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Why and When Should We Rely on Scientific Experts? The Atkins Diet as an Alternative Theory by David Ramsay Steele

The Atkins Diet has been condemned by the majority of qualified experts—nutritionists, dieticians, and physicians. Although the preponderance of hostile expert opinion has somewhat lessened since the publication, beginning in 2002, of studies which seem to vindicate Atkins 1, the majority of established authorities still denounce the Atkins Diet and warn sternly against its conjectured dangerous consequences.

The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, and American Kidney Fund have all issued official statements strongly discouraging the Atkins Diet. And a number of eminent dieticians such as Dean Ornish have vilified all low-carb diets in colorful terms. The venom of the hostility to Atkins can be gauged from the title of one of the leading anti-Atkins books, Killer Diets 2.

At the same time, there are some experts who support the Atkins Diet, or in some cases deliver a mixed verdict, saying that the Atkins Diet is, if not perfect, an improvement on the typical American diet. Advocates of the Atkins Diet sometimes have letters after their names, including “M.D.” and “Ph.D.”, and often argue in detail that the reigning dietary doctrine is wrong, citing research and questioning the interpretation of research findings by the dominant anti-Atkins propagandists.

What’s the ordinary person, someone with no qualifications in nutritional science, to make of this? Should we automatically trust the experts? And if the experts are divided, should we always go with the majority and turn a deaf ear to dissenting voices?

Sixty years ago, George Orwell became troubled by the fact that he acceepted many scientific opinions without knowing the reasoning behind them. Orwell asserted that he, like most nonscientists of above-average education, would not be able to mount very effective arguments against the Earth being flat. 3 He personally did not doubt that the Earth is round, yet he was bothered by the fact that he seemed to be accepting this scientific consensus with the same uncritical trust as the member of a preliterate tribe might accept the pronouncements of its witchdoctor—or the same blind faith as a loyal subject of a totalitarian regime.

When Orwell wrote, most of Europe was dominated by National Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. In both parts of Europe, the views of the dominant scientific experts were taught in schools, and most experts seemed to accept them.

In the German dominated area, the official Nazi line prevailed. Not only were some races claimed to be inferior to others, but many theories originated by Jews, such as Einstein’s Relativity, were dismissed as pseudoscience.

Meanwhile, in Soviet Russia, a sixth of the world’s population were taught that all of genetics was pseudoscience, and that the theories of Stalin’s favored biologist, Trofim Lysenko, were correct. Even eminent scientists in Britain and America, if they were politically sympathetic to Communism, defended Lysenko’s theories against Mendel’s genetics, while all Western biologists not sympathetic to Communism (more than ninety percent of them) favored Mendel, and held that Lysenko was a wretched mountebank. 4 These developments made it clear that there can be a large element of ideological bias in the determination of the expert consensus on various issues.

Dominant Theories and Alternative Theories

The Atkins Diet is an example of an unorthodox doctrine or a dissident school of thought. In this chapter I will call it an “alternative theory.” It’s a rival system of ideas, in opposition to the ideas held by most experts in the field, as found in college courses, especially textbooks, and in the public opinions of the most eminent qualified people. Here are a few other examples of alternative theories:

• Advocacy of megadoses of vitamins by Linus Pauling and others; 5

• Chiropractic; 6

• Homeopathy (an unorthodox form of medical treatment which recommends minute doses of substances that in larger doses would actually cause the symptoms of the ailment); 7

• The conspiracy theory of the killing of President Kennedy; 8

• Creation Science; 9

• Noam Chomsky’s account of U.S. foreign policy; 10

• The theory that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the known “works of Shakespeare”; 11

• An alternative reconstruction of Christian history, popularized in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, according to which a secret group within the Church is suppressing the fact that descendants of Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene are alive today. 12

• The Orgone Therapy of Wilhelm Reich; 13

• Climatologists who reject the currently fashionable theory of Global Warming; 14

• Marxist economists, who reject the dominant neoclassical theory of marginal productivity, in favor of the labor theory of value; 15

• The theory that the U.S. government is concealing a contact with alien spacecraft at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and the related theory that many thousands of people have been abducted by aliens and experimented upon by these aliens in their spaceships. 16

• Thomas Gold’s theory that petroleum is not a fossil fuel, but is part of the primordial substance out of which the Earth was formed, and exists at deep levels in superabundant quantities. 17

These are just a handful of examples plucked at random from thousands of “alternative theories.” We could also mention numerous alternative diets, less famous than the Atkins diet and equally out of favor with the dominant dietetic doctrine. Some of these diets, like the Gaylord Hauser, Protein Power, NeanderThin, or Sugar Busters diets, have affinities with Atkins, while some, like the Macrobiotic or Pritikin diets, are virtually the opposite of Atkins.

Dominant Theories Change

The consensus of qualified experts at any one time is very often reversed later. “Crackpot” theories have become scientific orthodoxy. One of many examples is the movement of continents. People have often noticed that, on a map of the world, the coast of South America seems to fit the coast of Africa, as if these were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. At one time, anyone suggesting that this had some significance, as showing that the continents had broken apart, was ridiculed as a simpleton or a crackpot. Yet today this breaking apart and movement of continents is the established scientific consensus. It’s called Plate Tectonics—and you’re now an ignoramus or a crackpot if you question it. Another example is the existence of meteorites. At one time, reports of rocks falling from the sky were viewed much as reports of alien abductions are viewed today. Yet all scientists now acknowledge that rocks do indeed fall from the sky.

The reverse has also occurred. The view, maintained in the Bible, that God deliberately and separately created all the various kinds of living things, and did so about six thousand years ago, was widely accepted among biologists until the nineteenth century. In this case what was once scientific orthodoxy has now become heterodox and “crackpot.”

It’s reasonable to suppose that some of today’s important conclusions of established experts are wrong and will in time be dropped. If we were to list all the hundreds of currently accepted scientific theories, we could be pretty sure that many of these will be rejected within the next fifty years. This has happened in every fifty-year period over the last few centuries, and no one believes that this process has just now stopped. We expect that many of today’s most respected scientific theories (now accepted as “scientific fact”) will be discarded by science, though we don’t know which ones.

There’s a scene in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, where the awakening Sleeper is plied with cigarettes and chocolates by physicians in attendance. Viewers instantly get Allen’s point: the reigning opinion among experts has often changed and will probably therefore change again. Expert opinion is fallible and revisable. What they tell you today is dangerous, they will probably tell you tomorrow is lifesaving. The fact that most or all experts favor some view certainly does not mean that it is true, or even that it will continue to be the expert consensus for very much longer. So why should we place any reliance on it?

The Problem of Induction

This brings us right up against one of the classic philosophical problems, the problem of Induction. 18 The word “induction” has a number of different meanings. In the Atkins Diet, the beginning phase, where a person first adjusts her eating patterns, is called “Induction.” In electronics, there is a process called “induction” which refers to what happens when you move a magnet inside a coil.

We’re going to look at a different sense of induction. In philosophy, “induction” refers to a procedure by which we arrive at conclusions that go beyond our experience. For example, having seen thousands of white swans, and none of any other color, can we conclude that all swans are white? Having witnessed a new period of daylight after every night of our lives, can we be confident that the Sun will rise tomorrow? If all the vegetarians we have ever known have been untrustworthy, can we reasonably infer that all vegetarians are untrustworthy?

Questions like these arise in everyday life and they also arise in science. Much of the philosophical discussion of induction has been about induction as a scientific method, but the conclusions apply to all other kinds of knowledge too. Induction has often been described as “going from the particular to the general (or the universal),” as opposed to “going from the general (or the universal) to the particular.”

The problem of induction is a matter of logic. Logic is the discipline which examines what follows from what. Logic is not concerned with whether statements are true or false, but with what other statements have to be true, if a specific statement is true. For instance, if we accept that “all Atkins dieters eat beef” and that “Bill Irwin is an Atkins dieter,” it certainly follows that Bill Irwin eats beef. Logic is not interested in whether it’s true or false that all Atkins dieters eat beef or that Bill Irwin is an Atkins dieter. Logic is concerned with whether, if it’s true that all Atkins dieters eat beef, and if it’s also true that Bill Irwin is an Atkins dieter, it must follow that Bill Irwin eats beef.

And it must indeed follow! Logicians agree that if all Atkins dieters eat beef and Bill Irwin is an Atkins dieter, then Bill Irwin eats beef. In the terminology of logic, this is a valid inference: it really does follow. By the way, this particular kind of inference is called a syllogism, and was identified by Aristotle over two thousand years ago. It has been described as going from the general, or the universal (all Atkins dieters eat beef) to the particular (if Bill Irwin is an Atkins dieter, then he eats beef).

The problem of induction arises because science (and everyday reasoning) seems to require going in the reverse direction, from the particular to the universal. Science is concerned to find “laws,” universal generalizations which admit of no exception. Of course, there’s much more to science than universal laws, yet such laws are crucial to science.

How does science arrive at its universal laws? Traditionally, the answer has been: by observation. But now the problem of induction rears its grinning head. Observation is always of a limited number of cases, not of all cases. How can we get from observation of some cases to conclusions about all cases?

Induction—forming universal conclusions from a limited number of observations—has been discussed by many philosophers, notably Aristotle (fourth century B.C.) and Sextus Empiricus (third century A.D.), but its difficulties were raised most sharply by David Hume in the eighteenth century A.D. Hume pointed out that no amount of observations of one type of thing could ever justify us in concluding that what we observed would be true of all cases of that type of thing. Nor, as Hume also shrewdly pointed out, could it ever justify us in concluding that the general law was even “probably” true.

Hume was convinced that we do derive universal laws from repeated observations, and yet he believed that this was a logically indefensible thing to do. He therefore reluctantly concluded that our habit of coming up with general laws, though unavoidable, was unreasonable. This conclusion was unwelcome to Hume, who had hoped to find a method for discriminating between what he thought would be justified beliefs (science) and what he thought would be unjustified ones (Christianity and other forms of contemptible superstition). Although Hume did go on to describe ways in which this discrimination could be made, he felt himself to be defeated by what he took to be something illogical, and therefore unreasonable, at the heart of the way we all necessarily think.

After Hume, many philosophers wrestled with this problem. Their solutions mostly fall into two categories. One view is that since we cannot logically arrive at universal conclusions from particular observations, the universal conclusions must already be in our minds. We do not find universal laws in nature, but impose them on nature. This approach, developed by Kant, was taken up by philosophers like Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, known as “idealists.”

The alternative and much more common view, traceable in the writings of philosophers like Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill, is that as we obviously do learn by experience and observation, we must therefore somehow reason by induction, from the particular to the general. Since logic shows this to be impossible, logic must be incomplete. Logic is therefore renamed “deductive logic,” and it is supposed that there is some other logic called “inductive logic,” which somehow enables us to get from particular observations to universal conclusions. Unfortunately, no such logic has been discovered—or at least, none which commands the general assent of logicians, philosophers, or scientists. 19

Popper’s Solution to the Problem of Induction

Early in the twentieth century, Karl Popper came up with a new solution to the problem of induction. 20 Popper accepted Hume’s conclusion that nothing could ever justify us in going from “the particular to the general,” or in other words, from a limited number of observations to a universal law. But he did not accept that there was anything unreasonable about science.

Popper pointed out that while a proposed scientific “law” could never be proved or established by any number of observed instances (no matter how many Atkins dieters we find who do eat beef, this can never prove that all Atkins dieters, at all times and places, will eat beef), a proposed scientific law could possibly be “disproved” or falsified (just one case of an Atkins dieter who does not eat beef proves that it is false that all Atkins dieters eat beef).

This apparently trivial logical point actually has tremendous repercussions. What it means is this: although no amount of observation can show any theory to be true, observation can sometimes show a theory to be false. And this means that, despite the total absence of positive “proof” for any universal theory, not all such theories are equal. It’s entirely reasonable to prefer one theory to another, if one theory has not been falsified and another theory has been falsified.

So, where we have to choose between two theories, we should try to think of cases where they contradict one another in what they claim will be observed. We can then try to set up a test, some experiment which will show one theory to be false without showing the other theory to be false. What was striking, and to many quite shocking, about the studies like those cited above in note 1 was that they indicated, not only that the Atkins Diet leads to rapid loss of weight, but also that it causes a significant improvement in blood lipid profiles, superior to the effects of low-fat, low-cholesterol diets. This was a result the advocates of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet had not expected and could not account for—eating more fat and cholesterol (while cutting carbs) lowers your body fat and your blood cholesterol—though it was predicted by Atkins.

The result of Popper’s solution is that Hume was quite right to point out that scientific induction is logically indefensible, but quite wrong to conclude that acceptance of a scientific theory entails an unreasonable kind of thinking. The thinking required is entirely reasonable, it conforms to deductive logic, and there is no need to hanker for any other kind of logic. 21

This Popperian or Critical Rationalist view implies that no theory ever becomes “final.” We always have to leave open the possibility that any theory might have to be discarded. But this turns out to be a realistic view of science, for we know that in the history of science some very firmly entrenched scientific theories have been abandoned and replaced by new theories. The most staggeringly successful scientific theory of all time, Newton’s theory of space, time, and gravitation, was eventually falsified and replaced by Einstein’s theory—though Einstein did not believe his own theory to be true, and predicted that it would in its turn eventually be replaced by a better theory. 22

The fact that no theory is finally established does not mean that “anything goes.” One theory is replaced by another because the new theory survives the collected observations so far, which the old theory could not survive. Unless some of these observations turn out to be mistakes, hoaxes, or hallucinations, a third theory which will replace the second theory must do better than the second theory and the first theory. We are not free to go back to the first theory at our whim—if our aim is to get on the track of the truth.

Popper’s Critical Rationalism explains how one theory, perhaps false, can be an improvement over another false theory. If a theory has been well tested and has survived, it makes sense to prefer this theory to others. And even though the theory may turn out to be false, it may yet approximate to the truth in many cases. A false theory can be extremely useful, if it is a good approximation to the truth across a certain range of possibilities. Even though we cannot know that the current theory is true, we can know that it appears closer to the truth than its predecessors.

Kuhn’s Paradigms

If observations can test theories and show which theories are best, you might think that there would always be complete agreement on which is the best theory. The real situation is much more messy. A good theory often has troubling anomalies, cases where some observations (or conclusions of some other currently accepted theories) seem to go against the theory, even though, taken as a whole, this theory appears to make the best sense of all the observations. Scientists may disagree on just how troubling those anomalies are. They may, in effect, bet on a promising-looking theory being successful, feeling confident that further research will eventually show that the theory does not really conflict with observations.

Inspired by Popper’s solution to the problem of induction, 23 Thomas Kuhn made a close study of “scientific revolutions,” historical examples where one firmly established theory was overthrown and replaced by a new theory. He found that in many cases, the existing scientists were not converted to belief in the new theories. They went to their graves defending the old theories. New recruits, young scientists, accepted the new theories, which therefore became dominant as the old guard died off.

Kuhn applied the term “paradigm” to the totality of scientific theories, rules, and traditions in operation in a particular discipline at a given time. He claimed that when a great “scientific revolution” occurs, the majority of existing specialists are so wedded to the old paradigm that they cannot fully understand the new theory. Adherents of the old and the new paradigms “talk past each other,” seeing things so differently that they do not identify the same strengths and weaknesses in the two rival viewpoints. Young scientists or scientists from other disciplines are usually better situated to switch to the new paradigm and therefore more fully appreciate the merits of the new theory. (It’s notable that a high proportion of low-carb advocates, like Atkins and Agatston, are cardiologists, not dieticians, by background.)

First Question: Does It Ever Make Sense to “Trust the Experts”?

How should a non-expert person make up her mind about what the scientific experts are saying? Right off the bat, one precaution we should take is to check up on whether the supposed “experts” really are the appropriate experts. For example, a doctor, an ordinary practicing physician, may be no more of an expert on the science of human diet than you would be if you spent a couple of hours on the Internet. The doctor may just be repeating the fashionable or official line, without drawing upon any special knowledge. Individuals who have been through medical school and come out with an M.D. have often received very little training in the proper ways to conduct research, and a busy family doctor may not have kept up with the latest research by reading current journals of human nutrition. 24 It’s also far from clear that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an appropriate body to be laying down guidelines on what we should eat.

Assuming we are dealing with genuine experts in the relevant field, our first question is: does it ever make sense to rely upon expert opinion when we don’t know what the experts know? Why is it any more reasonable for us to accept what astronomers tell us about the phases of the Moon or what the USDA tells us about the optimal diet than it is for the member of a preliterate tribe to accept the witch doctor’s recommendation that he kill his child in order to ensure the rebirth of the sun?

Here the answer depends upon a theory we hold about the way this group of experts arrives at its preferred theories. If we think that they do this by proposing theories and trying hard to falsify them, subsequently preferring the theories which survive such tests, it will make sense for us to accept the theories currently preferred by this group of experts.

This involves a theory of our own, a theory about the way the group of experts operates. This theory of ours can be tested, and might be falsified. For example, if this group of experts is susceptible to pressure from interest groups, or is prone to make ideological statements about “social responsibility,” that would be a sign that they are perhaps not subjecting their theories to severe tests. Their views might then quite properly be disregarded, just as the views of National Socialist “racial scientists” and Soviet Lysenkoists should have been disregarded (and were disregarded by most scientists and laypeople in non-totalitarian countries).

It’s not the holding of strong opinions that puts a question mark over a community of scientists. It doesn’t matter much if scientists are “biased,” in the sense of firmly believing in a theory and ardently hoping that it will be vindicated. On balance, this kind of intense commitment to a point of view is probably helpful, though it obviously has its dangers. What matters is the possibility that a community of scientists may be more concerned to defend some theory than to subject it to severe tests. There is no guarantee that a professional community of scientists will not become transformed into a cultlike priesthood, their minds closed to views they classify as heresy. The best protection against such a transformation is open debate. The more politically or ideologically involved a group of experts is, the more what they say should be looked at closely, for possible signs of dogmatism and blindness to problems in their favored theory.

The more they depend upon government money, or money from business interests concerned with the area of their research, the more they should be viewed with suspicion, especially if what they say is welcome to the purveyors of current policies. The Department of Agriculture’s experts are unlikely to start a campaign against the near-ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup. Yet this is a matter of degree, and we should not be perfectionist. Scientific communities have always been subject to ideological and political pressures, and just because they are not pure as driven snow does not mean that everything they say is worthless.

So the answer to our first question, the question that troubled Orwell, is: yes, it does make sense to accept what is currently said by scientific experts in a given field. This is not because of any blind faith in science, or any guarantee that their current theories will not be falsified tomorrow. It makes sense for us to accept—provisionally and tentatively—what scientists say for the same reason that it makes sense for them to accept—provisionally and tentatively—the theory which has done better than its rivals at surviving attempts to prove it wrong. This theory may not be true, it is definitely not the final word of some infallible oracle, but it is preferable to any known alternative, and even if it turns out to be wrong, it will very likely be at least approximately true in many circumstances.

As for the tribal witchdoctor, it may not be entirely unreasonable to accept his recommendations too, in the absence of strong indications to the contrary. But this will be a better bet if there is rivalry among competing witchdoctors and free debate between them, and if they are observed to occasionally revise their “theories” in the light of both observation and argument.

Second Question: Does It Ever Make Sense to Go Against the Dominant Experts?

Science is often presented to children as a triumph of obvious truth over obvious falsehood. The merits of the triumphant view are pointed out, but the merits of the defeated view, and the difficulties which seemed to lie in the later triumphant view, are often not mentioned. While this provides a story that is easy to understand, it can be highly misleading. For example, the theory that the earth spins and orbits the sun was rejected by no less a hardheaded enemy of superstition than Francis Bacon, for reasons which seemed to him very persuasive. 25 The great early astronomer Tycho Brahe also refused to swallow the moving earth. Galileo rejected the theory that the Moon causes the tides, partly because he considered it an astrological theory of occult forces.

Science progresses by debate and disputation. It is typically untidy and often acrimonious. Significant scientific advances are usually highly controversial. Arguments, even bitter quarrels, between different opinions are therefore not alien to science, and we should never seek to rise above them by appealing to “the established facts,” meaning the current consensus of scientists’ opinions.

What should the ordinary person do about these scientific debates? So far I have been assuming that there is a clear line separating “the ordinary person” from “the expert scientist.” In fact, the division is not so clearcut. Science is a specialized occupation, just as plumbing or crime prevention are specialized occupations. But some non-plumbers may fix their own dripping pipes, and some non-police officers may shoot a rapist or a burglar. Specialization is only a matter of convenience. Scientists, like plumbers and police officers, are doing something for the rest of us, just because each of us can’t do everything.

In fact, many contributions to science have been made by unqualified amateurs or people on the fringes of a scientific profession, and there is some evidence that specialized disciplines sealed off from interaction with the general public become hidebound and sterile. 26 There are also valuable contributions by scholars in disciplines other than their own narrow specialty. Kuhn, as we have seen, claimed that major innovations are more likely to be made by outsiders, and many historians of science agree with Kuhn. Experts in specialized disciplines often find that explaining their theories to the general public helps them to develop those very theories, and in some cases, genuine new contributions are made by works aimed at a broad popular audience, a good example being the best-selling books of Richard Dawkins on evolutionary biology. 271

The progress of science is a social process, involving the interaction of many individuals, and it is an inherently controversial process, advancing by debate, disputation, criticism, and the clash of competing theories. In this process of argumentative exploration, privileging specific groups as uniquely qualified to pronounce on various topics can be harmful. Debate, persuasive advocacy, and confrontation of rival views are not imperfections, but necessary aspects of the growth of knowledge.

When a dominant theory is challenged by an alternative theory, the result may be the revolutionary overthrow of the dominant theory or it may be the continuation of the dominant theory. But it’s also possible that the dominant theory becomes modified by its responses to the alternative theory. We see this in the case of the Atkins diet.

Twenty years ago opponents of the Atkins Diet generally claimed that it was not an effective way to lose weight. Few people claim this now: most critics concede that Atkins does work. Defenders of the dominant theory fall back on four assertions: 1. that the Atkins Diet works by cutting calorie intake, and not in the way that Robert Atkins contended; 2. that Atkins’s opposition to soda, potato chips, and other refined carbohydrates is correct, but not his strict limitation of unrefined carbohydrates; 3. that there may possibly be longterm injurious effects from a high-protein diet (the most commonly cited of these so far uncorroborated surmises is kidney damage); and 4. that the studies conducted to date have involved small numbers of subjects, and their findings may not be borne out by studies on a bigger scale.

Don’t Leave It to the Experts

Should we accept the recommendations of most dietary experts or should we adopt the Atkins Diet or some other alternative diet? I have not tried to answer this question.

What I have claimed is that there is nothing necessarily foolish or wrongheaded about accepting the recommendations of experts in a field about which you know very little. And neither is there anything necessarily foolish or wrong-headed about taking the side of an alternative theory against the established consensus of experts.

Which of these you do in this particular case I leave to you. Read some of the controversy and you will automatically come up with a point of view. This will be tentative and revisable in the light of further information, but so are all theories and all conclusions, expert or non-expert . Jump right into the ongoing debate: what else is your mind for? Human Knowledge is too important to be left to experts.




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1 Among many such studies, see Eric C. Westman et al., American Journal of Medicine (July 2002); F.F. Samaha et al., New England Journal of Medicine (22nd May, 2003); Gary D. Foster et al., New England Journal of Medicine (22nd May, 2003); William S. Yancy Jr. et al., Annals of Internal Medicine (18th May, 2004).

2 Laura Muha, Killer Diets: Are Low-Carb Diets High Risk? (New York: Chamberlain, 2004).

3 George Orwell, Collected Works (London: Secker and Warburg, 1998) Volume XVIII, pp. 521–22.

4 See David Joravsky, The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970).

5 Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling, Cancer and Vitamin C (Philadelphia: Camino, 1993). The dominant experts are not as dismissive of large doses of vitamins as they were twenty years ago, but they still reject the complete Pauling argument.

6 Michael Lenarz, The Chiropractic Way (New York: Bantam, 2003).

7 Bill Gray, Homeopathy: Science or Myth? (Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2000). Homeopathy, chiropractic, and numerous other unorthodox doctrines are all outlined in The Burton Goldberg Group, Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (Tiburon: Future Medicine, 1993).

8 James H. Fetzer, ed., Murder in Dealey Plaza: What We Know Now that We Didn’t Know Then about the Death of JFK (Chicago: Catfeet, 2000); Noel Twyman, Bloody Treason: On Solving History’s Greatest Murder Mystery, the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Rancho Santa Fe: Laurel, 1997).

9 Duane Gish, The Amazing Story of Creation: From Science and the Bible (Green Forest: Master Books, 1996). A more sophisticated statement of a Creationist position by a number of qualified professionals is William A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

10 Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Holt, 2003).

11 Among leading candidates are Christopher Marlowe (whose early death must have been faked), Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford. For a survey of different views, see John Michell, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996).

12 Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York: Dell, 1983 [1982]).

13 Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1973).

14 Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling, Jr., The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2000).

15 Ernest Mandel, Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory (New York: Pathfinder, 1974); Michael Charles Howard and J.E. King, The Political Economy of Marx, second edition (New York: NYU Press, 1988).

16 Philip J. Corso, The Day After Roswell (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997); David M. Jacobs, Secret Life: First-hand Documented Accounts of UFO Abductions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).

17 Thomas Gold, The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels (New York: Copernicus, 2001 [1998]).

18 See Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959 [1912]), pp. 60–69.

19 From now on, I follow the Popperian or Critical Rationalist view that there is no such thing as inductive logic. For a different approach, which argues that there is a way to arrive at a logic of induction, in this case on Bayesian lines, see Colin Howson and Peter Urbach, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, third edition (Chicago: Open Court, 2005).

20 Expounded in his Logic of Scientific Discovery, which first appeared in German in 1934. A good straightforward account is Popper, Realism and the Aim of Science (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1983), pp. 31–88.

21 It’s now fashionable to distinguish deduction from induction by the criterion that deduction is certain while induction is probable. However, conclusions stating probabilities can be derived purely deductively from statistical premises: this has no bearing on the problem of induction.

22 Newton’s theory survives as a special case within Einstein’s theory: Newton’s theory remains a good approximation for a wide range of phenomena.

23 Although Popper and Kuhn had sharp disagreements and are usually cast as opponents, Kuhn accepted Popper’s solution to the induction problem, and Popper broadly accepted Kuhn’s account of the history of physics. See Kuhn’s comparison of his views with Popper’s, and Popper’s reply to Kuhn, in Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Karl Popper (La Salle: Open Court, 1974), pp. 798–819, 1144–48.

24 Medical experts have a notorious history of scaring people with bogus “health risks.” The classic account is Alex Comfort, The Anxiety Makers (New York: Dell, 1969).

25 See Peter Urbach, Francis Bacon’s Philosophy of Science (La Salle: Open Court, 1987), pp. 125–134.

26 See W.W. Bartley III, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations (La Salle: Open Court, 1990), pp. 120–142.

27 Dawkins’s concept of the “meme” has now been adopted in several social-science disciplines. It was first propounded in his popular work, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).


This article is reprinted from The Atkins Diet and Philosophy: Chewing the Fat with Kant and Nietzsche, edited by Lisa Heldke, Kerri Mommer, and Cynthia Pineo (Chicago: Open Court, 2005) and is reproduced here by permission of the author and of Open Court Publishing Company.

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