Just Getting Warmed Up
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Cooking Low Carb Part One
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Best of The Low Carb Blogs
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More and more people from the "low carb world" are taking their thoughts to the web in
the form of "blogs" (short for weblogs). And they're making a lot of sense. In fact,
blogging — an activity that's reaching phenomenon status is probably the best
way to get a message "out there."
So each month, we'll be bringing you the "Best of the low carb Blogs." The topics
won't always be about low carb per se. We're simply choosing those entries that we, at
Low Carb Luxury, find to be buzz-worthy.
This month, we feature an entry from Jonny Bowden's Blog. Jonny
has a unique gift for making complex subjects clear and interesting, and has changed the
landscape of diet, fitness, and healthy living.
Jonny is a good friend of ours, and sits on Low Carb Luxury's Expert Panel. Visit
his blog often to read all that he has to offer!
It's the Statistics, Stupid!
Is the housing market booming? Has it slowed down? Is it in a bust? And what has this got to do with nutrition and health?
Copyright © September 2006 Jonny Bowden and Low Carb Luxury
The national median price for a newly built home in the U.S. as of July was $230,000; a number which has precisely zero
relevance for anyone living on either coast. Median is one of three types of "averages;" the median average means
there's an equal number above the median and an equal number below it. (Using the median as a measure of
average, the "average" income of ten Donald Trumps and ten homeless people might be in the high six figures, basically
telling you nothing about reality.) So if you want to make the point that home prices have continued to rise over the
years and there is no "slow-down," use the "median" (as opposed to "mode" or "mean," two other measures of "average"
that yield considerably different results).
Meanwhile, according to the Business section of the New York Times, home sellers are now frequently offering time-shares
for life — worth about $10,000 — or equal amounts towards the lease of a car, or even straight cash as perks
when you buy, effectively lowering the price of the house, but technically keeping the asking price high.
This allows the fiction to circulate that housing prices haven't dropped, keeps real estate commissions high, and
basically conceals what's really happening.
It's all about statistics.
Which brings me to health and nutrition.
One of the things that drives me mad as a nutritionist and health advocate, is the rampant use of selective numbers to
make a point (a drug "works," calcium doesn't prevent bone loss, B vitamins are ineffective at reducing heart disease,
need I go on?) Reporting research is far more political than anyone not on the "inside" imagines. Who was the study
done on? What measures of "success" were used? (Ask this question if you're ever, God-forbid, having to evaluate cancer
treatments. They'll typically tell you that "success" is defined as "survived two years" and not mention how many people
died after five). When they compare "high fiber" to "low fiber" what were their definitions of "high" and "low?" (This
last one is particularly relevant, since one major study debunked high fiber diets by comparing a "high" group with a
"low" group where the "low group" was given 10 grams a day and the "high group" about 15. They found no big differences
in health outcomes. What a shock. They were comparing low to lower.)
Statistics are everything, and unfortunately most people haven't a clue as to how to make sense of them. Sorry to say,
the majority of kids I meet are barely able to do 3rd grade math, let alone scope out an "intervening variable" or
understand "statistical significance." Yet it is with selective use of numbers and stats that you can make any political
case you want. Is Iraq going well? The hawks point to the number of new hospitals built. The doves point to the number
killed daily. You picks your number and you takes your choice.
Sad to say, statistics are neutral but interpretation is not, and often the interpretation — or the case you want
to make — is arrived at first, and then statistics are found to back it up. That's why drug companies that farm
out their "research" to "independent" 3rd party for-profit companies are five times more likely to get a favorable
result. It's why partisans in the brouhaha over the "safety" of Plan B (the 'morning after' birth control pill) were
able to muster arguments on "both" sides, despite the fact that every major study showed Plan B to be completely safe,
or at least as safe as any drug on the market. (If you are against Plan B for moral reasons, it's not hard to find a
"scientific" argument against it. Theirs was the fact that the drug had never been tested on teens and pre-teens,
ignoring the fact that testing on pre-teens is almost never a part of the drug-approval process.)
Paul Krugman is one of the economists who actually looks
at what's behind the statistics, and reports on the economy with an accuracy that's not found in the statistical
spin-meisters. Take the time when significant numbers of Americans were feeling hopelessly bad about the economy yet
the spinmeisters were pointing to data like the fact that unemployment was low. Krugman was the only one pointing out
unemployment figures might be relatively low, but that this concealed the fact that PhD's were taking jobs at Starbucks.
That kind of thing doesn't make him popular with the powers-that-be.
I've felt this way for a long time, but I'm all fired up about it again because I just read one of the best books of
the last few years, The Republican War on Science. (By the way, you don't have to be anti-Republican to "get"
the message — it's about how to manipulate and use data, something done routinely by people on all sides of the
political and nutritional spectrum.) If you'd like to go on blissfully unaware of how statistics can be used and
misused to support an agenda, or if you'd like to continue to believe that science is neutral and unbiased, I'd
suggest avoiding the book. For everyone else, it's a disturbing read, but will leave you unable to read reports
on health, nutrition — or anything else — without a healthy degree of skepticism.
When it comes to conclusions based on statistics alone, I'd say that's a really good thing to have.
Visit the Jonny
Bowden Solutions website.