One reason I haven’t written about Noakes for 18 months or so – despite his recent interest in climate-change scepticism, and his continued misrepresentation of his critics – is that I thought he was doing enough to demonstrate his epistemic irresponsibility without people like me having to point it out.
All you really need to know about Pete Evans’ new documentary, The Magic Pill, comes up on your screen 18 seconds in, where a disclaimer tells you that “the personal stories portrayed in this film are anecdotal, and we make no claims that these experiences are typical”.
Well, this is a doozy. If Alastair McAlpine* was at all worried about negative responses to his review of Lore of Nutrition, he’s perhaps less so today. This is because Prof. Noakes and Marika Sboros have now responded to said review, and in doing so, made his case for him.
Today, I’d like to briefly focus on a more worrisome theme – vaccine scepticism – that Noakes has tweeted about in the past, and one that he returns to in this interview with Gareth Cliff. The relevant segment’s audio is transcribed below, and embedded at the end of the post. It takes place between 44m07s and 45m37s of the full interview.
One good thing about the just-released “Lore of Nutrition“, documenting the campaign (allegedly) orchestrated by myself and others against an A-rated Professor with thousand of citations, hundreds of articles, many books, regular international speaking gigs, and constant (fawning) media coverage is that it leaves you in no doubt as to who the victim is (spoiler alert: it’s the celebrity scientist).
As anyone who reads Synapses would know, I’m a proponent of scientific skepticism. What that means is something along the lines of “the practice or project of studying paranormal and pseudoscientific claims through the lens of science and critical scholarship, and then sharing the results with the public“ (from Daniel Loxton’s 2013 essay, “Why is there a skeptical movement?).
Skepticism should not be conflated with hyperskepticism, as Caleb Lack and I argue in our book on critical thinking. So, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean believing in chemtrails, or Big Pharma deliberately poisoning you, or your cellphone making you infertile (it’s a bit of a pity that that one isn’t true, actually).
Last Tuesday, I gave a talk at the UCT medical school on the ethics of social media for medical professionals, which focused in part on the Health Professions Council hearings with regard to the ‘unprofessional conduct’ of Prof. Tim Noakes.
While I’ve presented a half-dozen or so talks on the philosophy and ethics of science for dietitians in the last couple of years – usually for continuing professional development (CPD) points – this one attracted more than the usual amount of attention, thanks to the imminent resumption of the Noakes hearings.
My title is intentionally misleading, as there are aspects of both the cases mentioned therein that are not a free speech issue at all.
As I pointed out in my previous post on the Gareth Cliff saga, M-Net are, to my mind, perfectly entitled to promote a certain brand image, and this entitlement is compatible with saying that Cliff doesn’t fit that image, and that they are therefore not renewing his contract.
As those of you who are following the discussions and arguments regarding “Banting” or the LCHF diet would know, the hearings with regard to Professor Tim Noakes’ giving “unconventional advice” on Twitter resumed (after convening for one day, in June) on Monday.
I attended much of the first day, and the morning of the second, and hope to return for much of the rest. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a couple of embedded interviews I gave on Monday.
So, in summary: Noakes is being characteristically savvy in leveraging these hearings into an opportunity to present the case for the LCHF diet (or “lifestyle”, if you’re a devotee). His legal team are ruthless and very well-prepared, in complete contrast to the floundering of the HPCSA team, who constantly need to be corrected on procedure and the like.
But that’s not what the hearings are meant to be about – they are meant to be about this tweet, and whether it constitutes unconventional or inappropriate advice:
@PippaLeenstra@SalCreed Baby doesn't eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween baby onto LCHF
As I said in my previous post on the hearings, while I think it’s unconventional, I don’t think it’s significantly problematic, in that it’s no different to the sort of advice we hear regularly on radio shows, or see suggested in other media.
I don’t think it’s reasonably interpreted as a “prescription” to a patient, and I think that it’s ambiguous enough to allow for a moderate interpretation, for example breast-feeding for 6 months before gradually converting your child to Banting (and perhaps introducing them to Jesus at the same time, while you’re at it).
So, the hearings are to my mind a huge waste of time and money, and will serve only as a PR opportunity for Noakes. The actual charge can be dispensed with in half an hour, and should be – the hearings are backfiring on the complainant in that Noakes is going to emerge stronger, in the sense that a win will validate his and his supporters feelings of martyrdom and being the victims of conspiracy.
All the worst aspects of the psychology of devout Banters have been on display – from the bullying and often condescending (arguably sexist) treatment of the initial complainant by one of Noakes’ legal team, to Marika Sboros following said complainant around to get photos of her in distress, others referring to her “falling apart”, and the ridiculously partisan nature of what’s being reported by those tweeting in support of Noakes.
As I was saying in a few of my occasional tweets from the hearings, if you want to play a game of fallacy-bingo, these hearings – and especially the input from van der Nest (acting for Noakes) were a goldmine. The conversations around medical ethics were absurdly superficial also – and if you add to that the manifestations of character I mention above, it’s really a frustrating thing to witness.
Arguments can be had here, and as objective readers (including some Banters) know, it’s those arguments I’ve been trying to air over the years. This isn’t a “trial” or a persecution, even though it might be a waste of time or even misguided, as I say in the interview with John Maytham below.
Just as Noakes is, in my view, utterly sincere about what he says (whether or not he’s right or wrong), the complainant in this case is sincere also, as the witnesses are in general, I imagine. For all talk of “science” the Banting crowd engage in, it’s a pity that their actions seldom manifest the careful, objective deliberations that science demands, preferring instead to perceive and/or provoke rather demeaning personal squabbles and character assassinations.
If you’ve always wanted a career in science, but never got around to studying biology, physics or whatever it is that you’re interested in, don’t fear – being (treated as) an authority is easier than you might think.
First, find a conclusion you like. Let’s say, for example, the claim that sugar is addictive. Then, find a study that supports that conclusion, and publicise it:
In this study, conducted on rats, we are told that sugar is addictive – a line that Prof. Tim Noakes repeats with some regularity. It’s of course more complicated than that, but let’s not be negative – this is a post about how easy science is, after all.
Next, what you need is a way to discredit studies that say things that don’t support your conclusions. Don’t worry about being consistent at this point – it’s fine if you apply one standard to research that supports your conclusion, and another standard to research that doesn’t.
A mouse model shows that eating high-fat diets during pregnancy might ‘program’ your baby to be fat? Rubbish – mice are not women!
@SarahLaats 1. What was exact composition of dietary fat? 2. Mice are not (wo)men. 3. In humans, carbs in pregnancy predispose to obesity
(Some of you might, upon reading confounding studies, be tempted to think that science is complicated, and rarely – if ever – suitable for justifying dogmatism. Eliminate that negativity – there’s no place for it in sciencing!)
Now, what do you do when someone praises you as a lifesaver, but in doing so, also endorses avoiding conventional doctors, seeking out naturopaths, regarding “almost all” drugs as “toxic” and vaccines as “highly dangerous”?
Well, you retweet them, of course (while perhaps reciting your mantra that science is not religion). And if someone calls you out for endorsing vaccine quackery, do not fear – dismiss their question with an insult and an appeal to authority:
Like Ms. Child, I’m also not an expert on immunology. And no, I haven’t read the book, which apparently “needs to be read by everyone with an opinion on vaccination debate”.
But why would one read this book when a cursory Google search results in extensive, well-referenced accounts of (at least) 11 flat-out misrepresentations of data in that book?
Or, when you discover that the only places the author is taken seriously is sites like quack-central Mercola? If you’re still not convinced that you’d be wasting your time reading it, what if you learned that the author is sympathetic to homeopathy?
You’d think of her as a quack herself, I’d wager, and you’d certainly not endorse her as an authority. Unless, of course, you have a conspiracy story to tell about big pharma and the medical establishment colluding to sell you drugs, while hiding “the truth” from you.
But let’s imagine you ignore all that instead. Now, you know that the public are rather upset to hear anti-vaccine messages – after all, didn’t around 170 people get measles just this year (so far) in the USA, mostly thanks to being unvaccinated?
(Maybe, you also think of that pesky HPCSA hearing coming up later this year, and how it might complicate things for you to appear to be supporting a viewpoint that is widely believed to indirectly kill people, especially babies.)
So, let’s just deny that the book is anti-vaccination, instead calling it something more grand, like a “unique historical analysis”.
@danteofdoom@greenorb No. It is a unique historical analysis of disease patterns written by a physician. Best to read it.
I suppose you just hope that people take your word for it. While, perhaps, reciting your mantra that science is not religion, and calling anyone who disagrees with you a “troll”.
If you are happier and healthier on LCHF, great, I’m happy for you. But you can, and should, expect more from those who you take as your authorities on diet and more importantly, the scientific method.
As I’ve said before, I think the jury is out on the diet questions. It’s not out on vaccinations, and hasn’t been for quite some time now.
It’s shamefully irresponsible to suggest otherwise, and disingenuous to pretend that this isn’t what you’re doing in recommending books like those of Humphries.
Noakes is asking “have you read the book?” to anyone challenging him on this on Twitter. You don’t need to read the book – there are many interviews with this author available online, including an outline of the arguments in the book on sites like Mercola’s.
Asking if you’ve read the book is mostly serving Noakes as a way to refuse to contemplate the dereliction of common-sense that is anti-vaccination endorsement on this scale. But even if he refuses to contemplate that, you nevertheless can.
Here’s something else that might interest you, on the author in question, linking to various other strange views she holds.