Great Delusions: James Watson

In an interview, James D. Watson, co-discovery of the structure of DNA, said

Some day a child is going to sue its parents for being born. They will say, My life is so awful with these terrible genetic defects.

(Quoted by Richard Bentall in Doctoring the Mind.) Watson is implying that genetic defects matter in the big picture of human impairment. They don’t. Changes over time in disease incidence, migration studies (in all instances I know of, the disease profile of the migrating group changes to match the place where they live), powerful nutritional effects (e.g., Weston Price) and other evidence of environmental potency show that all major diseases (heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, plague, tuberculosis, smallpox, etc.) are mostly caused by the environment, in the sense that environmental changes could greatly reduce their incidence. Genes are a distraction. (To say that major diseases are also “caused” by genes in the sense that genes affect environmental potency is to miss the point that we want to reduce the diseases — want to reduce obesity for example — so it is the environmental lever that matters. If a child could eliminate its obesity by changing its environment, it would not sue its parents.) If Watson was unaware of that, okay. But for him to claim the opposite is a great — and I am afraid profoundly self-serving — delusion. Continue reading “Great Delusions: James Watson”

What Causes Heart Disease? Malcolm Kendrick’s Views

In this video Malcolm Kendrick, a Scottish doctor, points out the lack of cross-country correlation between cholesterol levels and heart disease rates.

In this video Kendrick explains why he believes that extreme stress — often caused by emigration — is a big reason for high rates of heart disease.

This view is supported by research by Michael Marmot and others on the social gradient: People higher in occupational level have better health than those below them. This seems to be because lower jobs are more stressful. The lower your job, the less control you have. Lack of control is the problem.

Kendrick’s view calls into question the usual interpretation of migrant studies. When persons emigrate across countries — from Japan to America, from India to England — they usually have higher heart disease rates in the new country This is often attributed to differences in diet — the old-country diet is presumed healthier than the new-country diet. Kendrick lays the blame elsewhere. He also makes an interesting point about Finland. Finland used to have a very high rate of heart disease. Kendrick points out that in the early 1950s, about 700,000 persons of Finnish descent were pushed by the Soviet government out of the Soviet Union and into Finland. Kendrick also mentions Roseto, Pennsylvania, a town created by emigration en masse from Roseto Italy. The old customs and social networks survived the move intact and the people of Roseto Pennsylvania were for many years remarkably healthy.

Previous posts on heart disease: Omega-3 and heart attacks (also here). The Framingham Study.

Thanks to Dave Lull.

Addendum: Kendrick on “The Great Cholesterol Myth.”