walls and even if they were readily available it’s tough for people to interpret the methods, conclusions, and whether or not there is a hidden agenda.

    It’s tough to measure the validity of some studies without knowing the source of, say, the funding. I find it hard to trust a study about the benefits of fats if it’s funded by the beef industry or how whole grains are great when the study is supported by the agricultural industry. The adage, “follow the money” applies IMO. People are people. There’s greed, ego, confirmation bias and a whole slew of issues that cast doubt on studies without knowing a bit of background

    How can the average person know what conclusions come from real, honest science (by this I mean there’s no vested interests)? I ask this honestly, because I simply don’t know the answer. I find myself frustrated because I really want to know what’s healthy and what isn’t and I’m not sure where to look.

  15. David B.on 12 Feb 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Scott Adams has had a strange view of science for a long time. Back in 1997, I reviewed the final chapter of “The Dilbert Future,” in which New Age stuff, psychics, affirmations, and the like. You can still find that review (from The REALL News) here: http://reall.org/newsletter/v05/n10/cartoon-metaphysics.html

    Then he got a bit of slack from skeptics like me and others on the Internet. He asked if he could pen a rebuttal and we said sure, so he did and I responded to that as well. Both can be found here: http://reall.org/newsletter/v05/n12/scott-adams-responds.html

    The point is, when Steve says at the beginning of this blog post, “Adams’ criticisms, however, are based largely in his own misunderstanding of science,” that is unfortunately nothing new.

  16. dampes8non 12 Feb 2015 at 4:22 pm

    “the SGU Facebook page promotes NeuroLogica” Some of us prefer to be very granular with what we like on Facebook. FB isn’t terribly good about learning what parts of pages to stop surfacing and prefers to stop surfacing posts from the entire page. If, for example, I want to get all of your NeuroLogica related posts, but not all of 200 other things being posted there, it is impossible. FB does better when there are both pages that act as one stop shops AND pages that stay more focused to a specific source/topic.

    Additionally, some of the more polarizing figures promoted by SGU specifically might turn people off from liking the page.

    Using something like HootSuite or If This Than That can minimize or eliminate whatever overhead there is in posting the content across many pages.

  17. Teaseron 12 Feb 2015 at 4:41 pm

    There are legitimate efforts out there to devise appropriate studies to measure the effects of diets on people. Perhaps Gary Taubes rings a bell with somebody.

    Frustrated with the lack of quality studies on why we get fat, he created NuSi to fund and create studies that get to some clear idea of the factors that cause obesity.

    http://nusi.org/the-science/review-of-the-literature/#.VN0czPnF9yQ

    “The first question NuSI proposes to address is, what factors drive the body to accumulate excess fat? That is, what are the fundamental causes of common human obesity?

    The conventional wisdom is that obesity is an energy balance disorder, caused merely by the consumption of more calories than are expended. By this logic, combating the obesity epidemic requires that obese and overweight individuals learn to eat less and exercise more, and that our environment change to facilitate those specific behaviors.”

    “An alternative hypothesis is that obesity is a growth disorder, in effect, caused by a hormonal/enzymatic defect that is possibly triggered by specific foods in our diet. By this logic, combating the obesity epidemic requires that obese and overweight individuals restrict consumption of these specific foods, and that our environment change to reduce their abundance and availability.

    The initial goal of NuSI is to ascertain which of these two hypotheses is correct and to what degree fat accumulation can be influenced, if any, by the macronutrient content of the diet independent of total caloric intake.”

  18. Paulzon 12 Feb 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Dandan – I’m not sure throwing a disclaimer up makes what follows (or precedes) any less irresponsible. Going “Now, I’m not a scientist…” is exactly what idiot politicians do.

  19. jarrodharton 13 Feb 2015 at 7:07 am

    A lot of people don’t want to hear that science is a tool, a way of thinking, rather than a body of facts, with convenient advice and rules to live by. To many people, science is labs and labcoats, authority figures and impenetrable textbooks – when all it is the application of logic to evidence. Makes me sad.

  20. Nitpickingon 13 Feb 2015 at 7:51 am

    Adams has said that his blog is mostly an attempt to start arguments.

  21. SteveAon 13 Feb 2015 at 10:03 am

    Is ‘crazy-large’ a new SI Unit? Did I miss a memo?

  22. BillyJoe7on 13 Feb 2015 at 3:24 pm

    “Adams has said that his blog is mostly an attempt to start arguments.”

    How disingenuous.

    My only purpose in saying the following is to start an argument:
    Adams is the worst calculated fraud in the blogosphere and is not worth the time of day.

  23. LouVon 13 Feb 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Since we are talking about communication on science in media and comics…
    I often find this image very useful to explain the problem.
    http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174

  24. mumadaddon 13 Feb 2015 at 7:33 pm

    “Adams has said that his blog is mostly an attempt to start arguments.”

    How disingenuous.

    My only purpose in saying the following is to start an argument:
    Adams is the worst calculated fraud in the blogosphere and is not worth the time of day.

    I think it’s a reasonable way to hedge your bets and also acknowledge that you may not know what you’re talking about. Unless you can demonstrate that he has some responsibility to disseminate factually accurate information, having an audience doesn’t make him accountable for error, unless he’s profiteering from that information, or he’s built his reputation as a purveyor of factually correct information within whatever discipline he’s discussing–but I doubt anyone will be referring to him for their views on science. This sort of reminds me of the UK media’s propensity to admonish football players for being bad role models…

    Honestly, that disclaimer pretty much sums up my own perspective: I love an argument and I love to bounce sometimes controversial views off other people, but I like to think I know my limits and I don’t think I could be any more up front about it than that.

    However, I did find Steve’s use of this as blog-fodder to be very informative. I just don’t see this guy as the same kind of enemy of science as, say, Vani Hari, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz, Mike Adams, Jenny McCarthy, Deepak Chopra. Hmm… I suppose if he continues in this vein, and gets a significantly larger audience, an anti-science ideology and a financial incentive to peddle it hard

  25. mumadaddon 13 Feb 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Balls! Sorry.

    “Adams has said that his blog is mostly an attempt to start arguments.”

    How disingenuous.

    My only purpose in saying the following is to start an argument:
    Adams is the worst calculated fraud in the blogosphere and is not worth the time of day.

    I think it’s a reasonable way to hedge your bets and also acknowledge that you may not know what you’re talking about. Unless you can demonstrate that he has some responsibility to disseminate factually accurate information, having an audience doesn’t make him accountable for error, unless he’s profiteering from that information, or he’s built his reputation as a purveyor of factually correct information within whatever discipline he’s discussing–but I doubt anyone will be referring to him for their views on science. This sort of reminds me of the UK media’s propensity to admonish football players for being bad role models…

    Honestly, that disclaimer pretty much sums up my own perspective: I love an argument and I love to bounce sometimes controversial views off other people, but I like to think I know my limits and I don’t think I could be any more up front about it than that.

    However, I did find Steve’s use of this as blog-fodder to be very informative. I just don’t see this guy as the same kind of enemy of science as, say, Vani Hari, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz, Mike Adams, Jenny McCarthy, Deepak Chopra. Hmm… I suppose if he continues in this vein, and gets a significantly larger audience, an anti-science ideology and a financial incentive to peddle it hard

  26. mumadaddon 13 Feb 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Abort, abort.

    “Adams has said that his blog is mostly an attempt to start arguments.”

    How disingenuous.

    My only purpose in saying the following is to start an argument:
    Adams is the worst calculated fraud in the blogosphere and is not worth the time of day.

    I think it’s a reasonable way to hedge your bets and also acknowledge that you may not know what you’re talking about. Unless you can demonstrate that he has some responsibility to disseminate factually accurate information, having an audience doesn’t make him accountable for error, unless he’s profiteering from that information, or he’s built his reputation as a purveyor of factually correct information within whatever discipline he’s discussing–but I doubt anyone will be referring to him for their views on science. This sort of reminds me of the UK media’s propensity to admonish football players for being bad role models…

    Honestly, that disclaimer pretty much sums up my own perspective: I love an argument and I love to bounce sometimes controversial views off other people, but I like to think I know my limits and I don’t think I could be any more up front about it than that.

    However, I did find Steve’s use of this as blog-fodder to be very informative. I just don’t see this guy as the same kind of enemy of science as, say, Vani Hari, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz, Mike Adams, Jenny McCarthy, Deepak Chopra. Hmm… I suppose if he continues in this vein, and gets a significantly larger audience, an anti-science ideology and a financial incentive to peddle it hard

  27. DaveK23on 13 Feb 2015 at 11:31 pm

    @DanDanNoodles re. arrogance:

    You must have missed all the times he declares himself to be a genius and explains that anyone who disagrees with him is just too stupid to understand the cleverness and subtlety of his arguments. Arrogant is exactly the word for him.

  28. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2015 at 6:45 am

    I dunno, mumadadd
    (oops, sorry, I just realised I got your name wrong on the other thread)

    If I had a blog and decided to blog on some topic, I’d first thoroughly research the topic until I got a good sense of it. If I could not come to a reasonable conclusion, I would hold off and just let it lie there until I was confident that I could say something worthwhile that at least made good sense. I don’t see any virtue in a blogger spouting forth with half-baked ideas. Half-baked ideas are almost certainly wrong and likely to be misleading to those who know even less about the subject but trust you because of other topics you’ve written on.

    Certainly Adams does not seem to be in the same category as the others you mentioned, but why would you want to be a troll on your own blog.

  29. mumadaddon 14 Feb 2015 at 1:14 pm

    ….speaking of Chopra, I hadn’t released he’d gone head to head with Richard Dawkins.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiwLrxPb1fE

    Be warned, this may make you gouge your own eyes out.

  30. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2015 at 2:41 pm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiwLrxPb1fE

    Over an hour!
    Sorry, I can no longer even stand the sound of his voice.

  31. jreon 14 Feb 2015 at 7:24 pm

    Some here may remember that a few years ago Scott Adams wrote a rant against evolution with a tone very similar to this one. He claimed to have spoken with a number of scientists in various disciplines related to evolutionary theory. By his account, not one scientist claimed to have evidence supporting evolution, but each was sure that the other disciplines had the evidence. This was so preposterous that I was sure his own fans would call him on it. Not really. The typical comment in support was along the lines of “Hey, lighten up — Scott’s just a humorist, and he’s using humor to spark discussion that wouldn’t happen otherwise.” It is true that there is a lot of irony-deafness about, but Adams uses this as a mulligan, floating stupid ideas to see if they are taken seriously.

  32. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Fair enough. Not my sort of blogger though. I’d rather learn something from reading the blog than rely only on the commentary. Research the topic until you have a clue what you’re talking about and then enlighten us and stimulate to do the same.

  33. ScottAdamson 16 Feb 2015 at 9:08 pm

    It seems you have misunderstood the article entirely, perhaps intentionally. Hard to tell.

    My whole point is that science has failed to inform the public. All you did is restate what I said. The rest of what you said about science crawling toward the truth is clearly stated in my piece.

    And if you think that I, a typical non-scientist do not understand such things as the details of nutrition science, that is MY point, not your criticism of my point.

    First, try to understand what I wrote. Then criticize. Works better that way. I didn’t see anything you said that wasn’t what I said that you misunderstood or took out of context.

    Or are you just an outragist? See: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/109482303301/outragists-are-the-new-awful

    Scott Adams

  34. mumadaddon 17 Feb 2015 at 8:43 am

    ScottAdams,

    “My whole point is that science has failed to inform the public.”

    So do you think it’s the responsibility of ‘science’ to inform the public? There is clearly a disconnect between scientific work, progress and discoveries, and how they are perceived by the general public. Some of this is down to commerce – ie. the media presenting distorted or over simplified information in order to sell more copy; health gurus, supplement manufacturers distorting science to sell more books or product. Some of it’s down to poor science education. Some of it’s down to the way people like to consume science ‘facts’, and latch on to absolute or simplistic statements or rules, whilst missing the nuance and messiness of the real picture.

    So there are various parties motivated to distort scientific information, and various mechanisms that should disseminate accurate information but have failed to some degree. But non of this is the fault of ‘science’ itself (and what exactly do you mean by that phrase in this context?).

  35. Hosson 17 Feb 2015 at 9:51 am

    “My whole point is that science has failed to inform the public.”

    I’m pretty sure you mean, “My whole point is that science has misinformed the public.”
    There’s a major difference, right?

    “And if you think that I, a typical non-scientist do not understand such things as the details of nutrition science, that is MY point, not your criticism of my point.”

    I think this “point” says more about people and the society they live in than about science itself.

    “First, try to understand what I wrote. Then criticize. Works better that way. I didn’t see anything you said that wasn’t what I said that you misunderstood or took out of context.”

    Maybe you should reread your article.

    “Or are you just an outragist?”

    That’s almost laughable if it wasn’t a cheap shot.

  36. Steven Novellaon 17 Feb 2015 at 10:10 am

    Mr Adams,

    With all due respect, I think I understood your article well. You seemed to fail to understand mine.

    I was careful to acknowledge where you made valid points, but I also pointed out significant errors in your article. Specifically:

    – You blame “science” (without really defining it) for misinformation, and science’s “winged monkeys” in the media for poor communication. As I pointed out, while the scientific community should do better in communicating science, the real culprits are the self-help/diet industry and an irresponsible media that does not do the bidding of the scientific community.

    – Your characterization of the diet recommendations of the scientific community were not accurate.

    – The reasons you give for the public rejecting science are contradicted by actual evidence

    – You call scientists “cocky” when the literature does not support this conclusion

    – You say that until science is “done” on a question it is wrong, but I clearly pointed out that this misunderstands how science progresses.

    To add to this, my commenters have already pointed out that there are further factors at work here, such as insufficient public science education leading to a largely scientifically illiterate populace.

    The bottom line is that your blaming of “science” was way off. I acknowledged the only glimmer of a point you had, which was that the scientific community need to be more proactive in addressing the public understanding of science at every level. But this was not what your article was about. A fair reading of your article indicates that you blame the scientific community for being cocky, for spreading misinformation, and for media reporting about science. You conclude the public is justified in not trusting science. I believe my criticism of your position is fair and sound.

    I welcome your response.

  37. Gallenodon 17 Feb 2015 at 11:19 am

    Steve (& Scott Adams):

    I imagine a number of people would gladly pay to see the two of you on the same panel discussing this topic in person at either The Amazing Meeting or the next New England Skeptical Society Conference.

    Or both. 🙂

    (Just as soon as the line of every single conference attendee wanting their copies of The Dilbert Principle autographed cleared up.)

  38. anneymarieon 21 Feb 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Good old Scott Adams. He hasn’t been this ridiculous since he said men should treat women like children or animals and then insisted that anyone who found that offensive didn’t understand his CLEARLY brilliant post. Typical of him to show up here and insist other people must not understand his post if they dare disagree with such a genius.

  39. anneymarieon 21 Feb 2015 at 6:23 pm

    I still have the email! When I called him out on how sexist it was to suggest treating women like children or animals, I was told:

    “Anne Marie,

    So far, no one who understood what I wrote was offended.

    Scott”

  40. ccbowerson 21 Feb 2015 at 8:00 pm

    anneymarie, I read the quotes from Scott Adams, and you have mischaracterized what he said. I think what he actually said, (or even most charitably meant) was much worse, and just as insulting in his characterization of men.

    He his point was (apparently) that men should deal with complaints from women about pay inequality like they should handle children asking for candy for dinner, or like how we should handle ‘handicapped’ people if they punch you… don’t waste your time/energy with such arguments, because you can’t win. So, apparently they are all petty and unreasonable, so med shouldn’t bother with any of it. Even if you win you lose.

    In his follow up clarification, he said that he didn’t mean to lump, women, children and the ‘mentally handicapped’ because of similarities between the groups, but because men should handle these concerns similarly. Apparently, a man should only argue about issues that “matter to him….because, on average, we genuinely don’t care about 90% of what is happening around us.” Yeah, men are all selfish cavemen caricatures who view others concerns as petty and with indifference.

    I don’t know much about this guy, but it is hard to interpret the quotes I read out of context, and this current article is clear. The worldviews he describes are pretty messed up

  41. BillyJoe7on 22 Feb 2015 at 1:03 am

    After finding Adam’s post here, I re-read his blog post. It is glaringly obvious that, although he gets some things right – even some important things – he has a very poor grasp of the subject on which he has chosen to comment. His blog post contains so much misunderstanding about science, that he does both science and his readers a disservice by posting it. Which is a shame because he seems to side with science and you would think he would want to encourage that attitude amongst his readers. Perhaps he was short of blog fodder that day. Anyway, he does seem to have a very high opinion of himself, so I guess he’s going to either double down or ignore this inconvenient truth.

  42. tmac57on 22 Feb 2015 at 10:49 am

    I don’t think that Adam’s view of science is much different than the average consumer of media. I hear similar sentiments all the time from people that I know. The problem is that until the recent rise of prominent science bloggers, the media were the ones controlling the narrative (supposedly translating) about what ‘science’ thought about diet and other science and medical topics. Now we have a situation where science literate bloggers and podcasters are beginning to challenge and correct the distorted view that has been formed in the public’s mind after decades of simplistic and shallow reporting on complicated and nuanced research, and are fighting to be heard over the 800 pound gorilla of mainstream media.
    It also doesn’t help that many media outlets have been letting their more qualified reporters of science go, and assigning stories to less experienced ones that do not have the proper background to understand the topics that they write about.

  43. Anthony Johnstonon 25 Feb 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding on both sides.

    I have both an arts and a science background and I see merit in both posts, perhaps as a result.

    If I take the most generous view of Scott’s post, he is saying that conceptually “Science” seems to him to fail from time to time. I think the problem is identified by Steven when he says ““science” (without really defining it)”.

    It seems to me that this argument between Scott and Steven is similar to one between a cat and a dog. Neither side understand each other and end up fighting as a result.

    My guess is that Scott is lumping together scientists, media reporting of science, science as perceived by non-scientists and possibly some sort of nebulous notion of anything vaguely scientific. This is clearly more of a concept than a definition and his post is a mishmash of facts, untruths and opinions as a result.

    That said, if you close your eyes to the mistakes and look hard for a general understanding of his meaning then he has a point. “Science” does sometimes seem to fail. Many members of the public mistrust science. Media reports of science are often misleading. Pseudo-scientists abound. One or two so-called scientists are media monkeys, exaggerate results willingly and don’t necessarily communicate their work properly with the world. The result of this for the general public can be Science (in the loosest definition) = fail.

    If examined carefully using a scientific approach, this is blatant nonsense. If one changes ones mindset from concept to fact and defines science as the precision of the scientific method then science works. The science media are not science, they are the science media. Nutritionists with degrees from the University of Blahblah are not scientists. Science, practiced properly, is beautiful. The primary talent of a true scientist must not be communication with journalists.

    As a regular listener of the SGU, I can understand that Steven can’t accept Scott’s conceptual standpoint. For a start, it is deeply unscientific. It is vague argument that has so many holes that it can easily be made to look like nonsense. Steven demands facts and precision whereas Scott is happy with a loosely defined concept underpinned by vague examples.

    However, I think that Scott’s general point resonates. To me, Scott appears to be annoyed that despite his general enthusiasm for it (whatever “it” is), that whole “sciency thing” seems to make mistakes. His reasoning is general and in places incorrect but he is pointing to a genuine issue: a large section of the public demonstrably does mistrust science.

    I wish that there was a way to bring Scott and Steven together since (choosing my words carefully) if an influential figure such as Steven engaged as much with the causes of that problem as he does with combating it’s symptoms, science would eventually benefit.

  44. Gallenodon 02 Mar 2015 at 8:14 am

    Scott Adams responded on his blog yesterday:

    http://blog.dilbert.com/post/112326463991/skeptics-say-science-has-no-obligation-to

  45. Bruceon 02 Mar 2015 at 8:48 am

    From what I understand his argument is just one massive Nirvana fallacy. It is a shame because he is just the kind of person who could help science communication. If he took the time to understand the nuances of scientific research and the problems that scientists have with communication a bit more he might see that. Unfortunately he seems to want to use the soap box he has to do harm. Maybe he can be convinced, maybe not.

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