Answer by Phil Maguire:
Samuel Goldwyn had a phrase to describe the business of film making
“Nobody knows anything”
And nowhere is this more true than our knowledge (or lack of it) about the human body.
The most annoying habit people have is how they jump to conclusions without thinking it through
And, unfortunately, those two things make a deadly combination for misinformation about how to get and stay healthy. Then you add to that the way people misuse statistics and data and you have a perfect storm where people are deluded, confused and fearful all at the same time.
Of course, it doesn’t help when people want easy solutions to complex questions.
When considering the value of any statement about health, try to keep these things in mind:
1. Don’t forget population variation.
Some years back, it was front page news that someone had died whilst taking Ecstasy and this proves that Ecstasy is dangerous. When people told me, I said “Oh that makes it safer than catching flu”. They looked at me horrified and I pointed out that as about 3 million take E each weekend in Britain alone, that makes the mortality rate 1 in 3 million whilst the mortality rate for flu was about 2 deaths per 100,000 which means 60 people would be expected to die in a population of 3 million” –
What’s that got to do with the price of cheese, you may ask? Well, next time someone tells you some health “fact”, ask them which part of the population it is relevant to? If they look at you confused, they’re talking bullshine. The most interesting test for me is the LD50 test. That is the level of a chemical that kills 50% of the test animal population. At that level, the population is so varied that 50% of the time, one animal will survive whilst its neighbour is pushing up the daisies.
2. Don’t forget research procedures.
We learned a lot about human conditions from the Nazis because they had no problem with cutting people up. We don’t do this because we respect the humanity of our patients and subjects of our experiments which means that we must find other ways of getting the information we want. The problem is that most of the ways we currently use are not very effective at finding things out the brain. We are trying to look inside a box without opening the box and that ain’t easy. We do get glimpses during open brain operations but without the backup of full research on the person’s lifestyles, it is difficult to get meaningful results. MRI scans are coming a long way. Am I saying that all present research is incompetent? No way. These are a lot of really brilliant work going on as I type this. What I am saying is that they have a steep mountain to climb to extract any meaningful data and the general population should cut them some slack if they don’t everything.
3. Science is broken.
The problem is sponsorship. When Karl Popper discussed the results of research that suggested that it’s not that people who smoke get cancer but that people who are more prone to cancer are more likely to smoke, I wasn’t surprised. He was being funded by the Tobacco industry. When your future earnings are directly related to you getting a particular result they want, you’ll get that result. Even when there may not be direct influence from sponsors, there is a massive pressure to perform to get any kind of grant. And prestigious universities and labs around the world are competing for those same grants. So research is rushed through and crazy claims are made about the work which later are shown to be over-exaggerations at best and complete fabrications at worst. According to the number of retractions is increasing each year, presumably after the particular lab got its new grant. What we’re talking about here are honest, ethical scientists sincerely trying to contribute to our understanding and push the boundary of ignorance back being pressured to perform at ludicrous deadlines just like the rest of the business world – and they can’t work like that and produce quality results any more than the rest of us can.
And I haven’t even talked about The Experimenter Effect or Confirmation Bias as it is now called.
So in answer to your question: I have no idea and nor does anyone else
But if I did know an answer, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
What you’re really asking is
How does transfat affect my brain function?
And no one can answer that without knowing you: your body and your circumstances – remember population variation?
Look for the simple answer rather than the easy one.
Rather than take the “easy” way of glib, inaccurate advice to self-medicate, take the simpler approach and discuss it with a health professional whose opinion you trust. Now that doesn’t have to be a doctor. I personally have a very low opinion of Western doctors because of their failure to deal with the Placebo Effect.
When I want to cause trouble, I ask them two questions:
- What is your success rate, that is, how many visits does it take for you to reach the correct diagnosis?
- Knowing that the Placebo Effect exists, how much of your success is attributable to the placebo and how much is attributable to your actual skill? That’s really easy to test by the way. Next time a doctor claims that some alternative system is “Just the Placebo Effect”, simply take the results of that practitioner and deduct it from the doctor’s results and any difference is the effect of the doctor. If the difference is negative for the doctor, run away!
If I want to be really evil, I also ask:
- How much of your work is simply palliative and how much is truly interventional where the body wouldn’t just heal itself without your activity?
Am I saying that all doctors are nothing more Ju Ju Witch Doctors peddling snake oil? Certainly not, there are many great doctors. I’m just saying that the majority are Ju Ju Witch Doctors peddling snake oil but they are too dishonest and arrogant to admit to it. That is why the alternative health industry is flourishing. If doctors could actually do their job, people wouldn’t be going to alternative practitioners in their droves and spending a huge amount of money with them. Don’t get me wrong: if my appendix exploded tomorrow, I would have no problem with seeing a doctor and having it surgically removed. However, I would trust most doctors to help me keep it from exploding in the first place.
And don’t even get me started on the three major medical crises that are going to come crashing down on us in the 15-20 years.
So what kind of health professional am I referring to? Someone who has dedicated their life to understanding the body and understands that your body is different from every other persons on this planet. Now that may be a doctor (remember there are some good ones) or it could be alternative. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they’ve dedicated the time and effort and you trust them.
Thanks for the A2A, Raqib even if it wasn’t what you were looking for