Archive for the ‘How to be Scientific’ Category
Much as I respect the Truth in Labeling Campaign and similar consumer-led campaigns to remove various additives from food, they are consumer-led rather than science-led, and they do not have a full, scientific understanding of adverse reactions to foods. As a result they can talk absolute nonsense sometimes.
In the 18 years during which the Truth in Labeling Campaign has extensively studied the subject of monosodium glutamate and the many hidden forms of the reactive component of monosodium glutamate, we have concluded that there is likely more than one biochemical mechanism that causes adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people. However, we believe that the most common reason for adverse reactions may be an intolerance for one or more of the contaminants that invariably are produced when glutamic acid is freed from protein through adulteration, processing and/or fermentation.
If a food ingredient is untreated, unprocessed and unfermented, even if it contains free glutamic acid, it will only contain L-glutamic acid because higher organisms contain only L-glutamic acid. There will be no contaminants. Consequently, MSG-sensitive people can typically eat tomatoes off of the vine even though they contain free glutamic acid (umami), providing that they are not overripe, and cheeses such as Reggiano Parmesan that are made from raw milk rather than pasteurized milk or milk that has been cultured, and that are made from rennet rather than enzymes. Give the same person a domestic cheese made from pasteurized milk, cultured milk, and/or enzymes and an adverse reaction will often follow. (possibly, any processed free glutamic acid (MSG) from fermentation of Reggiano Parmesan cheese is below the tolerance level of most MSG-sensitive people.) MSG Update – “Natural versus manufactured umami” in Wise Traditions Spring 2008
Sometimes I wonder whether the frequent apologist inserts like this that I find in Wise Traditions articles are planted there because someone has specifically asked for a “Weston A. Price Foundation friendly” answer that justifies the organisation’s many mistakes on what constitutes a healthful food that does not harm sick people.
It is certainly true that there is more than one biochemical mechanism for MSG sensitivity. Glutamate intolerance like other food chemical intolerances are multifactoral and very complex, occuring on a continuum from high tolerance to low tolerance, with different individuals affected with different symptoms.
However the idea that there is a difference between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ MSG is of course, utter rubbish. In the stomach monosodium glutamate rapidly dissolves into sodium cations and glutamate anions. Glutamate is the anion of L-glutamic acid. The form glutamate occurs in – whether glutamate or glutamic acid – is not in the slightest bit important as the difference is purely a matter of electrical charge and can change at will. For all intents and purposes the form of glutamate found in artificial additives and in natural wholefoods is absolutely identical to the body.
The idea that people can react to a naturally-occurring compound is obviously a matter of confusion for the author of this article, hence in comes the theory that instead of reacting to MSG, people must be reacting to a mysterious ‘contaminant’. The idea that MSG-sensitive people can eat these naturally-occurring glutamates safely is downright wrong and very bad advice to give to glutamate sensitive individuals. I assure you that people are not reacting to mysterious artificial contaminants, they are reacting to MSG. Comprehensive elimination diets and blind capsule challenges performed by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital have long confirmed MSG reactions. The same reactions are seen in individuals who eat foods that contain natural glutamates in isolation from other food chemicals – like peas for example, which do not contain amines or significant amounts of salicylates. Mysterious-contaminant-paranoia is a phenomenon I encounter often in individuals who are not educated on food chemical intolerance and have not sorted out what they are reacting to and what they are not reacting to.
People create all sorts of funny rules in their heads for why they might be reacting to one food and not reacting to another. Perhaps this author has discovered that he can tolerate a certain brand of cheese. Cheeses from small producers are often not aged for the same length of time or as flavour-refined as mass-produced cheeses, purely due to time and space constraints. It’s quite possible the author got lucky and found a relativley low glutamate Parmesan cheese. It’s also quite possible that people who have these strong beliefs about ‘natural’ foods being pure still have an unusual reaction but blame it on something else they have eaten. People tend to try to prove their beliefs rather than challenge them. This is called confirmation bias, and the Truth in Labeling website is full of these kinds of mistakes. Unfortunately this does nothing for their cause, as any misleading statements or distortion of the facts makes one look less trustworthy to those in the know including those on the opposing team.
Further, people who obsess over a problem with one particular food chemical rarely see the bigger picture. They may observe that they have reactions to foods when they go out to eat, and always blame this on the presence of MSG in those foods (just as people on the GFCF diet blame all of their eating out reactions on ‘hidden gluten’), when it is likely the foods contain a number of other reactive additives, and be relatively higher in other natural food flavour chemicals like amines, salicylates and SLAs. People rarely just have reactions to MSG and natural glutamates alone, usually they are also somewhat sensitive to other food chemicals due to cross-reactivity as different chemicals can trigger the same biochemical pathways in the body.
The article also contains the following contention:
In this writer’s interaction with countless MSG-sensitive people over more than 18 years, I have only communicated with three people who contended that they could tell when MSG was in a food preparation. However, their method of identification was a feeling of an electrical charge, a tingling on their tongue, rather than an actual taste.
I can taste MSG. Why can’t these people? MSG has a very strong, monotonous flavour a bit like salt. It is a strong meaty taste, but without any nuance or subtlety. I find it unpleasant as it tends to drown out all other flavours. This is probably why it is used by manufacturers, because it disguises off-flavours as a result. I can taste glutamate in processed foods, and I can taste it in old meat, cured meat, and in stocks and broths.
If it is true that these people cannot taste MSG, then the reason these people can’t taste MSG is because they don’t know what to look for. They are so used to eating foods that contain natural glutamates and other strong flavours that MSG containing foods do not taste strong or unusual to them. Fresh meat is relatively tasteless compared to the vacuum packed or hung meat most people eat these days. They are probably also used to reacting to foods that do not contain MSG but contain other reactive chemicals which do not have an MSG taste – for example, one cannot taste food colourings or histamine, and reactive SLAs have many different flavours. Only on a comprehensive food chemical elimination diet do people start to be able to taste the difference between foods that will cause adverse reactions and those that will not.
It is with a sad sort of resignation that I post this knowing that some readers will see the title of this post and experience immediate offense – perhaps some won’t even read it or stop reading this blog. As someone who lives in Britain where, along with the rest of Europe, 80% of people declare a lack of belief in God, and evolution is regarded as a plain fact, I must confess I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about on the other side of the pond.
I believe – like most European commenters on the situation – that the reason that evolution is not fully accepted by our American cousins is because religious fundamentalism has such a strong-hold in the states that evolution has never been taught properly or extensively in American schools.
I am an atheist. I have been since I was about eight years old. I am proud of my atheism. Religion and evolution are non-debates for me. I’m sorry if some people find that offensive. To be quite frank, there are a lot of things I could find offensive if I wanted to, but as I am not a zealot of any kind I respect other people’s right to believe what they want. I don’t much care what other people believe. I have real-life friends who are Catholics, pagans, Muslims, undefined spiritualists, and fellow atheists. I show a slight interest in their religion, only because it helps me to understand the workings of their minds.
Religion is a political and emotional minefield, and I work very hard not to accidentally offend religious friends. Sometimes that is not possible, because one can make totally neutral comments and still be misinterpreted as saying something insulting. Religious people seem to be on a hair-trigger with that respect. But religious people shouldn’t be the only people who are allowed to be offended. Plenty of atheists have borne a significant amount of the brunt of religious bigotry throughout history, sometimes with their lives. If religious people are allowed to take offense so easily, atheists should have the right to be offended too.
For example: I am offended that atheism is regarded by religious people as ‘just another religion’. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of atheism and is quite insulting.
Except sometimes I think there is too much of this taking of offense going on. People sometimes use their right to take offense as a political cudgel to beat other people with valid viewpoints into silence. I do not think people who have what are essentially differences in political opinions should be allowed to get away with playing the ‘I’m offended by your criticism of my precious beliefs’ card. In fact it’s an essential aspect of freedom of speech that political and religious ideas should be debated openly and honestly without people being forced to tiptoe around. By contrast, people who have physical attributes that make them a target for discrimination – whether they be black, women, gay, disabled, religious, non-religious or just different – damn well have a right to get offended when ideas start to advocate the wiping out or shutting up of a group of people. Saying a religious idea is wrong is quite different to saying a religious person should be discriminated against. People are not ideas. It is important to get this distinction right. I’ve seen a lot of overstepping the mark on both sides.
People who are religious will frequently cite the argument that ‘atheism is just another form of religion’. This is not true. Atheism is the disbelief in religion. It is a refusal to accept the hypothesis that there is a god. It is the normative scientific starting point. Atheism does not have to provide proof. The burden of proof is on those asserting the hypothesis – it is up to them to prove the existence of god. This simple scientific assertion, an integral feature of atheism, appears to be enough to send some religious people into paroxysms of rage.
People also often confuse atheism and agnosticism. Atheism is characterised by the absence of belief. Atheism is not necessarily saying ‘there is definitely no god’, it is merely saying ‘show me some real proof before I accept your hypothesis of a god’. Not believing that something is true is not the same as believing that it is false. Different forms of atheism exist however, and ‘strong’ or ‘positive’ atheism is a definite assertion that there is no god. In contrast to atheism, an agnostic is someone who says that we cannot know for sure whether god exists or not, a fence-sitter if you will. If you would like to understand atheism here is a good introduction.
With the burden of proof in mind I want to say a few simple, logical words about creationism.
- A scientific hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable
- Creationism is not testable or falsifiable
- Therefore creationism is not science
A debate about creationism and creationist-influenced evolutionary theory does not really have a valid place on a scientific forum, especially when it is conducted purely as an ego-massage to support someone’s personal religious beliefs. In rubbishing fundamental tenants of Darwinian evolution, it then becomes impossible to explain basic questions about genetics from a scientific standpoint. In order to understand why different forms of genes exist, you must first understand and accept evolutionary theory. Otherwise you will just be forced to fall back on making offensive remarks about some people being ‘less perfect’, or ‘defective’, or even ‘more deserving of God’s punishment’ than others.
Here is a run down of exactly why creationism is not science.
- Evolutionary theory is testable and falsifiable
- Therefore evolutionary theory is science
Evolutionary theory is not merely ‘a theory’. It is in no way on a level playing field with other ‘religious beliefs’ from which people can pick and choose at will. There is an enormous amount of evidence for evolutionary theory in the fossil record, and in our genes. Not only is evolution the science to creationism’s anti-science, evolution has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
I’m really pleased to discover that I’m not an altie. I answered no to every question except one.
There was a time when I was still naive enough that I might have said yes to 3-4 of those statements, including:
125. If you think that ancient people using nothing but herbs, witch-doctoring and an outdoor lifestyle lived long, disease-free lives, you might be an altie.
Sorry Weston A. Price Foundation members. I’m not that naive anymore – and I was never totally that naive. Unlike most WAPF members, I’ve actually read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. What surprised me at the time was that Price barely mentions the diet of the natives he studied, and the only statistics he gathered were the counting of caries. He didn’t give them physical exams. He didn’t find out how long they lived. He just made a general assessment that they ‘looked healthy’. You know, people who have asthma and fibromyalgia look healthy too.
Something I did answer yes to:
64. If you’ve ever grown/brewed your own jar/crock of “Kombucha tea”, yup, you’re an altie.
I tried it, it seemed to do something. I thought it might be helping. It took me several months to figure out that the way I react to kombucha tea is the way I react to any tea. It’s the theanine.
A serious point from an amusing medical review:
Only two options exist. The first is that we accept that, under exceptional circumstances, common sense might be applied when considering the potential risks and benefits of interventions. The second is that we continue our quest for the holy grail of exclusively evidence based interventions and preclude parachute use outside the context of a properly conducted trial. The dependency we have created in our population may make recruitment of the unenlightened masses to such a trial difficult. If so, we feel assured that those who advocate evidence based medicine and criticise use of interventions that lack an evidence base will not hesitate to demonstrate their commitment by volunteering for a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial. Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials
“Individuals who insist that all interventions need to be validated by a randomised controlled trial need to come down to earth with a bump.”
Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death! Learn more about DHMO here!
Last spring, Nathan Zohner, an enterprising 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, conducted his science fair project on just this theme. Nathan distributed a tongue-in-cheek report that had been kicking around the Internet, “Dihydrogen Monoxide: The Unrecognized Killer” (from which the quotes above are drawn), to 50 of his classmates.
These are smart kids who had studied chemistry; many of them, like Nathan, have parents who work at the nearby Idaho Nuclear Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Nathan simply asked them to read the report (which is completely factual) and decide what, if anything to do about the chemical. They could even ask the teacher what DHMO was, but none did.
In the end, 43 students, or 86 percent of the sample, “voted to ban dihydrogen monoxide because it has caused too many deaths,” wrote Nathan in the conclusion to his project, adding that he “was appalled that my peers were so easily misled. . . . I don’t feel comfortable with the current level of understanding.” Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer
Writes James Glassman in the above 1997 Washington Post article, “The implications of Nathan’s research are so disturbing that I’ve decided to coin a term: ‘Zohnerism,’ defined as the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion.”
What a fantastic phrase, one might think, until they read the next line in this Washington Post article: “Environmental hysterics — Vice President Al Gore springs to mind — and ideologues in such fields as race, women’s issues and economics are adept at using Zohnerisms, with help from the media, to advance their agendas.”
Sort of ironic now the tide of opinion in the US is turning, really.
Zohnerisms are commonly used by media and politics to create sensationalism and distort the real facts. Raw milk is currently under threat yet again in the US because some E. coli recently contaminated some spinach (the leap of logic here is obviously beyond me). But just how common is the opposite scenario, the anti-Zohnerism? How many times have we heard public health officials deny there is anything wrong with the food supply, only to eat their words? I for one am sick of hearing about how safe aspartame, MSG and other additives are.
This 1999 CSPI review on the safety of additives [pdf] has a word or two on the subject:
The FDA is the federal agency responsible for ensuring that synthetic food colors and other additives are properly tested for safety. In 1993, the FDA published “in cooperation” with IFIC a pamphlet entitled “Food Color Facts.” Actually, the pamphlet was written by IFIC and only edited by the FDA. IFIC is an organization directed by officials of, and funded by, many makers of food additives and processed foods, such as General Mills, Kraft, Procter and Gamble, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Monsanto (maker of aspartame), and Ajinomoto (maker of monosodium glutamate).
The pamphlet states:
Q. Do food color additives cause hyperactivity?
A. Although this theory was popularized in the 1970s, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food color additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children. A Consensus Development Panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that colorings or other food additives cause hyperactivity. The panel said that elimination diets should not be used universally to treat childhood hyperactivity, since there is no scientific evidence to predict which children may benefit.
Says the CSPI: “The pamphlet has rewritten history.”
One of the first, most basic rules of science is this: correlation does not equal causation! This little vignette has been posted all over the internet in the last couple of days:
An eight-year study of 670 men aged 45 to 86 showed that anger and hostility can speed up the rate at which lung power declines with age.
Men with higher levels of long-standing anger at the study’s beginning had significantly poorer lung function by the end.
The researchers rated anger levels with a scoring system. Lung power was tested three times over the course of the study.
Even after taking into account other factors, such as smoking, the hostility and anger affected lung function.
Anger, hostility and stress have previously been associated with heart disease, asthma and other illnesses. The emotions may change biological processes, disturbing the immune system and causing chronic inflammation. Anger can damage your lungs
Anger can damage your lungs? Please. Let’s find out more about what the media are saying:
LONDON (Reuters) – Lung power normally declines as a person ages but being angry and hostile can speed up the process, researchers said on Thursday.
In a study of 670 men ranging in age from 45 to 86, they found that males who had higher levels of long-standing anger at the start of the eight-year project had significantly poorer lung function at the end of it.
“This study is one of the first to show prospectively that hostility is associated with poorer pulmonary function and more rapid rates of decline among older men,” said Dr Rosalind Wright, of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, in a report online in the journal Thorax.
The scientists used a scoring system to measures the levels of anger of each of the men and they tested their lung power three times during the study.
Even after taking account of other factors such as smoking that can also have an impact on lung power, hostility and anger had a negative effect.
Anger, hostility and stress have also been associated with heart disease, asthma and other ailments.
Wright and her team suggested that the negative emotions could change biological process and may disturb the immune system and cause chronic inflammation.
“Stress-related factors are known to depress the immune function and increase susceptibility to or exacerbate a host of diseases and disorders,” said Dr Paul Lehrer, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in an editorial in the journal.
He added that it is unknown how chronic anger contributes to physical deterioration but said the researchers established a link between chronic anger and age-related deterioration in lung function.
“The next step is to determine the exact pathway by which this happens,” said Lehrer. Anger speeds up deterioration of lungs: study
So this seems pretty damning: boffins say anger damages the lungs. But two weeks ago this article appeared on the BBC news site:
[...] The volunteers had had their levels of hostility measured in 1986 through a series of questionnaires, which indicated their longer term emotional state, the researchers said.
Their lung function was also measured and then analysed at routine intervals over an average period of just over eight years.
Dr Rosalind Wright of Harvard Medical School, who led the research, said: “The men with higher levels of hostility had lower lung function at this baseline point in 1986, but they also showed a more rapid rate of decline over time.”
Other studies had shown that a rapid decline in lung function was linked to increased susceptibility to debilitating lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease, and increased mortality.
But she said that, because the group were all ex-military, mainly white and of a lower socio-economic status, the findings could not be applied to the wider population.
The researchers believe that anger and hostility could be affecting neurological and hormonal processes, which in turn could cause chronic inflammation in some of the body’s systems, such as the lungs.
However, Dr Wright said the study showed an association between anger and lung disease, rather than a cause and effect relationship.
She said: “Healthcare providers should be aware that your emotional state can play a role in lung health over time.
“It could change the way we think about screening for risk factors and could inform different types of interventions – such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
Dr John Moore-Gillon, a lung specialist and spokesman for the British Thoracic Society, said: “This is a fascinating piece of work.
“There does seem to be a link between long-term anger and hostility and decline in the functioning of the lungs.
“Whether the decline is actually caused by the emotion or whether they are both caused by a third, unrecognised factor is not yet certain.
“The research highlights our growing awareness of the close links between the mind and the body, and the years to come may lead to further important insights.” Anger ‘compromises lung function’
Did you catch those throwaway lines in the middle of this article? However, Dr Wright said the study showed an association between anger and lung disease, rather than a cause and effect relationship. [...] “Whether the decline is actually caused by the emotion or whether they are both caused by a third, unrecognised factor is not yet certain.”
If we go back to the study abstract, the study draws no such conclusions that “anger damages lungs”:
Background: Hostility and anger are risk factors for, or co-occur with many health problems of older adults, such as cardiovascular diseases, all-cause mortality, and asthma. Evidence that negative emotions are associated with chronic airways obstruction suggests a possible role for hostility in the maintenance and decline of pulmonary function. This study tests the hypothesis that hostility contributes to faster rates of decline in lung function among older adults.
Methods: This study prospectively examines the effect of hostility on lung function change over time. Data are from the V.A. Normative Aging Study, an ongoing cohort of older men. Hostility was measured in 1986 in 670 men who also had an average of 3 pulmonary function exams, obtained over an average of 8.2 years of follow-up. Hostility was ascertained using the 50-item MMPI-based Cook Medley Hostility Scale. Pulmonary function was assessed using spirometric tests to obtain measures of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC).
Results: Baseline pulmonary function differed across high and medium/low hostility groups (percent predicted FEV1 88.9 + or – 18.5 vs. 95.3 + or – 16.9 and FVC 92.5 + or – 16.5 vs. 98.9 + or – 15.9 respectively; p’s Angry breathing: a prospective study of hostility and lung function in the Normative Aging Study
So if anger is not playing a causative role, what could be the third, unrecognised factor? Here’s a clue: “Anger, hostility and stress have previously been associated with heart disease, asthma and other illnesses.”
Now, what could possibly on this planet cause a correlation between asthma and anger? Could it – shock horror – have something to do with most asthmatics being sensitive to food chemicals? That common emotional reactions to food chemicals include anger, hostility, and depression? Give me strength! How are we ever to join up the dots when our medical researchers are so specialised in their knowledge that they don’t even know which search words to type into medline in order to get out a sensible answer?
Allergic-like reactions to chemical components of foods and medicines may be common. The prevalence of idiosyncratic reactions to aspirin, salicylate, metabisulfite and tartrazine is not known. We used a tertiary referral clinic population to estimate safe exposure doses for epidemiological studies. A 15% decrease in the amount of air expired in one second was defined a positive response. The median effective molar doses of the agents were remarkably similar: metabisulfite 0.19 mM, 34.4 mg [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.14, 0.27 mM]; tartrazine 0.10 M, 55.0 mg (95% CI 0.05, 0.21 mM); aspirin 0.09 mM, 16.5 mg (95% CI 0.04, 0.19 mM); and salicylate 0.11 mM, 15.3 mg (95% CI 0.05, 0.27 mM). Doses to which the most sensitive (5%) and practically all (95%) susceptible persons might respectively respond are: metabisulfite 4.6 mg, 255.8 mg; tartrazine 3.4 mg, 885.6 mg; aspirin 0.8 mg, 332.3 mg; and salicylate 2.6 mg, 89.9 mg. Doses within these ranges can be used in epidemiological studies. Aspirin, salicylate, sulfite and tartrazine induced bronchoconstriction. Safe doses and case definition in epidemiological studies. Corder EH, Buckley CE 3rd, J Clin Epidemiol 1995 Oct;48(10):1269-75
Argumentum ad populum (Latin: “appeal to the people”), in logic, is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges that “If many believe so, it is so.” In ethics this argument is stated, “if many find it acceptable, it is acceptable.”
This type of argument is known by several names, including appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people, argument by consensus, authority of the many, bandwagon fallacy, and tyranny of the majority, and in Latin by the names argumentum ad populum (“appeal to the people”), argumentum ad numerum (“appeal to the number”), and consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”). It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect, and of the Chinese proverb “three men make a tiger”. Argumentum ad populum
Some time ago I mentioned briefly that the only way to diagnose food allergies correctly is to use skin prick tests and blood tests, and that even these methods have problems. I want to expand on the problems a bit more.
The problem with skin prick tests is they just measure the redness of the skin when a food or chemical has been applied to it. This means that if you are given a skin prick of something that stimulates a histamine release or contains histamine, your skin will respond by reddening. Skin prick tests can therefore be dangerously misleading.
For example, if you are sensitive to salicylates, you may respond with a reddening of the skin when high-salicylate plant foods (such as spinach, tea, asparagus) are tested on your skin.
Serotonin can also stimulate inflammation, so if you are sensitive to serotonin, you may experience the same thing from various foods such as cheese or bananas.
Sensitivity to histamine will obviously result in skin reddening when things like cheeses, fish, or aged meats are tested on the skin.
Sulphites, folate, and a number of other food chemicals, vitamins, and minerals stimulate histamine release. Lectins in wheat, beans, potatoes, and various other plant foods also stimulate histamine release. You may react to these chemicals if you have a particular weakness or sensitivity to them.
If you have high histamine levels to begin with and are prone to urticaria, you are likely to react to having your skin pricked in and of itself, whether food chemical irritants are added or not.
This means that you will be diagnosed with “allergies” to various random foods, when in fact you are not experiencing an allergic reaction at all, but food chemical intolerance.
We know from the RPAH and Food Intolerance Network that the majority of food reactions are actually caused by non-allergic food chemical sensitivities. The only way to correctly determine whether you have a genuine food allergy is to perform a specific, quantitative blood test of IgE levels when challenged. Immunoglobulin E is a subclass of antibodies produced by the immune system.
To complicate matters further, high histamine levels can actually raise IgE levels. This is why it is important to establish a baseline while one is not reacting to anything.
To clue you in to whether you are actually experiencing a genuine allergy or food chemical intolerance, an allergy will usually be distinct and to only one or rarely two foods. Food chemical sensitivities will usually appear as multiple positive skin prick test results from different species, genera, or family – such as a test with positives for peas, asparagus, and beef.
You may have heard recently the story of Dr Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University, South Korea, who admitted to fabricating his data in papers about human cloning. Further papers have now been found to be faked, and as it stands, all published evidence of success in human therapeutic cloning has now been wiped out.
“Worst of all is the damage done to science itself. Science runs on trust. Governments give researchers money on the understanding that they will use it fairly, and honestly report their results. Peer reviewers assume that what they are judging is a fair account of what happened; they are not yet charged with policing dubious data. Without trust, the whole scientific project will collapse.” (New Scientist editorial, December 2005)
After describing another couple of high-profile cases of fabrication, New Scientist goes on to say:
“[A] certain amount of low-level bad behaviour seems to be endemic. Earlier this year, Brian Martinson and colleagues from Minneapolis published a survey of more than 3000 researchers funded by the US National Institutes of Health. (Nature, vol 435, p 727). They found that 10 percent or more admitted to withholding details of methodology or results, inappropriately assigning authorship credit, and dropping observations or data points based on a gut feeling that they were inaccurate.” (New Scientist editorial, December 2005)
Compare the misbehaviour and disgrace of Dr Hwang with the fate of poor Dr Árpád Pusztai. Dr Árpád Pusztai is the world renowned scientist whose work on feeding GM potatoes to rats revealed that the snowdrop lectin in the GM potatoes caused pathological tissue changes in the stomach linings of the rats. Dr Pusztai was surprised by his own results, but being a good scientist he checked his numbers and his methodology and finding it correct, he announced his results. In spite of his work being scientifically sound, a campaign by vested interests in the GM industry was launched against him that then led to him being unfairly sacked. It is widely known that lectins have deleterious effects on human beings. But when big business didn’t like what poor Dr Pusztai found, it had this well-behaved and respected scientist silenced.
Coming from the perspective of someone who rejects the cholesterol hypothesis, I find myself continually aware of and continually disturbed by the distortions and even the fabrications of data in scientific papers, the wrong-headed conclusions scientists sometimes come to, and dumbing down of subsequent advice when it is meted out to the general population via the media. The less than perfect trust I feel able to give science leaves me subtly disturbed.
In sociology you learn about paradigms. A paradigm is a set of ideas, theories, opinions, or beliefs held by society which are taken as fact and pretty much universally accepted. In truth they are not necessarily true. Take palaeontology. Twenty years ago the idea that a giant meteor wiped out the dinosaurs was scoffed at by most reputable palaeontologists as fantasy – until compelling evidence came from a different area of specialist knowledge; geology, in the discovery of a layer of ash in the rock found the entire world over. It then took the next twenty years for all or most of the palaeontologists to climb aboard the bandwagon and decide that this theory was probably true. Both sides represent paradigms – just like political beliefs and religions are paradigms – and ultimately there is no way to be completely sure of the truth. When people state something as true because they ‘just know it’, not merely that they see a possibility or a likelihood, it frightens me because it speaks of faith, not science.
Duck and Cover to avoid a nuclear blast? Painting one’s face white with lead? Using leeches to “bleed” a patient? We may laugh at the past, and ten years ago we did laugh at the idea of using leeches to “bleed” sick people during pre-modern times. But it turns out that leeches provide endorphins that block pain, and the anti-clotting substances in their saliva are useful for a variety of ailments, from deep vein thrombosis, to strokes, to heart attacks. The point is, we don’t always move forwards in science, sometimes we move backwards or sideways too, as we did when we dismissed the age-old remedy of “bleeding” as groundless. I imagine there are quite a lot of age-old remedies currently dismissed as pure quackery that are still waiting to be vindicated as having minor usefulness. Certainly there are a large quantity of traditional herbal medicines that have barely been studied for their worth. The reverse is true too – some alternative remedies that many people accept as fact – like crystal healing or homeopathy – have been found to have no more effect on people than that of a placebo. Yet the placebo effect is real and useful too.
Students of the psychology of advertising are well aware that once you are over a certain age (coincidentally the age that a typical PhD student graduates), you are unlikely to revise your preferences or opinions. Advertising companies regard marketing goods to people over the age of thirty-five as pointless. The beliefs that you formed in your younger life are now fixed, you no longer move with the times, and you become more and more out of touch with new ideas. My parents often complain about how “set in their ways” my grandparents are. Predictably, I find myself saying the same about them to my contemporaries, though I too am approaching the critical age!
The same is true in science. It has been said that science moves forward funeral by funeral. People, especially respected people like scientists, don’t like changing their opinions about things: if one invests a lot into one’s opinions it puts one’s ego at stake; it’s embarrassing to admit that one is wrong, it undermines one’s authority and also damages one’s commercial ability to earn money. So science grinds forward reluctantly, only as one set of people are replaced by another, and one paradigm is able to be replaced by another.
Most people cannot accept observed fact as knowledge unless they have an underlying theory to explain the facts too. It has never been enough to observe that the sun rises in the morning and falls in the evening, people have to understand why. In pre-Enlightenment times the undisputed belief was that God had made it so. Today we point to the spin of the Earth. It is this gap between fact and theory that turns a paradigm into either a science or a belief, and sometimes the dominant theory about why or how something works comes to overshadow the evidence, and as New Scientist says, that bad behaviour of “dropping observations or data points based on a gut feeling that they were inaccurate.” Gut feelings are just feelings. They are not science. Only controlled, factual observations are science.
When I was a teenager we were set to do an experiment in our science class. The experiment was to monitor the temperature of a beaker of boiled water every few minutes until it cooled down. For the first few minutes, I was in control of the observation. I wrote down the temperature, but as I had particular ideas about what the water would do, I rounded the temperature up or down by a couple of degrees. I dropped observations based on a gut feeling they were inaccurate. I made a beautiful straight line on the graph. Then my friend took over from me, and very soon it became clear that the temperature of the water had not been making a straight line, but a curved one. I had innocently been fabricating my data. When I realised what I had done, I learned my lesson and I promised never to repeat my mistake.
Good science is work based on the scientific method. The scientific method is this: form a theory based on previous observations; find a way to test your observations; record the observations without prejudice; use the observations to disprove your theory (in philosophy, you can never truly prove your theory). There are numerous crucial points where science can go wrong: flawed premises, shoddy research methods, manipulation of data, inferring proof based on statistically insignificant figures (this is most usually the method used to ‘prove’ the cholesterol hypothesis), downright lying, and money.
A lot of ‘science’ today is carried out by people who have vested interests in the outcome of the research. The testing of new medical drugs is entirely self-regulated by the medical industry. People who have vested interests in getting results all too often are the people who are making the results. This is a serious conflict of interest. It is too easy to be so convinced of the truth of a theory so that one distorts or covers up the evidence in order to prove that theory. It is too easy to blind people with science. It is too easy to establish a paradigm with given facts and causes that may have little relation to the reality. The matter is that if you say something for long enough and loud enough and add enough scientific terms into your sentences, people will start to believe you. Science really is based on trust, and the people who run science are not necessarily trustworthy one hundred percent of the time.
I have this nightmare sometimes. In my nightmare I am in a world where people are blinded. They have their paradigm – their beliefs – about the way the world works and they refuse to change them in the light of reason, logic, and evidence. Sometimes they hang on to these beliefs because the beliefs make them feel secure, or they feel their observations of the world should align with their moral code, or they don’t like to be wrong, sometimes because they like to feel ‘spiritual’ or ‘intuitive’ or ‘mystical’ or they believe in God, or because they just don’t understand what they’re being told, and sometimes merely because they don’t like change.This is a nightmare world, a place of the dark ages, of drunkenness and faith. It is indeed a spiritually bankrupt world, for what is spirituality but a quest for the truth?