Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Listening to Experts Makes You Stupid

Got to work early this morning, and I thought this article deserved a quickie post:


I think you could replace "Financial Crisis" with "Health Crisis" in the headline and nicely sum up the current boom in metabolic diseases etc. Most of us have done it at one point or another: uncritically accept the advice given by experts, even when a little thought shows it makes little sense. Now we've learned that the brain has a specific mechanism where it essentially shuts off given "expert advice". This perhaps explains why people seem to be thrown into such cognitive dissonance when presented with evidence which is rationally a slam dunk, but also contradicts what their doctors, the government, the media, and so forth have told them. I'm sure many of you have encountered irrational anger from friends and family when you question nutritional dogma. One of the weirdest things for me is how bent people get when I push them to justify why exactly "healthy whole grains" are so healthy. Still waiting (going on a couple of years now) for a response beyond "everybody knows that, so shut up."

That's not to say expert advice is necessarily bad - you just need to use your own brain as well, and weigh the expert information appropriately. Tom Naughton makes this point very nicely in "Fat Head" (see discussion of "functioning brain").

BTW, I'm finding "Fat Head" to be the most effective tool yet in overcoming the mental block created by "expert advice" (as opposed to my usual boring biochemistry lecture - maybe not so surprising). I suspect it's the humor that somehow breaks down the barriers of cognitive dissonance. It would be funny (in every sense of the word) if laughter made us more rational.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fat Head: The Blog

Tom Naughton of the fantastic "Fat Head" movie has started his own blog at http://www.fathead-movie.com/. Great stuff, and like the movie, informative and very funny. Be sure to check out his first post and learn how to make your very own misleading study supporting ridiculous preconceptions.