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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reviewing the science

Salak: the snakeskin fruit.
False beliefs and pseudoscience are comfortably ensconced in most food and food practices in just about all cultures I know of. Though I don't understand it, the emotional connection people have with food seems to trump rational perspectives, such that beliefs and biases will be held on equal footing to evidence. Case in point, Molly Dunn, in the Houston Press, blogs about a list of foods that are mood modifiers, with little more than WebMD to back up the claims (if the name sounds familiar - she had previously written about an old, easily disqualified claim about the sports performance enhancing properties of beer).

While at Norwescon, I was privileged to attend a panel with PZ Myers on detecting pseudoscience and applying critical thinking, and this blog post is chock full of the primary features of pseudoscience: exaggerated claims, misuse of scientific terms (take the old trope about turkey and tryptophan), unfalsifiable ideas, and sloppy referencing. 

While such "listicles" - articles consisting primarily of lists - are a common motif in commercially produced blogs to elicit discussion (invariably, these lists will be "incomplete"), there's a difference between opinion and publishing pseudoscientific conclusions. The latter are a parasite on the hard won reputation of science, which was forged in the difficult crucible of peer review and objective study, and we should not stand by uncritical as such claims continue to circulate. Pseudoscientific portals like Mercola and Dr. Oz do a damaging enough job with regards to nutrition and food culture, our local publication could at least not contribute to this intellectual barbarity. 

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