In a post about a code of ethics for economists*, Arnold Kling dropped a link to a video of a Gary Taubes talk. I read a number of folks who push theories along those lines, but had never really got into it. I have to say that Taubes did a very good job of making his case and showing how the research didn’t support the conventional wisdom, vindicating Eliezer Yudkowsky’s analogy to Robyn Dawes. A while back I had read 2Blowhards interview with documentary film-maker Tom Naughton, and shortly after Taubes (or maybe before, I forget which) I found that his movie “Fat Head” was freely available on Hulu. Quite a contrast. The movie was originally conceived as a rebuttal documentary to “Super Size Me”, and the poor framing reminded me of the inaptness of John Lott’s “Freedomnomics” billing itself as an attack on “Freakonomics”. Both contained interesting content demeaned by the whiff of jealousy. Naughton is a former comedian so his movie contains lots of cheap shots. From what I recall of the interview, the movie evolved over time when Naughton became aware of Taubes’ and other theories, which makes the movie less internally cohesive. Naughton goes on a fast food diet, but it’s calorie restricted and so he loses weight. Then later on he attacks the idea that calories-in-calories-out is what matters and instead that it’s all about carbs, which would have worked a lot better in the beginning if he had NOT restricted calories but just avoided carbs (which was admittedly part of his calorie-restriction strategy). Naughton also likes to play the populist to his audience by suggesting that it’s all just common sense (everyone knows McDonalds is unhealthy!) and those eggheads think we’re dumb, but part of Taubes’ point is that common sense is wrong. One odd bit from the later part of the movie is when an expert he’s interviewing says “Your grandmother would have told you these foods [white bread, as I recall] make you fat.” Maybe my grandmothers died too early, but I heard no such thing. The food pyramid was the conventional wisdom, with bread (or potatoes) being standard for meals, and sugary/fatty junk food on the top being the rare treat.
*By the date of that post, you can tell I let this post languish for a long time before finishing it up.