You say “potato,” I say “po-tah-to”

Looks like potatoes are back on the OK to Eat This list, and the usual thumbsuckers are outraged.

Nutritionist Marion Nestle and other progressive reformers called foul, denouncing the change. “Really?” Nestle scoffed. “I have a hard time believing that WIC recipients are suffering from lack of potatoes in their diets.” Several watchdog groups and the national WIC advocacy group opposed the change, too. “It’s disappointing that politics has trumped science,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told reporters.

It seems that much of what our betters the Feds have been telling us about foods and nutrition is a bunch of Just-So Stories:

Rather it’s that the David-and-Goliath narrative of science versus Big Ag may be blinding us to another, even bigger problem: the fact that there is often very little solid science backing recommendations about what we eat.

Most of our devout beliefs about nutrition have not been subjected to a robust, experimental, controlled clinical trial, the type of study that shows cause and effect, which may be why Americans are pummeled with contradictory and confounding nutritional advice.

Any day now, I expect to hear that I should add a shot of tequila to my ideal breakfast of steak and (whole) eggs…and potatoes.

Update (14 April): There’s evidence to suggest that we can improve the good carbs-bad carbs ratio by changing the way we prepare starchy foods.  I’ve replaced mashed and roasted potatoes with cooked-then-chilled potatoes (mmm, spicy potato salad).

Blinded Me with “Science”

David Warren, like me, is tired of being beaten about the head and shoulders with observational studies masquerading as “settled science.”

According to the latest research, he writes facetiously, coffee may be good for your heart….Actual science would show the mechanism by which a specific constituent in coffee, such as caffeine, operates within the human metabolism to produce specific reactions in a long, very specific chain, leading to a specific result. … The rest is, to be perfectly colloquial, bullshit,

How many times must we tell the hoi polloi, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION?

Tip from American Digest.

A Critique of Scientism

Biologist Austin Hughes hits the nail on the head when the writes of The Folly of Scientism in the New Atlantic.

Central to scientism is the grabbing of nearly the entire territory of what were once considered questions that properly belong to philosophy. Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them. For most of those who dabble in scientism, this shift is unacknowledged, and may not even be recognized. But for others, it is explicit.

Don’t believe scientific academics practice scientism?  Want to make some heads explode? Just suggest that a logic course, taught in the Philosophy Department, be allowed to satisfy the undergraduate requirement for a math course.  Grabbing, indeed.

Tip from American Digest.


Two interesting articles in the New York Times describing the Number Needed to Treat (NNT), the Number Needed to Harm (NNH), have prompted some interesting discussion among ASA members (at the members-only discussion board, unfortunately).

MediterraneanDietNNTThe Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine has a nice technical definition, fans of the NNT have posted a nice tutorial, and Steven Simon has a nice explanation of how to interpret NNT and NNH together. On the other hand, Dr Richard Goldstein at Vanderbilt University offers a webpage-sized grain of salt for interpreting NNT.

I, of course, smell a great homework assignment for my biostats students.

The Dancing Bear


We admire the Dancing Bear, not for the quality of his steps, but because he can dance at all.


I don’t need another lecture from President Dumbass

At least the Crusaders were fighting back against an encroaching Muslim empire.

Richard Fernandez sums it up best

Christians are the most persecuted religious group on earth today and since the majority of the dead and dying are Egyptians, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Sudanese, Iraqis or Filipinos it is hard to see how Obama or Coates can speak for them.  Even if it the Christian custom to forgive, neither man, living safe in the First World, has the obvious right to dispense absolution on behalf of desperately poor men trying to survive and keep their faith.

There is something grotesque about the cultural leaders of the Western left, most of whom are atheist or lapsed,  finding the effrontery to don the mantle of religious authority to counsel people dying in distant lands to sit back and take it in atonement for their non-existent sins.  Maybe First World Politicians and journalists should stick to what they know.  I won’t tell them what they know if they won’t tell me what I believe.

Citizens of the University, Arise!

This latest outbreak of passive-aggressive politically correct gender warfare is absolutely delicious.  “Mr.” and “Ms.,” are out, and who knows what is in.  While many of the commenting curmudgeons at Instapundit are suggesting replacement honorifics like “Comrade” or “Tovarich,” I think we should dig further back into revolutionary history and adopt the French Revolution’s “Citizen.”  The contradictory associations of Citizen Kane and the guillotine will confuse the educated, and an egalitarian application of the title will allow the lowliest of adjunct faculty to tweak a senior administrator in relative safety.

I think I’ll start with my students immediately, and spread it out from there.

Tip from the Instapundit.