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A Few Thoughts

A few thoughts now and again about whatever occurs to me while going through whatever books I end up reading

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet - Robb Wolf If you want to read a book by a guy with a serious savior/martyr complex and intense government paranoia, then this is the book for you. Also, everyone who 100% agrees with his every word is smart and everyone else is stupid, sinister, or both.

Part One

First, I'm subjected to a sad story about how the author was basically the victim of the horrible religion of vegetarianism and how awful it all was, which forms the introduction to a book devoted to his new (This time he's really really right, he swears and everyone and everything else is evil now) religious fervor on the Paleo Diet, an irony the author seems to miss altogether. Then this:

Professor Blah Blah had written articles for lots of journals and since it was so many, he must be a genius. Then the kicker- "His secret? If you know the answer (evolutionary biology) it is easy to reverse engineer the question" [note: That's an exact quote. My note on kindle: "How did this moron write a best-seller?"]

Yes yes. The correct scientific approach to all matters is to start from what you've already declared to be true and then rig the question to provide no answer but yours. That's science. I hope my sarcasm is coming through okay.I intend to finish this one because it might get better (you never know) and he has a whole crowd of worshippers so I'll give it a fair shake before moving on. To be clear: I'm not anti-Paleo. In fact, in principle, I like it. More meat, less grains (none if you're hardcore).

But I'll keep reading because maybe this guy will stop being a caricature of someone incapable of rational thought. How this guy left Crossfit is a mystery to me. They're both fanatically religious about their ideas and neither set of ideas is as original or brilliant as both groups claim them to be. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Good grief, what am I in for?

Part Two

I should probably clarify before I get hammered by the paleo-religionistas that, to them, paleo is a binary state. You just are "paleo" or you are not. You get the same thing from orthodox jews (for instance) who consider that if you are not 100% Kosher, then you are not a proper jew despite the fact that most jews don't keep 100% Kosher.

So I've continued to read his story of how he thinks he has a particular condition (his mom did and so we are to assume that he must. Also, he didn't feel well) that makes grains bad for him (celiac, if you're wondering) which so far he seems to consider the first piece of proof that his new eating religion is scientifically correct for all people. In all fairness, I assume he will present real arguments at some point, he just hasn't yet and I'm a good little ways into the book. I wish he'd gear up to say something already. Now I reach another in his long string of complaints about all the naysayers who just will not take his word as scientific proof (those low down dirty doctors). Quote:

"His answer was typical of what I would encounter in the years to follow "That is pseudo science. There is no proof."

Don't those doctors know that he is a messiah who brings the truth and they should just take him at his claims? Don't they know that if he feels better then everyone on earth should do exactly what he says diet-wise from now on? This guy is like a case study in martyr complexes. I'm guessing this story turns into a tale about how he overcame all the odds and now dominates/heals/corrects all the lowly earthlings with his insights. How could it not? That's the version of himself that he has invented.

Oh, there it is a few pages later with his stack of "credentials" relating how he helps everyone and solves everything by touring and being talked about in Men's Health. And now the testimonials, which, as we all know, are the hallmark of "science". The fact that every diet plan has testimonials need not be a deterrent to Mr. Wolf since he "knows deep down" that only his are truly true. Or at least that the other people's benefits must be due to something else since only his diet plan can be good.

Part Three

After a rather long winded diatribe about how "unscrupulous people" are always trying to sell you on the latest "fad diet", he asserts that the only way out of the "fad diet cycle" is to go with his fad diet. I'm not saying paleo won't be around for many years, but to deny that it's a fad right now is simply silly.

Then: "The reality is that our genetic heritage WANTS us to look good." [his emphasis] Notwithstanding the fact that "genetic heritage" is a meaningless term in this context, the actual reality is that our genes couldn't care less about how we look. Genes are not interested in appearance. They are only interested in survival. That's how they work. A statement like his goes beyond absurd. I wouldn't mind so much if he weren't so brazen about declaring things to be true based on the fact that he really really wants them to be true. See Part One for how this guy's magical approach to science works. The chapter ends with a reminder that he is so selfless and amazing that his only goal is to "save your life." He actually says that. He follows it by indicating that it sure would be helpful if you'd just get out of the way with your own thoughts and ideas and let him tell you what to do since only he knows how to save you life.

Part Four

I love the part where he tells us what cavemen actually thought. Like, he knows what they pondered about and the conclusions they reached philosophically. Not because there's any evidence of it, but just because he is that mystically superior that he can mentally time travel into other peoples' heads and tell you what they thought about. Science, he reminds us. Then another reminder that the correct approach is to start with declaring what you want to be true to be true, and then rig the question to provide only your answer. He attempts this with a silly analogy about a box of ceramic shards that doesn't pass the laugh test when you realize what he's trying to sell.

I'm starting to repeat myself, but I can't help it. It's what this whole book is so far. I just sat through a diatribe about how the medical community more or less intentionally provides bad information because they don't care about anyone and they just want their universities to get more money, but not HE, YOUR SELF SACRIFICING AUTHOR, who has only one concern (unlike those dirty doctors and scientists who, he implies, want you to die) and that is to save you. Of course, the reason he asserts that doctors and scientists don't agree with them is that scientists are "annoyed by the past" and that "it would be too simple" or that scientists somehow don't consider humans part of nature. Has this guy ever met a scientist? Ever? I'm just trying to figure out if he's an intentional liar or just entirely deluded.

I've been met with his very "fair proposition" which is that even if you don't believe his gobbledy-goop, the only "fair" thing to do is exactly what he tells you to anyway. I'm not sure how he manages to square that line of thought with reason.

Part Five (Experiments In Bad Thinking)

There comes a point where he tells a hypothetical story about convincing someone by taking him around a college campus to talk to various experts to prove his point. The whole story is a classic exercise in bad thinking. Leaving aside all the places where he takes a moment in his story to place himself above the academia by inventing a question to ask them and then declaring that they are stumped or had never thought of it before, there are huge problems here. The former trick is common among cult leaders and those who would gather fanatical adherents and it's a tactic called "controlled response for self-elevation." Think about how when reading an Ayn Rand book no character every asks the hero a question he doesn't have a good answer to. The idea is that we are subconsciously convinced that the hero has all the answers because we forget that the person selling this heroic idea is also the one writing both the question and answers and that writer would never include a question they didn't feel they could make a good-sounding answer to. The whole idea is to elevate yourself by creating a fictional scenario where you are superior to everyone (including and especially the "experts") and hope that no one notices that the situation is fiction. Wait, I was going to leave that whole bit aside, wasn't I? Apologies. Back to the point.

In his fictional story, he goes to the Anthropology department and asks them what the most important event in human history is. They answer "the agricultural revolution." Then he asks them about what changed afterwards health-wise. The anthropologists talk about rising levels of disease and general life discomfort. This fictional situation is all designed to sell us on why the paleo diet is correct. In other words, without his long winded needless extras, we got sicker more often after the agricultural revolution. His conclusion? That proves that the agricultural revolution CAUSED sickness. With me so far? Good.

Anyone with even a slight understanding of logic will point out that this is a classic case of "post hoc ergo propter hoc", which means "after it, therefor because of it." It sounds good when you don't think about it too closely, but the reality is that not only is it not always true, it's actually hardly ever true. Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate the point. These examples will seem silly but they are not actually any logically different from the leap he is making. I'll explain why that's so later on.

Example One: I was born. When I was eight years old, I broke my leg falling off my bicycle. Therefor, being born caused my broken leg.

One can certainly say that had I not been born, I would not have broken my leg, but there is absolutely no basis for suggesting that being born actually directly CAUSED my broken leg and that's a difference of astronomical proportions. No one would agree with my example above as being logically sound and yet it's not really any different from what he's done above from a logical perspective. Let's look at another example.

Example Two (with a twist):

I have blue eyes. Throughout my life I am married and divorced three times. Therefor, having blue eyes CAUSED my divorces.

The twist to this example is that there is no reason to think that if I didn't have blue eyes, I would not have still ended up getting divorced over the years. This is closer to his story because there is no reason to think that if the agricultural revolution hadn't happened, that something else would not have happened and that disease rates would not have still risen.

Now that we see the basic problem with this type of thinking, let's look at why his specific story is bad. Fortunately, due to the sadly constructed argument he makes, I only need one alternative explanation that allows both things (agricultural revolution and declining health) to happen near the same time and still explain the difference. I should state that I do not know for a fact that these things happened at the same time, though I'm willing to grant that it might be true. Even though I only need one example to disprove the foundation of his assertion, here are several:

1. Exercise - Hunger Gatherers had a very different level of fitness. Just try outrunning a pack of wolves or chasing down a pack of antelope on foot.

2. Population Density - The larger the group that lives together the greater the chance of disease spread and the greater the opportunity for diseases to evolve into entirely new problems of their own. The Agricultural revolution made it possible for people to live in larger groups.

3. Having some food easily accessible and others that require more effort increases the likelihood that someone will not maintain any kind of balance in their diet.

Number 3 is critical because that's actually all his fictional anthoropologist says even though he pretends that somehow agriculture CAUSES disease. There are, by the way, many more reasons that would explain this, but three is plenty for our purposes. It's actually sort of impressive how consistently he manages to include anything resembling a clear thought that isn't buried under bad ideas and false conclusions designed to make him sound right. Moving on. Is anyone else annoyed when he forces his fake professors to say things that conveniently prove his point and further indicate at the untrustworthiness of scientists and the medical profession? I'm not saying those people are perfect or that they are always right, but his repeated need to make them look bad and elevate himself to the position of savior is not only pathetic, it's downright wrong.

Part Six

So far, I have not encountered a single paragraph of value. The closest thing is the "testimonials" of how people "feel better" but the reality is that virtually every diet program helps some people feel better and/or lose weight. That's not the sort of truth this author is likely to consider and he certainly won't consider the implications of that truth.

I'm starting to see that I will need to institute some kind of 1% rule, wherein I only comment on around 1% of the issues with this book because otherwise the list of severe problems with this book would end up being longer than the book. My My.

Going forward, please assume that for every thing I mention that is broken in this book, there are approximately 99 that I haven't mentioned for space reasons.

Part Seven

The whole "sales pamphlet" nature of this work is really getting to me. It seems to be a book about selling the diet and making himself into a savior and only be disguised as a book of, you know, valuable information or things for an intelligent person to consider. It's a book clearly aimed at those who are unwilling or unable to actually think about what he's saying. I'm starting to wonder about the mental capacity of the five star reviewers. I prefer to think that they are all his friends and just doing him a favor. No one is dumb enough to buy all this. I hope.

Part Eight

My advice is to skip the part where he "walks you through" the science departments of a college. It's layered with him throwing out statements no scientist would make so that he can emotionally manipulate you into taking his view point. There are probably a hundred examples in this section alone of terrible and sinister thinking. By the way, I mean sinister thinking in the sense that I'm starting to not believe that he is accidentally this dense and that at least some portion of the bad thinking and manipulation is intentional. I hope I'm wrong about that. As I said, there are probably a hundred examples of serious problems here, but with my handy new 1% rule, I'll just give one example of a problem.

"These people [referring to nutritional scientists] THINK they are scientists, yet when their feet are held to the fire, they have no science to stand upon." [emphasis his]

Setting aside his pile of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacies in the situation leading up to this, we are confronted by a simple fact. He makes this statement after the experts say that evolutionary biology isn't useful for understanding humans [hint: no actual scientist would say this, which is why he made it up], we are guided to assume that they have no science. By this he means that since they don't follow evolution exclusively as a guide for nutrition, they have no science. His point seems to be that only evolution is science and anyone who doesn't use that exclusively as their end all be all guide, then they literally have NO SCIENCE to stand on. I don't think it's a stretch to see this as what he's saying since he pretty specifically spells it out.

I am not stupid and so I don't deny evolution but I'm also not denying that there is such a thing as science that is not entirely 100% determined by evolution. One does not need evolution to see that people get scurvy when they are chronically short of Vitamin C, for example. He seems to think that this is not science since it's not all about evolution. Seriously, is this guy going to hold a press conference one day where he admits this whole book was just a practical joke? I simply can't bring myself to believe that he is serious. I probably wouldn't mind nearly as much if he didn't stop periodically to complain that OTHER people don't think things through. The good news is that he promises science is coming up next. Apparently, it only takes 20% of a book to get around to saying anything.

Part Nine (Adventures in the "Science Section")

"Some well-intentioned but misguided souls will tell you that you can get protein from beans and rice, nuts and seeds. That's true but these are what I call 'third world proteins'. They will keep you alive but they will not make you thrive. This should be clear from the previous chapter that compared hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies." How could this possibly be clear since he has made no statements in support of this? He has just declared it to be true. Understand, I'm not even saying it isn't true. I'm just saying that he hasn't supported this statement at all. Anyone can declare anything they like. I can declare myself the King of Spain and then suggest that it should be clear since you saw me read a Charles Dicken book one time. Wait, that doesn't make sense. See the problem? If you want to make a declaration, at least TRY to support them. I don't recall even hearing this subject mentioned before this declaration, let alone "made clear". Mr Wolf, why do you insist on treating me like an idiot?

I'm rapidly running out of character-space for this review. Perhaps I should switch to a .001% Rule?

Part Ten

"The next time you have a chubby physician or dietician tell you that complex carbohydrates are healthy, ask yourself 'does it make sense that 'many sugars' might be good for me?' hmmm."

Do you like how he makes the doctor fat? See, that's his subtle way of invalidating them before they say anything. Apparently, he won't even allow his fictional people to have differing opinions. Thanks, Il Duce. Of course, lots of people know about things they do not do. Pat Reilly is one of the all-time great basketball coaches but you won't see him on the court driving to the hole on Labron James. His coaching advice is no less valuable as a result of him not being able to dunk on Shaq.

Here's the next problem with this sentence: the whole part about 'does it make sense' was part of a section on polysaccharides (if you are curious) but wouldn't the same comment work if someone were to say 'does it make sense that fat will not make you fat? hmmmm' Invoking conventional wisdom when it suits you and then trashing it when it doesn't is inconsistent and foolish. There is no difference between my statement about fat and his about sugar except that he wants you think one and not the other.

Part Eleven

I am quite happy to report that things have improved some. For instance: "If our fructose intake is low and our total calorie intake is not excessive, things are okay."

I don't think this says what he thinks it says, but it's an important point either way. It basically says "eat reasonable amounts of reasonable foods (lots of protein, plenty of vegetables, sparingly on everything else) and you're in pretty good shape". Not really an endorsement for paleo per se, but a key point.

I'm nearly out of space for this review, so I think I'll try to go out on a positive note. Stay tuned.

Basically, skip the first 50 pages and just assume it says "lots of people feel better and lose weight on this approach." Everything else in the first 50 pages is either pointless extras or downright bad. I'm hoping it gets better.