Michael Moore and Jane Jacobs

Sicko is a great movie, one of the most emotion-evoking films I have ever seen. In this interview

Moore says something that is at the heart of Sicko:

They [HMOs] are required by law . . . to maximize profits for their shareholders. That’s what the law requires them to do. The way they can maximize profits is to deny care, is to not pay out claims. The more claims they pay, the less profit they make. You should never have the idea of profit enter into a health decision. We wouldn’t allow it for the fire department or the police department. We wouldn’t say, well, you know, we’ve got to be sure the fire department posts a profit. We wouldn’t turn it over to a private company, have investors invest in it, say, well, some people are going to get fire protection and other people aren’t. We wouldn’t allow that, would we? It would be immoral.

This is what Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs is all about. Jacobs argued that there are two sets of “moral” rules — one appropriate for “guardians” (such as firemen, police and doctors), the other appropriate for “traders” (business people) — and that the two should not be mixed. When guardians follow commercial rules or when traders follow guardian rules, bad things happen. Sicko is about the bad things that happen when doctors follow commercial rules and how these bad things are avoided when (in other countries) doctors follow guardian rules.

The Twilight of Expertise (part 6: psychotherapy, continued)

Among the community of psychotherapists, according to Dr. Marion Arom, a psychotherapist friend of mine, “it is common knowledge that in many traditional therapies, if the therapy fails — if the desired change doesn’t occur — it’s due to client resistance or lack of motivation to change or unconscious motivation. The role or skill of the therapist is not examined, ever.”

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs has a chapter about the failure of highly-respected professions to police themselves.

Directory
of Twilight of Expertise posts.

The Twilight of Expertise (part 1)

In a TED talk, Stewart Brand pointed out that all over the world, poor villages — the same villages that Jeffrey Sachs seems to want to preserve — are vanishing. The people who lived in them have moved to squatter cities, where, according to Brand, there is zero unemployment and a much better life. Because Jeffrey Sachs’ interest in poor African villages seems to be recent, I am not surprised that he may end up on the wrong side of the helped/didn’t help ledger.

This is the general pattern with experts today: Sometimes they help, but often they make things worse. In a comment on an earlier post, Dr. Erika Schwartz called modern medicine “a system that more often harms than helps.”

We are living in the twilight of expertise because we now have alternatives to experts — better alternatives. Squatter cities are a new thing. They solve a very difficult problem (poverty) because they combine three things: (a) People care about themselves and their children (far more than any expert will ever care). (b) The technological knowledge behind the many small businesses (e.g., hair dresser, copy center, pirated videos, cell phones) that allow squatter cities to exist. And (c) something that brings the first two things — caring and know-how — together, namely the cities themselves. Of course, squatter cities owe nothing to Sachs-type experts.

The self-help self-experimentation I have done is another new thing. I solved the difficult problems of how to control my weight, my mood, my sleep, and a few other things related to omega-3, such as my gums. None of which I am expert in — I am not a weight-control expert, a sleep expert, etc. I attribute my success to the combination of the same three elements that come together in squatter cities: (a) I cared. I care about myself far more than experts care about most of the people they try to help. (b) Scientific knowledge — both statistical methods (e.g., exploratory data analysis tools) and basic behavioral science (e.g., the rat experiments of Israel Ramirez). (c) The ability to combine (a) and (b). Self-experimentation was a big part of this, but not the whole thing. My job as a professor and the research library system allowed me the time and opportunity to learn the scientific stuff. The flexibility of my job helped a lot. For example, I almost never had to use an alarm clock to wake up, which allowed sleep self-experimentation. The solutions I discovered are quite different from conventional solutions, but no more different than squatter cities are from what Jeffrey Sachs has prescribed.

Addendum: More info about squatter cities here. A blog about them. More about foreign-aid experts doing more harm than good.

The Secret of My Success

Jane Jacobs said dozens of things that impressed me, this most of all:

You can’t prescribe decently for something you hate. It will always come out wrong. You can’t prescribe decently for something you despair in. . . . I think people [who] give prescriptions, who have ideas for improving things, ought to concentrate on the things that they love and that they want to nurture.

She had noticed that people who hate cities or who despair of cities make bad prescriptions for them.

It was a long time before I realized this comment applied to me. I used self-experimentation to improve my sleep and mood and to lose weight. Unlike most health researchers, I wasn’t trying to solve other people’s problems — I was trying to solve my own. No wonder I persisted in spite of many failures.

Similar advice. Another example.

Jane Jacobs on Pay Per Click

Jane Jacobs has said:

You can’t prescribe decently for something you hate. It will always come out wrong. . . . People [who] give prescriptions, who have ideas for improving things, ought to concentrate on the things that they love and that they want to nurture.

Emphasis added. This applies more widely than I might have thought. Here is an example:

Two gourmet chocolate companies. Two pay-per-click ad campaigns. Two very different results.

Charles Chocolates — a small artisanal chocolate manufacturer in Emeryville — spent $3,000 on pay-per-click ads over a three-month period last year and sold fewer than five boxes of chocolates. Meanwhile, Lake Champlain Chocolates — a rival chocolatier based in Vermont — sells about 30,000 pounds of chocolates each year from pay-per-click ads.

What accounts for that difference?

With 100 employees, Lake Champlain is far larger than 25-person Charles Chocolates. And with an annual pay-per-click budget of $100,000, it also spends far more on ads than Charles Chocolates did. But that doesn’t really explain the difference. When Lake Champlain started experimenting with pay per click in 2002, its budget for all forms of marketing was just $5,000.

What Lake Champlain did have was an inquisitive employee who threw himself into learning everything about how pay per click works — mastering arcane details and strategies about keyword bidding . . . Middings was fascinated by a medium that seemed the reverse of conventional marketing. . . . Middings taught himself the tricks of the trade. He developed a list of 70,000 — seventy thousand — keywords to bid on.

Jane Jacobs on the food industry and scientific method.

Five Similar Words of Wisdom

1. I have mentioned several times what Loren Berlin, a student at the University of North Carolina, told Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist: Stop writing about African failures, start writing about African successes.

2. At the recent New Yorker Conference, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ, told this story:

I moved into Newark around 1995. . . In my first month there I saw my first shooting ever. . . . I had my life threatened . . . That same month I met this woman who changed my life. She’s an ornery, tough as nails, just an amazing certifiably insane leader. She was the head of the Brick Tower Tenants Association. . . . I meet this woman . . . The first thing I say to her, in my Yale Law School arrogance, I say to her, “Ma’am, I’m Cory Booker, I live across the street, I’m here to help you.”

She looks at me and she says, “You want to help me, first tell me what you see around you.” . . .

“I see drug dealers.” Which I said in a very respectful tone, in case they overheard me. “I see a crack house.” I describe the neighborhood.

“Well, you could never ever help me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Boy, you need to understand something. The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. If you only see problems and darkness and despair that’s all there’s ever going to be. But if you see hope and opportunity and even love, then you can be somebody that makes a change.”

3. As I mentioned earlier, in First, Break All the Rules, the authors summarize what they learned from thousands of interviews into one lesson for managers:

Don’t waste time trying to put in [your employees] what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in.

4. At the end of my long self-experimentation paper, I wrote:

[Jane] Jacobs (2000) argued that caste systems and other forms of discrimination retard economic development because they prevent certain jobs from becoming the seeds of new businesses. . . . Belief that something is bad makes it harder to learn what it is good for – including what it could become.

I was referring to the belief of many psychology professors that self-experimentation is bad.

5. In an interview with someone from Buffalo, NY, Jane Jacobs said how development of Buffalo should proceed:

You need to do something — I hate to keep repeating myself — that’s unique to Buffalo, that comes out of Buffalo itself. You don’t want to keep acting like a company town.

In other words, don’t try to make Buffalo more like other cities. Try to make it less like other cities.

Curious, huh?

Thanks to Tobian, who blogs about Ethiopia, for reminding me of the Loren Berlin letter.

Introductions to Jane Jacobs

Nice summaries of her ideas here (shorter) and here (longer).

Why is an experimental psychologist (me) so interested in Jacobs’ work — which on the face of it has nothing to do with experimental psychology? Four reasons. From big to little:

1. I enjoy her books and articles. They are very well-written, discuss the stuff of everyday life — what I see when I walk through any city — and have lots of ideas that I hadn’t previously encountered.

2. Jacobs is essentially an economist. Psychology and economics are very close. Economics is psychology writ large, psychology is economics writ small. I came up with a theory of human evolution based on economics learned from Jacobs.

3. Jacobs wrote about something that fascinates me — how things begin. My longest paper is about how scientific ideas begin.

4. Self-experimentation had led me to conclusions outside experimental psychology — for example, conclusions about weight control and sleep. Jacobs, with no Ph.D. in anything, was even more an outsider.

Too Much Emphasis on Failure

In his blog a few days ago, as I mentioned earlier, Nicholas Kristof printed a letter from a University of North Carolina graduate student about why she was not going to enter Kristof’s contest to go to Africa with him. Kristof wrote too much about failure, she said:

[Quoting Kristof:]“I’m hoping that you’ll be changed when you see a boy dying of malaria because his parents couldn’t afford a $5 mosquito net, or when you talk to a smart girl who is at the top of her class but is forced to drop out of school because she can’t afford a school uniform.” . . . The story of Africa in turmoil is the African narrative that many Americans – and certainly those who read The New York Times – already know. It is virtually the only type of reporting that Western news outlets broadcast about the continent. . . Americans don’t need any more stories of a dying Africa. Instead, we should learn of a living one. Kristof and his winners should investigate how it is that Botswana had the highest per-capita growth of any country in the world for the last 30 years of the twenty-first century.

I believe she is correct. The Times and — I’ll take her word for it — “Western news outlets” in general have made a serious mistake in their Africa coverage: Far too much coverage of failure relative to success. An especially curious misjudgment because generally journalists like feel-good stories.

Could an entire well-respected profession do the wrong thing for a long time? Well, Jane Jacobs thinks so. In a 2000 interview, she said this about economists:

One place where past economic theory has gone wrong in a subtle way is that it has always been called upon for explanations of breakdowns and trouble. Look how foreign aid, even today, is all about poverty and where things are not working. There is no focus on trying to learn how things are working when they work. And if you are going to get a good theory about how things work, you have to focus on how they work, not on how they break down. You can look forever at a broken down wagon or airplane and not learn what it did when it was working.

Maybe you say Jacobs wasn’t a real economist (because she didn’t write mainstream academic papers). Well, consider this. In the 1960s, Saul Sternberg changed the face of experimental psychology when he showed what could be done with reaction-time experiments, which are set up so that the subject almost always gets the right answer. Before Sternberg, memory and perception were usually studied via percent-correct experiments, set up so that subjects were often wrong.

Sternberg’s reaction-time research was so much more revealing than the percent-correct research that preceded it that almost everyone switched to using reaction time. The profession of experimental psychologists had done the wrong thing for a long time.

You Can’t Change Something Unless You Love It — Jane Jacobs

I think very highly of Philip Weiss and rarely disagree with him. But I certainly disagree with this:

My first feeling seeing the crapulous tape on the news last night was, Burn it. What more are we going to learn about this sick monster [the Virginia Tech shooter] from his first-person maunderings? O.K., archive it, let criminologists study it, but why give him the attention he so craved? Wipe his name from history. Did you notice he honored Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris of Columbine in his statement? Why not erase their names too.

I have not yet found the interview in which Jane Jacobs says something like “It’s a funny thing. You can’t change something unless you love it.” But I did find an interview in which she said:

You can’t prescribe decently for something you hate. It will always come out wrong.

The longer you hate the Virginia Tech shooter, as Mr. Weiss and many others do, the longer it will be till you understand what to do about him — how to prevent such things in the future. It was a fundamentally decent thing that the shooter did by sending that stuff to NBC. Like everyone, he wants to be listened to. As I blogged earlier, one of my students did a project that involved visiting homeless people in People’s Park. He was surprised by how much they wanted to talk to him. The solution to homelessness, he was pretty sure, would involve a lot of listening.

Addendum: A forensic psychiatrist named Michael Weiner argues the opposite (that showing the videos does no good and lots of bad) here. Jacobs’ view is supported by a wealth of evidence. I can’t tell if any evidence supports Weiner’s view.

Jane Jacobs on College

Jane Jacobs, the urban and economic theorist, wrote:

Only in stagnant economies does work stay docilely within given categories. And wherever it is forced to stay within prearranged categories — whether by zoning, by economic planning, or by guilds, associations or unions — the process of adding new work to old can occur little if at all.

In the case of college, the “work” is post-high-school education. College students are not forced to join a union but the need for credentials forces them to attend college, where, as Jacobs correctly predicts, a narrow range of subjects is taught in a narrow range of ways. Take my department (psychology at UC Berkeley). As one of my students, a psychology major, asked, why isn’t there a course about relationships? That’s what’s really important, he said. Yes, why not? There has never been such a course at Berkeley nor, to my knowledge, at any other elite university. What a curious omission. And why do practically all classes involve lectures, reading assignments, and tests? Aren’t there a thousand ways to teach and learn? I think Jacobs has the answer: Work has been forced to stay within prearranged categories — categories that seem increasingly outdated. The pattern of chapters in almost all introductory psychology textbooks (which cost about $100) derives from the 1950s!

An earlier post by me about college. Other people’s comments. Jane Jacobs on the food industry and scientific method.

Jane Jacobs on the Food Industry

According to Paul Goldberger in the NY Sun,

[Jane Jacobs] regretted the construction of more and bigger buildings, and the enormous power held by the real estate industry, Mr. Goldberger said. “But she was also a realist,” he said. “She was not Utopian, and I think that was the thing that distinguished her from many other intellectual and urban thinkers. She believed that the world we had was actually pretty good, if only we would learn to understand it, appreciate it, and handle it right.”

Exactly. That is what I was saying in my comments on Michael Pollan (here and here). Our food world — which is mainly a processed food world, very little food is unprocessed — is actually pretty good. Some food processing is done according to wrong theories — the wrong theory that fat per se is fattening, for example. The newest food processing gets the most attention because it is still noteworthy (e.g., low-fat foods) but it is new theories that are most likely to be wrong. This is why “processed food” gets a bad rap. Most food processing, which is no longer advertised and we no longer notice because it is so common, is done according to correct theories — the main examples being cooking, refrigeration, freezing, and other forms of germ reduction. The germ theory of disease is correct. The poor health of many Americans reveals plenty of room for better understanding; I think the theory behind the Shangri-La diet is an example of better understanding. That theory suggests new types of food processing, as I explain in the last chapter of the book.

More about Pollan and Processed Food

A reader named Shawn made an interesting comment on Michael Pollan vs. Processed Food:

I’d like to point out that your example of fortifying flour (white flour, actually) is not really that great, since in this case they are simply adding back some (but not all) of the nutrients that were destroyed in processing. Whole wheat flour does not have to be fortified because it has those nutrients to begin with — which actually supports Pollan’s arguments against food processing.

That’s true, it does support Pollan’s argument against food processing. More detail will help make my underlying logic clearer. Flour is milled for several reasons, the details of which don’t matter; let me just say that white flour is more profitable than whole wheat flour, thus can be sold at a lower price. In terms of price, milling is win-win: the supplier makes more profit and the customer gets cheaper flour. But when you consider nutrition — milled flour less nutritious than unmilled — it is not clear at all that milling is win-win. B vitamin supplementation, by cheaply replacing what the milling took out, moves us back to win-win. Not milling is not win-win: It is nothing-nothing.

When you process food based on a correct theory — an accurate understanding of how our bodies work — the result is often win-win. When you process food based on a wrong theory, it is much harder to reach that result. This is what Pollan didn’t understand. As usual, Jane Jacobs said it best. In response to people who said that Problem X or Problem Y was due to overpopulation — just as Pollan is anti-food-processing — Jacobs said the problem is not too many people, the problem is the undone work. In the case of food, the problem is not too much processing, the problem is the undone work — the undone work of coming up with good theories to guide the processing.

Self-Experimentation = Old Buildings

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote, “Old ideas can use new buildings, but new ideas need old buildings.” New ideas need old buildings because old buildings are cheap. New ideas cannot be expected to be especially profitable, or profitable at all, at first. This is why self-experimentation should have a permanent place in the ecology of science: It provides a cheap way to develop new ideas.

How Important is IQ?

I teach at UC Berkeley. A few years ago I had an eye-opening experience about college teaching and evaluation. I was teaching an undergraduate seminar on depression. For the term project, I allowed/required students to do anything they wanted related to depression, so long as it was off campus and not library research. One student chose to give a talk to a high school class about depression. This would be unremarkable except that she had severe stage fright. The thought of speaking in front of any group terrified her. Every step of planning and doing the talk was very hard. But she managed to do it. In her term-project paper she wrote, “I learned that if I really wanted to, I could conquer my fear, and do what I needed to do” — among the most stirring words I have ever read.

Her work until then — class participation, writing assignments — had put her in the bottom half of the class. Yet her term project showed her to be resourceful (using the term project assignment in a useful way) and courageous (making herself do something that scared her). She chose the assignment that revealed these qualities. Ved Mehta, the writer, who is blind, spent his early years almost entirely within a small school compound. One day he was taken to the beach. He was astonished how freely he could run around. “The school compound . . . suddenly shrank in my mind, like a woollen sock . . . which became so small after [the housekeeper] washed it that I could scarcely get my hand in it,” he wrote in Vedi. As I read my student’s description of what she had done, I saw how narrow and restricted my usual assignments and my usual way of evaluating students had been.

I am sorry that Charles Murray, Bell Curve coauthor, has apparently never had a similar experience. In an op-ed (“Aztecs vs Greeks”) in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, alas, he made clear his belief that persons with a high IQ are more important economically and culturally than persons with a lower IQ. “We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted,” he wrote — “gifted” meaning “high IQ.” He used the phrase the gifted. The gifted? If there are thirty or fifty or a thousand different useful sets of abilities, to single out one of them — the one that produces a high score on an IQ test — makes no sense. It’s like referring to the sentence. That makes no sense. There are many useful sentences. We need all of them.

Persons with a high IQ do better at certain jobs, no doubt; but Murray fails to realize that such jobs are a tiny fraction of our economy and that discrimination against any group — failure to help any group develop their skills — is economically damaging because it reduces economic diversity (Jane Jacobs’ point). Murray thinks we should treat high-IQ kids better. He fails to see that it is not people with high IQs who are under-served by the present system; it is everyone else — everyone with other gifts. Plenty of jobs demand resourcefulness and courage, for example, qualities that are probably uncorrelated with IQ, as my student emphasized to me. Both resourcefulness and courage are required to start a new business, which is the most economically important job of all.

Andrew Gelman’s reaction to similar ideas. More about Charles Murray, IQ, and education. A paper of mine about encouraging diversity in learning.

Charles Murray vs. Charles Murray

The Bell Curve (1994) by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which argued that IQ is destiny, was the most IQ-glorifying book since . . . well, ever. Now Mr. Murray has taken a big step away from his position in that book, yet he continues to glorify IQ.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Mr. Murray wrote an op-ed piece (“What’s wrong with vocational school?”) with which I mostly agree. His main point is that for most students, college is a waste of time. As a college teacher (at Berkeley), I have seen that all too clearly. Mr. Murray has an unfortunate way of stating his position. “A four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.” I’d put it differently: A four-year college education teaches analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the interest of most people. I am sure that if my students or anyone’s students were more interested in the material, they would learn it better. That most college students are not interested in the same things as most college professors is a good thing, economically speaking. A healthy economy is a diverse economy; a diverse economy requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, much wider than the narrow skills and knowledge possessed and taught by college teachers. But it is a bad thing for the students and teachers, who are trapped. They have to be there. I feel worse for the students, of course — they are paying to be there.

It isn’t complicated: IQ tests were designed to predict school performance. They do. People with higher IQs do better in school. To believe in the value of IQ is to believe in the school system it reflects. To glorify one is to glorify the other. Now Mr. Murray has taken a step away from one (the school system) but not the other (IQ). Well, nobody’s perfect.

Were I grading The Bell Curve, I would give it a B. The sad truth is that its basic conclusion, that a high IQ is really helpful, is entirely correct. A better book would have replaced the wacky genetic chapter with an attempt to understand why IQ matters so much. In a world where we place less weight on successful completion of college — the world that Murray now advocates — IQ will matter less.

In The Nature of Economies, Jane Jacobs pointed to the stultifying effects of discrimination. “Macho cultures typically have pitiful, weak economies,” she wrote. “Half their population, doing economically important types of work, such as cooking and food processing . . . are excluded from taking initiatives to develop all that work [e.g., open a restaurant] — and nobody else does it, either.” IQ discrimination is also stultifying. If our society did a better job of helping students who are not good at college — helping them find jobs where their abilities shine, instead of wasting four precious years of their lives — the entire economy would benefit.

Yet More about Omega-3

Perhaps inspired by USA Today, the New York Times discusses DHA, an omega-3 fat sold as a food additive. “Magical or overrated?” is the question posed by the headline. According to Marion Nestle, overrated:

“My experience in nutrition is that single nutrients rarely produce miracles,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of “What to Eat,” published last year. “But it’s also been my experience that companies will put anything in their food if they think the extra marketing hype will help them sell more of it.”

Single nutrients rarely produce miracles? There is a long history in nutrition of just that: The story of the discovery of vitamins. One single-nutrient miracle after another. Given that history, the claims for omega-3 are plausible. If Nestle has an alternative explanation for the many results that point to the benefits of omega-3, that would be interesting to hear. It wasn’t provided in the article. “Companies will put anything in their food if they think the extra marketing hype will help them sell more of it”? Well, B vitamin supplementation of flour has cut the rate of neural tube birth defects roughly in half, a huge benefit, a huge amount of averted misery. Given that success, it is reasonable to think that other supplementation might also be helpful — to everyone. I discuss derogatory treatment of food companies (“will put anything in their food if . . . hype will help them sell more of it”) in the last chapter of The Shangri-La Diet. Curiously enough, Jane Jacobs once said, you can only change something if you love it.

I have done more self-experimentation about omega-3s and will describe the results in a week or two. Previous posts about omega-3 here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here

Methodological Lessons from Self-Experimentation (part 3 of 4)

4. There are serious defects in the way science is usually done. I found a new and powerful way of losing weight — yet I’m an outsider to that area. Although obesity is a huge problem, and hundreds of millions of dollars go into obesity research every year, I was completely outside that group of people and resources. If science is being done properly, there should be a relation between input and output — the more input, the more output. That failed here. Professional obesity researchers, given vast input, failed to discover this; whereas I, given zero input, managed to do so. You might say this was a weird fluke except the same thing happened again with mood: I discovered a powerful way of changing mood, even though I was an outsider to the study of mood. Depression is a huge problem, vast resources go into trying to do something about it.

What the serious defects are has no simple answer. After the next lesson learned I’ll try to explain what I think is wrong.

5. There are serious strengths in the way science is usually done. I relied heavily on conventional science and could never have gotten where I did without it. Ramirez and Cabanac did brilliant research. I say there are serious strengths in conventional science because I used conventional scientific methods and conclusions to find a new solution to a serious problem — obesity is a serious problem. I didn’t just use conventional scientific tools; I also used self-experimentation, which is unconventional. But self-experimentation alone wouldn’t have gotten very far, I’m sure. The turning point in my weight control research was reading a paper by Ramirez about rat experiments. Not only did I use a vast number of conclusions from conventional science, I also used conventional experimental designs and standard, common tools for data analysis, such as programs for plotting data.

To say that science is glorified common sense has a lot of truth to it. To say that science is a collection of methods to help us understand and control the world also has a lot of truth to it. But science is far more than a collection of tools; it is a whole community and culture, with beliefs as well as tools. Like any culture, many of its beliefs are based on faith.

Here is a story to illustrate what happens. It’s pure human nature. Suppose someone gave you a power saw. Your first thought is: Wow, I have a power saw. There are many things I can now do that I couldn’t do before. It seems like a pure benefit. No negatives. You learn how to use the power saw and you become better and better at using it. Eventually you start to make a living using the power saw — other people, who don’t have a power saw, pay you to saw stuff for them. You become a power-saw professional and, along with other professionals, you establish rules about how to use power saws. To save the public from bad power saw usage, you establish a licensing test to become a power-saw professional. Your view of yourself is: I know how to use a power saw. And if there is a problem to be solved, you try to solve it with your power saw — that’s what you know how to do best. All this makes perfect sense to you. Hundreds of professions have followed this path. What is hard for you to notice is that in certain ways you have become weaker — if a problem doesn’t call for power-saw usage, you are less likely to find the solution. Because you are too busy making a living using your power saw.

I hope my point is obvious. Budding scientists go to graduate school where they learn a bundle of specialized research methods that varies from one research area to the next. That is their power saw. After graduate school, they make a living using the techniques that they have learned. After graduate school, they are in better shape to make a living; but they are in worse shape to solve problems for which the techniques that they have learned are not appropriate. Conventional scientific methods could go part of the way toward finding the Shangri-La Diet; but they could not go all the way. Other techniques were needed — very simple ones, pre-power-saw. So conventional science never found it.

In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs gives another example of this. During a recent heat wave in Chicago, two nearby neighborhoods, similar in many ways, had very different death rates. A good explanation of the difference was provided by a graduate student in sociology, who used very simple very low-cost methods. In contrast, a task force of scientists from the Centers For Disease Control, with vast resources and great methodological sophistication, failed to explain the difference. They were blinded by their expertise. They failed to see that their methods weren’t working.

Read Part 1 and Part 2. Part 4 is here.

Is Drinking Olive Oil Healthy?

In Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs wrote about an isolated North Carolina hamlet that her aunt visited in 1923:

One of my aunt’s tasks there was to see to construction of a church. . . One of the farmers donated, as a site, a beautiful knoll beside the river and my aunt suggested the building be made of fine large stones which were already quarried, as it were, needing little dressing, there for the taking in the creek and river beds. No, said the community elders, it was a pretty idea but not possible. . . . Entire walls and buildings of stone would not be safe.

These people came of a parent culture that had not only reared stone parish churches from time immemorial, but great cathedrals.

Likewise, nutritional wisdom is forgotten. Drinking olive oil now seems absurd to some people. But it was practiced in at least one place in the not-so-distant past:

In a mountain village in Crete, [Ancel] Keys saw old farmers working in the field who drank only a glass of olive oil for breakfast; he later verified that one of them was 106 years old.

From Todd Tucker, The Great Starvation Experiment, p. 204. There is a whole organization (Oldways) devoted to preserving ancient foodways and using them for nutritional guidance. The best practitioner of this approach has been Dr. Weston Price, a dentist, whose work is nicely summarized here. Dr. Price traveled the world looking for economically-primitive societies (“native peoples”) with ancient eating habits and excellent health. Their diets, especially the common elements, would suggest what a healthy diet must have.

Two of Dr. Price’s conclusions are relevant to the Shangri-La Diet:

1. “All native peoples studied made great efforts to obtain seafood.” This supports my comments about the importance of omega-3 fats, found much more in seafood than in other foods.

2. “The last major feature of native diets that Price found was that they were rich in fat, especially animal fat.” The animal fat in native diets would be high in omega-3 because the animals were eating grasses and other plants, not corn.

When I wrote my long paper on self-experimentation I divided it into two parts: one titled “Stone-Age Life Suits Us” (the common thread of the five examples), the other about weight control (the research behind SLD). The two parts struck me as quite different. Drinking sugar water to lose weight was definitely not a return to a Stone-Age lifestyle. But the big improvements in SLD since I wrote that paper — from sugar water to ELOO, and from ELOO to oils high in omega-3 — brought SLD much closer to the Stone-Age-Life-Suits-Us theme, I now see.