Doc Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Friday, October 14, 2005

On the subjectivity of truth: part 2 of 3

While religion may be the most prominent locus of shameless bullshit producton and dissemination, it's not the only significant one. (That religious fervor has parallels in other wishful-thinking realms is instructive from the standpoint of viewing a belief in a conscious deity as nothing more than an easily rationalized outcropping of human psychology, but just try to get the afflicted to appreciate this view.)

We now live in a culture in which a mindlessly passionate subset of overweight people -- whose numbers in the U.S. are swelling as quickly as bloatfolks' individual waistlines -- can, motivated by insecurity, rage and denial, sincerely dismiss the numerous well-established health risks of obesity as propaganda churned out by a murky, profiteering cabal comprising Big Pharma, the $40-billion-a-year weight-loss industry, and medical doctors themselves. Never mind that researchers were warning of the health risks of being fat long before opportunists such as Weight Watchers cropped up; set aside also the fact that, as a cardiologist friend of mine notes, "If I were really interested in just my wallet and not in my patients' health, I'd not only tell them to get even fatter, I'd put cigarette vending machines in my waiting room." But this kind of thinking doesn't wash with fat activists, whose credo is all too famailiar: When a group of people is unhappy with their circumstances and cannot change either them or themselves, their best strategy is to simply shift the goalposts. Silly? Not in a culture in which it's increasingly kosher to substitute sheer noise for knowledge.

Strident people of size do not comprehend what a colossal non sequitur it is to go from "Fat people are objects of unnecessary ridicule" to "it's perfectly fine, health-wise, to be fat, even when the chief causes are inactivity and a junk-laden diet." A glance at their bloggery demonstrates that they are not pro-fat so much as they are anti-everything else, including overweight people with the temerity to drop tonnage. As with ID creationism, all it takes is one or two glib spokespeople to serve as patron saints for a given cause -- and obesity has a pair in author and crank extraordinaire Paul Campos, whose "debunking" of obesity's medical implications has been rejected by scientists from coast to coast, and food-industry shill Sandy Szwarc; both know just enough to be dangerous -- and that's all those embracing a given chunk of mottled, moldering bullshit need. (Campos agitates for his cause against a pair of Harvard obesity researchers and rabble-rousing king Michael Fumento here.)

Fat people who have long struggled to lose weight and are well aware of society's often harsh or at best bemused treatment of them are naturally going to lean toward a world view in which the problem isn't obesity but everyone else's rigid insistence on thinness. So the hand-wave and eye-closing techniques of dismissing evidence have become ever more popular, while angry law professors and portly shut-ins have managed, in their minds at least, to elevate their analytical acumen and medical insight to that of MDs and PhDs on the faculty of the world's pre-eminent research universities.

The parallels here with the attacks on the work of investigators with doctorates in the biological sciences by "creation scientists" are striking and undeniable. There is nothing conventionally religious at stake here, but you'd never know it.

In a more sociologically localized vein, a great example of far-flung bullshit in distance running is the well-known "run-walk" method by which undertrained citizens strive to complete 26.2-mile marathons. There is certainly no mark in using this no-hurry strategy -- most often credited to former American elite athlete Jeff Galloway -- but only through egregious leaps of poor reasoning can one conclude that something sufficient to get people to the finish line in one piece is also the most efficient. Galloway, whose efforts have helped fill both marathon fields around the country and his own pockets, has at times been drawn into discussions in which he oversteps the boundaries of his so-called philosophy and finds himself unable to support his more avant-garde claims with anything culled from exercise physiology; at times, it seems he cannot even do basic math. Yet those free of other reference points who complete marathons thanks to this "method" are immediately numbered among his most ardent defenders. He does look more than a little like Jesus these days.

Of course, it's not just right-wingers that close their eyes to truth if favor of the allure of queered notions of cosmic fairness. A fine example, this one also running-related, is the railing against the idea that certain East African peoples possess inborn traits that, on average, make them more talented distance runners. Beating the same equine carcasses over and over has its advantages, because I can quote myself:

...it's helpful to keep in mind that people who refuse to acknowledge that innate differences in certain capabilities between people of different ethnicities exist harbor precisely the same intractable mindset as Bible inerrantists who refuse to acknowledge the lunacy of, among other things, embracing the fable of Noah's Ark -- to say nothing of the rest of the Book of Genesis -- as an actual historical event. (Interestingly, the same people who would freely acknowledge the morphological differences between Northern Europeans, East Africans, and West Africans -- after all, they really have no choice -- bristle at the radical idea that some of these differences might translate into greater physical potential in certain sporting realms.) As with Bible literalists, facts do not sway practitoners of the liberal religion; if anything, their introduction into such discussions is regarded as an annoyance if not an outright attack. So it's pointless for a realist to argue with them if the goal is to convince them of the validity of his position or the frailty of theirs; at best, the realist may amuse himself, and at worst he may grow frustrated. That is, the parallels between hardcore Christianity and the increasingly manifest liberal surrogate are nearly complete.

Finger-waggling social-science types make all sorts of noise about correlation not being causation and the unforgiviable but evils of slavery, but regardless of what we'll one day discover about genetics and distance running vis-a-vis ethnicity, none of what they say ever applies. Like the hyper-religious, these screeching liberals are more concerned with what appears to be desirable (in thier view, that every ethnic group is on a genetic even keel in every possible way; to say otherwise opens doors to nastiness) with what is simply true.

1 Comments:

At 8:07 PM, Blogger DavidM said...

There is a disturbing trend by the current US administration to undermine established science and use fringe scientists and observers to 'substantiate' their primarily religious views. I read a great article somewhere by a scientist who noted that Bush dismissed evolution as 'just a theory'. The article included the definition of theory (I've taken this one from thesaurus.com) - "A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena".

Repeatedly tested, widely accepted.

Your post shows how this approach is becoming more widespread and is being used by any group that seeks acceptance without worrying about the burden of proof - just get yourself some PR money and a loud mouth and use the press to create your proof.

Proper science is tested as far as it can be then, most importantly, is peer reviewed.

 

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