medical science


Nothing will make you focus on your health like feeling lousy. November was a pretty bad month for me, missed a bunch of time at work. I’m feeling better now and I think, maybe, that a change in diet might have helped.

Here’s the thing about nutrition, nobody has any idea what’s going on. You can read all you want, you’ll only find two constants. Sweets, candy, pastries, etc. are bad. If you eat them at all, you should only do it once in a while. The other thing that is constant is that vegetables are good, you should eat them. Everything else is up in the air, even with vegetables. How much should you eat? Should you eat anything else? Should they be cooked? Any given recommended diet can be argued against. An all meat diet is better than vegetarian, meat is a kind of poison, low fat is the way to go, no high fat is, avoid eggs, eggs are good for you, low salt diets are good for people with high blood pressure, low salt diets might kill you, it goes on and on.

Russ Roberts made the connection between nutrition and macroeconomics in this episode of econtalk, a podcast about economics. There are a lot of ideas out there in the nutrition world, many of them are contradictory. When there is any science involved at all, it isn’t overly convincing and doesn’t do much to counteract anyone’s previous beliefs. In both fields, there is a lot of wisdom being given by experts, but there isn’t a whole lot of results to go with their ideas.

Gary Taubes has done a lot of research on nutrition and diet and has found that there is precious little evidence for the conventional wisdom of a low fat diet being good for losing weight and being heart healthy. What he did find seemed to point towards the opposite. He espouses a low carb diet and promotes the idea that sugars are the real killer. In the podcast, he and Russ talk about the Atkins diet and how well it works. It really does allow you to drop pounds quickly, it is repeatable and is documented in many places. The only catch is that it isn’t clear if you’re killing yourself doing it. That is, we have conventional wisdom telling us that eating all that fat will clog up your arteries, but there isn’t much evidence either way. He has spent a lot of time finding out how that theory has gotten popular, turns out actual science wasn’t as involved as good old fashioned advocacy was.

I had been feeling really lightheaded, dizzy, and out of it for a while when I heard this podcast. I started to think about what I usually ate and things like white bread (bagels, French bread, white bread on my sandwiches), rice, and potatoes. All of these things were on Taubes’ list of do not eat list. The carbohydrates cause an insulin spike and then cause general mayhem in the body according to his theory. I figured, what the heck, and tried to follow his advice.

Well, no more dizziness, my head was clear, and I wasn’t so effing tired all the time. What bread I ate was multigrain, pretty hardy stuff. I ate veggies, meats, and a little bit of brown rice. It wasn’t a subtle difference. Of course, it was hardly a rigorous trial either. Think I’ll do two weeks on his diet and then go back to my regular fare and see if I notice a difference. His ideas make sense to me, but there are other sensible diets out there too. Because it is impossible to sort out the signal from the noise in the nutrition world, I am going to go with what makes me feel healthier and follow that up with checkups. What else can you do?

I remember writing in grad school about how certain macroeconomic theories seem to work for a while and then they fall apart. It seems completely reasonable to me that economies can change and need different solutions at different times. I am open to the possibility that different people have different genes, different hormone levels, and different metabolisms and so need different diets. Is it possible that lots of those diets are good ones, for the right people? I dunno, but if I can keep feeling like this last week, I’ll be happy changing my diet a bit.

science technology

I love my computer! And a worth computing cause

Wait, have I already said that? My latest test, I had Safari open with 4 tabs, itunes, squeezebox server, my blogging program, folding at home, I am encoding video using handbrake, and I put my live TV on full screen. No problem. Then I streamed a video to my iPad from my computer while all that was going on. Once again, no biggie, everything worked fine.

Handbreak and folding at home will use all available cores left to their own devices. What are they? Handbrake is a popular program for converting video files from one format to another. Video encoding is a special situation prosessor-wise, it is relatively easy to distribute the workload across all available cores and processors, so that’s what handbrake does. It takes all available clock cycles and puts them to work. Folding at Home is a really cool program. Stanford studies misfolded proteins and how they can cause things like mad cow disease, ALS, and even some cancers. Trouble is, the calculations involved are really really awful, and they have a seemingly never ending list of them to do. Getting time on computing clusters (modern day super computers) is expensive, so they farm out the calculations. Each person that signs up gets a part of a calculation to do. This type of program essentially gives Stanford free access to a rather large cluster of computers. The program churns away in the background on your computer, sends the results in when it’s done, and then fetches a new problem. It’s for a good cause, and I’ve got a shiny new computer with power to spare.



Wow… all I can say is, wow. For those of you living in a cave or getting your news from TV, climategate has really rattled the global warming orthodoxy around the world. What is climategate? A whole slew of emails and code were either leaked or hacked from CRU, one of the most influential data centers in the world when it comes to global warming data.

The emails are an embarrassment. In them we read about people conspiring to keep dissenting views from being accepted into reputable journals, gnashing of teeth over why they can’t explain the lack of warming, and possibly the effort to delete information that had been requested through freedom of information requests.

As damaging as the emails are, the more serious bits of the release consist of the code used to make the final temperature results used by the the IPCC and many others for policy considerations. At best, the code looks manipulative, at worst, it looks fraudulent. It is littered with comments by programmers that essentially say that the adjustments being made are totally artificial. We’ll see what happens as the code is examined more closely. The head of the CRU has already stepped down while this is being investigated and the UK MET office (closely attached to the CRU) has announced that it will release all the data and redo the calculations for the last 160 years. If they had done that 6 months ago there wouldn’t be such a scandal now.

Those of you that have read my blog for a while know about my skepticism about anthropological global warming. All of that has been based around the sloppy statistical methods and data secrecy involved with the most prominent global warming folks. If nothing else, I hope that these documents will show that this “settled” science seems to rest on some pretty shaky ground. If you don’t believe me, surely you can trust John Stewart, right?

And here’s something from that hotbed of right wing conspiracies, the CBC…

If you’d like to read what has been published, you can find it here.

culture science

Science is more than this, and less

People often time rely on “science” when they look for something to base their opinions on. The trouble is that frequently there is very little actual science involved. Sure, logic is involved, as is the degree to which it makes sense, but that isn’t science.

What defines science from all of the other ways of forming opinions is the scientific method. In other words, you form a question, build a hypothesis around the answer you think of, and then you TEST THAT HYPOTHESIS. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know this is a reoccurring complaint I have with all of the “CO2 causing global warming” mess. There isn’t anything to test, therefore it isn’t science. I won’t go over all that again here, but I will add that there are some other things that have come under this concern of mine that until now I haven’t though of like that before.

It isn’t enough to gather data and “make sense” when it comes to the scientific method. Data is harder to interpret than we would like it to be, and “making sense” isn’t sufficient, hell, it isn’t even necessary for science. Take a look at quantum mechanics as done under the Copenhagen interpretation for science that doesn’t male sense…

It isn’t just global warming that suffers from this problem. I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise anyone if I told you that macroeconomics suffers the same fate, but for different reasons. There are plenty of testable hypotheses (unlike global warming) in macroeconomics, but there aren’t any ways of carrying out the tests. And like anthropologic global warming, arguments in macroeconomics amounts to sound and fury signifying nothing. Each “side” can point to a theoretical framework and data to back up it’s argument. But nothing is ever resolved because the arguments can’t be put to the test.

That’s not science, no matter how much the adherents yell about it. They are arguing beliefs, not science. Another realm that we see this is the creationism vs. evolution debate. It certainly looks like a faith vs. science argument at first blush, but i don’t think it’s that cut and dried. Certainly, creationists don’t make too much sense to a lot of people, but before you say that’s because Darwin has science on his side think about it. Does he? Really? Is the hypothesis that new species are created through natural selection ever been witnessed in action? Is there a way to test it? I’ve wracked my brain but I can’t think of a way to test it. That makes it belief and outside the realm of the scientific method. I’m not saying that it’s false, I certainly can’t come up with a more compelling idea, but I am saying that we should recognize it for what it is.

You might say that requiring the use of the scientific method is too limiting for science. I disagree. If science is to have any real meaning, it must be held to rigorous standards. The trick is that there are few things as straight foreword as Newton’s third law of motion, or even the General theory of relativity. Most things in our life are messy, complicated, and difficult to sort out. In short, they don’t lend themselves to the scientific method.

There’s nothing wrong in believing in something that can’t be proven scientifically, but please remember what that is. It is faith, not science. I wish more people realized that…


More global warming "science"

Isn’t all that news about the ice shelf in Antarctica “collapsing” distressing? Isn’t it an obvious sign of global warming? Ummm, no and no. Anthony Watts has done an excellent job of showing that these alarmist reports are recycled year to year, they even use the same pictures! Read about it here.

In addition, this seemingly annual event is ice breaking off of the shelf, not melting. The breakage shows sharp lines and cliffs, the result of stresses of the water and winds. As a matter of fact, the amount of sea ice in Antarctica has been growing steadily for years and is now well above what we have observed recently.

The supporters of manmade global warming would do themselves a lot of favors if they didn’t make stuff up, they end up looking really stupid…


Good news on global warming

Here’s some good news that will, predictably, not be publicized. First, a little background. The doomsday scenarios in global warming do not rely on CO2 for all of the warming. At most, CO2 could only account for a 3 degree Celsius rise in temperature, and that is in theory, and over the next 100 years or so. All of the rest of the predicted temperature gains rely on positive feedbacks to boost the temperatures.

Well, there are feedback mechanisms at work, but they are negative ones, not positive ones. This article is a great example of good science, it uses actual data to test a hypothesis. Something that has been overlooked is that anthropological global warming models are not falsifiable, they are not hypotheses. No, this doesn’t mean that they are true, it just means that they lay outside of what can be determined by science. I will spare you the philosophy of science speech and get right to the punch line… If you cannot test an assertion, it is a belief. That is not science. It is not enough to gather data and make guesses as to why that data is the way they it is. You have to test your idea, that is science.

The article I linked to above is straightforward science. Why don’t we hear about it? Why do people want bad news about global warming? Why do people get angry instead of breathing a sigh of relief when this sort of thing is released? WHY DON”T MORE PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS?