Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Fault in Each of Us - Cognitive Resistance

In the way our brains work, we struggle to see our own mistakes. It's difficult to accurately proof read your own writing. Once we develop a concept, we use that understanding as a measure of the importance and/or the reliability of new information. We build our knowledge on the foundation of our earlier understandings.

When something comes to our attention that's contrary to "what we know" it's not understandable, and it's usually identified as unimportant or unreliable. If our previous knowledge prepares us for new concepts, we still need to; acknowledge the facts presented, to hold the new information in conscious view, to allow the conflict between what we "know" and the new "knowledge" to reside within us. We have to allow both the conscious mind and the subconscious mind to struggle with the incongruent information: learning takes effort.

Finding "Truth" - or Seeking to Know

Even if the new information is called scientific research, we are likely to make a much easier choice, and reject the new ideas without consideration.

This is well demonstrated by the life of filmmaker Waldo Salt. Salt was 20 when he graduated from Stanford University. He was idealistic, his first film script was released in 1937. In 1938, he joined the Communist Party, fully convinced that Communism was the way to social and economic justice. He suffered for his beliefs, being blacklisted in 1951. Five years later, the news of what was really happening in the USSR and China shocked him. He finally recognised his misguided thinking. But he couldn't immediately adopt a new viewpoint. There was a long period of disillusionment and soul searching, before he could develop a new set of life principles, a new understanding of "the truth."

I first wrote about this in my journal over 20 years ago. Salt also kept a journal, mostly in the form of proposed film frames like a comic book. On one page there are only these words. "To search for truth one must first have lost it." See this article that I wrote in 2007. It refers to the schooling that we all have, and the difficulty of deschooling ourselves. For Waldo Salt that process began in 1956, when he realized that Communism was not after all a solution to the evils of the world. He was 42, but was lost and unsure of himself. At 53 he was once again writing successfully.

Why we Reject New Ideas

Most people reading this blog will be familiar with the concepts behind the Banting diet. It's simple really. I could tell you in one line, or in ten principles, in a lecture, or on a web site. If you believe that a low-fat, cholesterol reduced diet, or a vegetarian diet is healthy, you cannot allow yourself to "hear" the message in any of the previous links. If you already "know the truth," there can be no search for a better truth.

I have good friends who have weight issues, and type two diabetes, and severe symptoms of metabolic syndrome, but I can't help them. They already "know." When they know they don't know, when they've "lost the truth" they might be reachable. Each of us is our own master.

Dr William Castelli Director of the Framingham Heart Study, looking at many black swan results, said in 1992; "We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories; weighed the least and were the most physically active." Even today, for most people that makes no sense at all. However, Banters, or other LCHF diet people, will understand it easily.

In the same way, Banters will understand the results of the dietary study in the the Women's Health Initiative. We understand that a low-fat diet can't be a healthy diet.

But in 2006, that was a shock result to the nutritional establishment. The official response to the unexpected results to the dietary study in the Women's Health Initiative was to set it aside. Dr Elizabeth Nabal, appeared on television to reinforce the importance of the low-fat diet, and to promote business as usual. A strategy that's continued to work for eleven further years, never mind the continuing damage done to public health. The WHI result was "unfortunate" so they chose to ignore it.

In the 1960's Dr George Mann's work in Kenya was ignored. As part of the Framingham study he had also collected data on 1000 American people over two years. The results of that study were unexpected and contrary to what the NIH wanted to publish. In 1977 because of that work, he knew the Diet Heart Hypothesis was nonsense. When George Mann was openly critical of the Diet Heart Hypothesis and the Cholesterol theory of cardio vascular disease, he had years of good science on his side. He was very bitter that his advice was discounted and that his career had a premature end.

It took ten years for the establishment of accept that stomach ulcers were caused by a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, and not by stress or food intake. The evidence for that change was scientifically clear. In the same way it's been clear for more than 20 years that low-carbohydrate diets give diabetics superior control over their glucose peaks and reduce their need for insulin. But the recommendation is seemingly impossible for Diabetic Associations and many doctors to accept.

We all have pre-conceived ideas, and convincing evidence in support of those ideas is readily accepted. Evidence to the contrary is easily minimised, ignored or dismissed.

For instance this data from India is compelling, but it was never taken seriously. Note the date, 1960's. The heart disease rate was seven times higher, in the vegetarian, low-fat, south of India. There is a cultural barrier, it's about India, Americans are saying "it's not about us," as if the people of India, and science from India, are not to be trusted. There's a cost to that.

Sometimes people prepare elaborate defence's of their existing position. The Stellenbosch University - Cochrane Collaboration usually called the Naudé Review is a case in point. They compared several low-carbohydrate diets with a standard diet and claimed that for weight loss there was no difference. The study is significant for what it didn't do. The study defined low-carbohydrate as less 40% of total calories, about 220gm of carbohydrate per day. They did not do a comparison with very low-carbohydrate diets, less that 50gm of carbohydrate per day. Their study by design, didn't look at very low-carbohydrate diets like the Banting Diet. (Probably because the Stellenbosch researchers, and many researchers around the world, are lipophobic, and cannot recommend a high fat diet to trial participants.)

On publication, in July, 2014, the lead author of the Naudé Review, Celeste E Naudé, was active in the South African news media, using the study as evidence to discredit Dr Tim Noakes, The Real Meal Revolution and the Banting diet. Given the limitations of the study this attack was unprofessional and dishonest.

We can all be guilty of allowing our prior knowledge to blind us to new thinking. Commitment to well established conventions, professional standards if you like, can cause that sort of blindness. Loyalty to a convention can trap us in the tradition of the past, and cause us to ignore highly relevant data that should compel us to action.

That applies to each of us as individuals. We can be told what a better diet is, but we won't believe it, if we already "know" what a better diet looks like. That also applies to institutions, where the standards are written down and agreed to, and supported by members. When it becomes clear that something is wrong with those standards, making a proposal for change is both personally difficult, and politically dangerous. All our institutions and political parties suffer in that way, the rate of real change is quickening. The slow response of our institutions puts them under constant pressure.

John Stephen Veitch                     Printable Version Printer of this Essay
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