Is the Paleo Life Way Mere Observational Science?

I typically pass my time driving by listening to podcasts. For the most part, I have listened to Jimmy Moore or Robb Wolf, and now and then, others. I listen to Jimmy mostly because he brings so many interesting folks to the table. On the drive back from our "Climate Change" wakeup call this morning, I listened first to Jimmy’s recent interview with Uffe Ravnskov (Ignore the Awkward.: How the Cholesterol Myths Are Kept Alive), after which I then went way back to where I’d left off, scrolling through a few podcasts I wasn’t particularly interested in, to finally land on an excellent interview with Dr. Mat Lalonde, a PhD Chemist.

Mat’s interview encompasses the subject of this post because he’s right, and "wrong" (as I think all good scientists are, if they’re good scientists). Mat said something at least a couple of times in the interview that I don’t believe I’ve heard before. It’s essentially true, but as I will argue below, misses the point a bit.

He made reference to the anthropological science — you all know the drill — that Paleos assert, that our primitive ancestors did this & that for a very long time, and therefore, that’s what we should do. He makes the point that such is not necessarily optimal and in particular, that there is a difference between toleration, or, in the context, survival — and optimal nutrition and health. It’s observational science. This much is true. So, he withholds scientific conclusions until tested; say, in a randomized, controlled intervention trial.

Mat is a scientist. As such, he behaves as one should. Let’s review. A true scientist; first, thinks (that’s the first problem because most of them know better how to fill out a grant whore application than think). That thinking, which can involve preliminary experimentation, is supposed to lead to a hypothesis. That hypothesis is supposed to be stated in such a way as to be falsifiable. This simply means that it should be testable, which is to say, hypothesized in a fashion that it could be proven false, if false. The classic illustration for this was the centuries long European observation that "Swans are white." Then they shuttled their penal colony off to the Down Under and it took only one observation to totally falsify the hypothesis: a Black Swan. With a quick glance, centuries of "certainty" was rendered wrong.  A more recent example might be the hypothesis that high cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, but rendered meaningless over and over and over again by the simple observation that on average, those with the highest cholesterol live the longest. This is not a perfect example, simply because as with almost all drug whore "science," reductionism is key. That is, they scare the shit out of you about dying from a heart attack (which probably isn’t valid, anyway), but always ignore total mortality. Bluntly: they’re happy to have you not die from heart disease, but if you die earlier of something else, their engineering (whoring) remains "technically" unaffected. Winning!

Real science is not a method for proving things true (shock!), but rather, a much safer, more sure method of enlightenment: proving things false because that’s the only certainty we can muster, as human animals. We can know for sure that something is bullshit, and beyond that, most bets are off. Through a process of knowing what all is certainly not true, we gain increased confidence of what just might be true; but not absolute certainty.

The primary reason that I was motivated to write this blog was because of the juxtaposition in hearing Ravnskov’s interview, later coupled with Lalonde’s. The former was about — to wrap it up in a nice package — what I’ll call confirmation fraud. I’ve long had a category on the blog called "confirmation bias," but what Dr. Uffe reveals is not bias at all, but simple grant whore fraud. FRAUD. And there are thousands upon thousands of PhD and MD whores engaged in this, and they are engaged in it to your and your loved ones’ detriment because whore bucks are a sure thing.  Merry Christmas! Chances are, if you meet an MD or PhD in nutrition and diet research, they’re figuratively working the dark street corners at 2am.

Mat’s not one of them and thankfully, there are a precious few others. If I had to guess, while not really guessing at all, he errs on the side of caution. He’s unwilling to take anthropologic science and conclude that what H-Gs did must be necessarily optimal for modern humans simply because they did it for a long time and survived. In other words, they had little to no choice, but we do. We can seek out and tease out the optimal and to do that, we have to conduct sound experiments.

But here’s my punchline: you have to start with a baseline and that’s why I chose The Human Animal, and so named my blog. When you look around, you do not see wild animals with any problems other than environmental and climatological — all things they have no control over. When the environment and climate are suited to what they evolved to exploit, they thrive. That’s because they evolved to exploit a particular niche. For us, it’s a bit more complicated because our "niche" is no niche at all; it’s equator to arctic circle and sea level to 16,000 ft elevation, and everything in between. We have many more options, which ushers in the idea of optimal, and one way to get clues about that is with real science. Then again, those clues may not particularly pertain to you individually so where does that leave you?

We’re generalists, but some may be more adapted to certain things than others, so you must find your individual optimality, and no study, no matter how rigorous, is ever going to give you certainty about that. I applaud the continuing science and hope it’s framed in a falsifiable (testable) way. But we have to begin somewhere and in no way ought anyone sit by the sidelines waiting for the science before dumping the bought & paid for "Food Pyramid," engineered by high-priced hookers, before going to real food.

If you stick to the basics — meat, fish, fowl, vegetables and fruits — it’s very unlikely that any hypothesis is going to be falsified and leave you in the lurch. It will only be up to you to determine if any science is really relevant to you individually, then test it out and see if you thrive.

In my view, if you eat as a human animal, almost no nutritional science is really particularly relevant to you. In fact, virtually all nutritional science is decidedly irrelevant to you. You know more about you.

Sound principles — the Animal Human — trump science. Science is a discipline. It’s a negative discipline, when done properly and as such, has very little to offer in the realm of diet and nutrition when one is simply eating as humans evolved, and tweaking accordingly in order to obtain maximum well being. What we seem to have now, more than anything else, is something called "science," but always focussed on enhancing various big food, drug and industrial financial interests (and their political bedfellows) rather than on being an endless process of tossing out everything that doesn’t work (like the SAD, bit by bit), until we finally arrive at the point where we should have been all along: real food.

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Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. matt on May 16, 2011 at 09:58

    “That is, they scare the shit out of you about dying from a heart attack (which probably isn’t valid, anyway), but always ignore total morality.”

    On purpose, or a typo, I like it 🙂

  2. Jan on May 16, 2011 at 09:33

    *applauding* Excellent, Richard. Really…just excellent.

  3. scott on May 16, 2011 at 09:49

    The most interesting part of that Jimmy Moore interview was Dr. Ravnskov’s claim that a large number of papers cite the Framingham study incorrectly with regards to the relationship of serum cholesterol to survival rate. In fact, the Framingham data indicates the opposite of what is commonly cited.

    Do you know of any other sources that verify Dr. Ravnskov’s claim? I don’t have access to the Framingham data (even if I did, interpreting is probably beyond my capability).

    • gallier2 on May 16, 2011 at 12:58

      Dr.Eades had 2 blog entries about Framingham showing that the abstract and the data were contradictory


  4. Hillary on May 16, 2011 at 09:52

    I personally found it to be in really poor taste to compare diet and nutrition researchers to whores. Those poor whores are out there providing a legitimate service in exchange for all the money they take.

    • Joanna on May 16, 2011 at 10:38

      You’re right. Maybe they should be called “grant politicians” instead of “grant whores” since that’s much more demeaning. Leave the hard-working whores out of it. 🙂

    • Lute Nikoley on May 16, 2011 at 11:00

      Don’t know how you can say that Hillary. what do you mean by legitimate service? It’s only legitimate if the information they provide is that of healthy nutrition. Instead mostly they provide saturated fat is bad, lots of whole grains and vegetable are good kind of crap. Recently I went to a Hospital cafeteria for something to eat while waiting for an appointment. Big mistake, because all they had was crap. The kind of stuff that makes people fat and diabetic. There are some good nutritionists who get it. Seems you don’t.

    • Joanna on May 16, 2011 at 11:05

      I think you misunderstood her post. I took it to mean that it was insulting to whores (prostitutes) to compare them to nutrition researchers because whores (prostitutes) provide a service (I think you know what it is) in exchange for the money (implying that the researchers are not providing a service.) I could be wrong, but that’s the way I read it 🙂

    • Meat Yogi on May 16, 2011 at 11:06

      I think Hillary is saying that calling these scientists “grant whores” gives actual whores, who provide a legit service, a bad name.

    • Meat Yogi on May 16, 2011 at 11:07

      Sheesh! One minute late in my reply!

    • Curmujeon on May 17, 2011 at 05:00

      Oftimes it’s good to have things clarified in more than one way.

    • keithallenlaw on May 16, 2011 at 19:47

      Exactly what she was saying. Lute, you better up the n3, your sense of humor slipped on that one. 8-D

  5. Neill on May 16, 2011 at 10:13

    Excellent article, and as always something that applies to many areas of life.

    Don’t mess with complex systems that have been around for a long time, or be aware of the potential consequences.

    Take action that minimises down-sides and maximises up-sides.

    Create the conditions for ‘lucky’ things to happen.

    Paleo / Primal is a starting point, and from everything we know about nutrition, biology, history it’s simply a better starting point than the one we’ve been given (grains, sugar etc.)

    You must have read Taleb’s book ‘the Black Swan’. That’s probably where I first got the idea about this way of eating (or in an interview with him).

    The human body is a complex system, lets try and provide it the environment we ‘found it in’ (our past) and work with that as the starting point.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 16, 2011 at 11:30

      I never got all the way through The Black Swan, as I’d read Fooled by Randomness first.

    • Neill on May 16, 2011 at 14:33

      Yes, it covers mostly the same ground. You seem to have a good understanding of philosophy so wouldn’t be anything new to you. Mind-blowing that the ideas aren’t common knowledge.

  6. Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 10:29

    Hey Richard,

    I basically agree with you, although I think the baseline should be people we know were healthy, which corresponds in part to paleo but not entirely. We know a bit about paleolithic bones and teeth, and by and large they were great, but there were cases of rampant decay and degeneration in certain locations and times. We know more about the health of say, Price’s primitives, some of whom were eating neolithic foods of sorts. In all cases, I don’t think we have any solid longevity data, though we can bring up some guesses.

    When I have some time I’m going to write a blog on Price’s theory of “primitive wisdom,” and I think Price made a conclusion towards the end of NAPD that is essentially what you are saying here. He said we can basically take the approach to preventing dental decay and other degenerative diseases two ways: we can first establish knowledge, one by one, of each component necessary for prevention; or, we can acknowledge the set of foods we observe to be preventative and to have been considered preventative by collective wisdom among diverse groups of humans for eons, use those foods, and study them in the mean time. The first way is the way of what he called “our so-called modern civilization” but he supported the second way.

    I think the basic point is that we know very little, that science is very slow, and that we have to acknowledge what we don’t know while acting on what we think is probably best.


    • Richard Nikoley on May 16, 2011 at 12:11

      Yea, I agree with all of that. I do think that anthropological evidence of degeneration is evidence of how widely varied the human diet can be. Indeed, the SAD itself is proof of how adept the human organism is at survival.

  7. Alex Thorn on May 16, 2011 at 11:43

    I think the whole idea of an ‘optimum diet’ (as in what foods should be eaten) is a bit of a red herring (pardon the pun). What is more important is how (and into what) foods are digested and metabolised. By that I mean, on the face of it, an obligate carnivore seems to thrive on a diet composed of protein and fat with very little carbohydrate while a gorilla seems to be largely vegetarian and one might suppose thrives on a diet that provides mostly carbohydrates. Yet, as Dr Barry Groves has pointed out, gorillas – along with many other ostensibly herbivorous animals – actually obtain most of their energy from fats (since most of the plant foods they eat are mostly fibre, which are ‘digested’ by bacteria in their caecum, producing short0chain saturated fatty acids).

    How many/much of the starchy tubers we are told neolithic hunter-gatherers eat are digested and metabolised into pure glucose? How does the preparation and cooking of these foods alter the chemistry of those foods in terms of digestion and metabolism (turning starch into resistant starch, for example) and thus yielding metabolisable substrates other than pure glucose?

    Perhaps these are the dietary factors we should be looking at as an explanation of why a single species (man) can appear to thrive (or at least survive/subsist on such a seemingly diverse array of foods).

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 11:58

      One of the things that differentiates humans from the apes is starch-specific genetic adaptations. Another is decreasing colonic size and increasing brain size, with decreasing colonic size coming at the expense of a greater proportion of gut occupied by the small intestine, and thus a greatly diminished capacity to derive short-chained fatty acids from fermenting fiber. I’ll blog about this when I get a chance.


    • Alex Thorn on May 16, 2011 at 13:29

      What I mean is that populations that are reported to eat a large percentage of roots and tubers, etc. are assumed to be eating a ‘high carbohydrate’ diet. this is often supported by nutritional analyses of the foods in question in their raw state or as prepared/cooked in a typically modern western fashion (usually USDA figures seem to be quoted). I am just wondering if anyone has actually done a nutritional analysis of any of these foods as traditionally prepared/cooked and eaten by these indigenous populations (I’m thinking of some of the lengthy pre-cooking preparation you sometimes read about to remove toxins and antinutrients, etc.)? Would that have any bearing on how these foods breakdown and metabolise?

      It would be illuminating to have someone, such as yourself Chris, research this as it is not often mentioned beyond the general ‘these people eat a lot of [insert exotic root or tuber here]!

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 13:52

      I think you are correct, that some of the starch is “resistant starch” and so the carbohydrate intake might be lower than assumed based on starch content, and the SCFAs generated might be more than assumed based on fiber content. I just meant that, in general, the idea that all mammals eat a high-fat diet because those that eat plant-based diets each fermentable fiber doesn’t apply as much to humans because of our adaptations to high-calorie foods, including but not limited to starch. I think you are right that it would be worth quantifying.


    • Alex Thorn on May 16, 2011 at 14:20

      Oh, yeah – I agree that one of the major evolutionary human adaptations is for a smaller gut/larger brain and that a major part of the gut adaptation was a reduced caecum with an associated reduction in the ability to process fibre. To me, this indicates, that on the whole, we gravitated away from plant-based diets to meat-based diets. It just rankles when Kitavans are thrown out as a ‘paradox’ – inferring that there are people who live comparatively healthy lives on a ‘high carb’ diet based on their plant-heavy menu without taking proper account of how the prep/cooking of those foods impacts on the actual macronutrient ratio as digested and metabolised.

      I did read, some while ago (and can’t put my hand on it now) some research done on Aboriginal Australian foods. The researchers noted that some of these starchy plant foods – as traditionally prepared and eaten – often did not liberate quite so much glucose (and associated hormonal responses) once digested as would be assumed by a nutritional analysis of the foods ‘as is’. IIRC I think they analysed raw and traditionally prepared samples of each food as well as conduct in vitro experiments that simulated the digestive process to see exactly which substrates were liberated – but, as I cannot locate the research I read, I may be misremembering some of the details. maybe you have come across something similar yourself?

    • Alex Thorn on May 16, 2011 at 14:29

      I might add – as an afterthought – that the reports of these people being particularly prone to type II diabetes and obesity when fully adopting a typical western diet (which is usually carb-heavy) would seem to indicate to me they are not especially adapted to it and so may not actually have a high carb indigenous diet. But then again, that may just be wishful thinking/confirmation bias on my part!

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 14:31

      Hey Alex,

      I don’t really see any paradox. I don’t think the gut rearrangements indicate anything about animal and plant foods. They indicate adaptations to foods of high caloric density. The genetics give very clear indications that this involves starch, but do not indicate there is a need for starch, or to what degree starch versus fat versus lean muscle meat played a role as high caloric foods historically. People who are biased towards carbohydrates will make an inference about the evolutionary role of cooked starch and people who are biased towards animal foods will make an inference about meat, but the evidence isn’t clearly in favor of any of them.

      What is quite clear is there are plenty of populations that have healthily lived on diets with plenty of carbohydrate, and the only living people observed who have followed diets greatly restricted in carbohydrates are people living at extreme climates where carbohydrate-rich foods were unavailable. They also had plenty of dietary adaptations, like consumption of seal brain, whale skin, and moose adrenal for vitamin C, or the consumption of the thyroid glands of moose during mating season to keep thyroid status high enough to conceive children.

      What is also clear is that nothing has been more clearly associated with the immediate introduction of massive physical degeneration than the combination of white wheat flour, polished rice, refined sugar, syrups, canned goods, and vegetable fats. Remove these “displacing foods of modern commerce” and you will certainly decrease carbohydrate intake, but not necessarily below that of the Kitavans.


    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 14:34

      I think what this indicates is that we should not conflate industrial foods with “carbohydrate.”


    • Michael on May 16, 2011 at 14:45

      Are you sure about rice fitting within those noxious agents of disease?

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 14:48

      Price lists them as usually coming in with the others. Unsurprising, since refining removes most of the nutrition. I think historically it has been polished to a certain degree, but to a much more modest degree that preferentially removed the bran rather than the germ (have to double-check this). In any case, I think some white rice is tolerable and I eat it from time to time, but it doesn’t really pack in the nutrition.


    • Alex Thorn on May 16, 2011 at 15:02

      Yeah – my personal bias showing again! I do tend to conflate modern industrial foods with carbohydrate because most usually do have a high carbohydrate content (as a percentage of total calories) – and I don’t really buy into the low/high GI/GL, simple/complex, fast/slow carb distinctions either)! Other than containing some sort of refined carbohydrate (like the ones you mention), industrial/processed foods do tend to include vegetable/seed oils – refined and/or partially or fully hydrogenated.

    • Michael on May 16, 2011 at 15:03

      Yeah, not saying they one doesn’t exist, but I have yet to find a group who historically consumed rice that eats/ate it “whole”. The article on the WAPF site noted the Thai feeding the bran to the chickens is an ancient practice, though IIRC it doesn’t include a cite.

      I have also noticed that many people who can’t tolerate industrial carbs like you listed above seem to handle white rice just fine.

      You can now buy rice now where the bran is removed but the germ is intact, or one could follow Stephan Guyenet’s method for reducing the negative impact of the bran without removing it.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 16, 2011 at 15:35

      Last week to end a fast I went and had sushi. I like sashimi ok, but the rice wasabi really does it for me. I believ I had about 12 orders, so 24 pieces. Not sure how much total white rice that is, but I did note that I did not have a BG crash at all. On the contrary, I felt super energized and ended up staying awake for many hours after. Potatoes are the same way, so long as with lots of meat & fat, and no bread. Bread is what really gets me, in a number of ways.

    • rob on May 16, 2011 at 16:48

      There is an article on rice at Mark Sisson’s site, he thinks the white rice is the way to go, brown rice contains anti-nutrients.

      I’ve been eating white rice with my evening meal under the theory that I want starch, and nothing but starch … no fiber, if I want fiber I’ll eat broccoli stems or wood chips, and I get plenty of good protein from animal flesh, so I don’t need no vegetable protein.

      There’s nothing in white rice to mess your guts up, which is its appeal to me.

      Been trying several approaches to upping my carb intake and white rice suits me best.

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 17:16

      Hey Alex,

      I don’t buy into it either, but I never suggested the difference between refined carbs and actual foods has anything to do with the GI. I’m quite sure you can induce any metabolic abnormalities you can induce in laboratory animals with sucrose much more effectively by using corn oil, and corn oil doesn’t have any carbohydrate.


    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 17:23


      I agree, but I doubt what they were eating is like modern white rice. The bran contains anti-nutrients and fiber (arguably an anti-nutrient in some cases and an irritant in some cases) while the germ contains vitamins. And so what if this is “traditional”? Goiter is traditional wherever large quantities of millet is traditional, and beriberi was traditional in Asia in the 1800s where white rice was traditional. Vitamin B1 was discovered in large part because of the nervous system disorders caused by too heavy a reliance on white rice.

      I would suggest either of the two in your last paragraph. Do you have a link for where to buy bran-free but germ-containing rice?

      I agree that white rice is tolerable to many people, and sometimes improves gut health, but as a staple it will cause problems if its nutritional uselessness isn’t made up for in some other way. I’m sure if you ate liver with it you’d be fine, for example. If you ate it with white bread and sugar, not so much.

      I wasn’t arguing that white rice is intrinsically harmful. I was stating the fact that it was part of the “displacing foods of modern commerce” introduced with the modernization package that destroyed the health of most native societies that came into contact with white civilization over the 20th century.



    • Richard Nikoley on May 16, 2011 at 17:46

      Rob, while I don’t eat much white rice I agree with you. It’s just a glucose delivery mechanism and if what they say about fructose is true, seems like a reasonable strategy and can billions of lean Asians be so wrong?

    • Chris Masterjohn on May 16, 2011 at 18:01

      Just to be clear I eat white rice a bit too. I’ll fall asleep much better at night if I have meat and white rice for dinner than if I have just meat for dinner. Of course, I’ll do much better if I have some fat and veggies too.


    • Rob G on May 16, 2011 at 18:50

      I cook mine with kombu and 1/2 cup or so of a nice 48-hour bone broth (beef or chicken). We also eat liver and other organs and keep rice portions within reason. I personally don’t do well on fruit and need an option other than potatoes.

    • Michael on May 17, 2011 at 17:25

      I agree, but I doubt what they were eating is like modern white rice.

      I don’t know but I wouldn’t automatically assume that though yes in general home milling is not as efficient as commercial mills

      The bran contains anti-nutrients and fiber (arguably an anti-nutrient in some cases and an irritant in some cases) while the germ contains vitamins. And so what if this is “traditional”? Goiter is traditional wherever large quantities of millet is traditional, and beriberi was traditional in Asia in the 1800s where white rice was traditional. Vitamin B1 was discovered in large part because of the nervous system disorders caused by too heavy a reliance on white rice.

      True but I wasn’t talking about too heavy a reliance on any food (which can cause problems) including rice, refined or unrefined. I just don’t think rice, polished or otherwise, fits within the same category as those other industrial foods you mentioned in your comment above.

      I would suggest either of the two in your last paragraph. Do you have a link for where to buy bran-free but germ-containing rice?

      If you aren’t eating much, within the framework of an otherwise nutritiously adequate diet, I don’t think it really matters, though I understand the desire to upgrade/maximize our nutrient intake whenever reasonably possible.

      Here is the link to Haiga Rice (bran free/germ intact):

      I agree that white rice is tolerable to many people, and sometimes improves gut health, but as a staple it will cause problems if its nutritional uselessness isn’t made up for in some other way. I’m sure if you ate liver with it you’d be fine, for example. If you ate it with white bread and sugar, not so much.

      I don’t disagree but I wasn’t arguing for its use as a staple, nor do I think anyone in this combox thread is in danger of adopting such an approach. 🙂

      I wasn’t arguing that white rice is intrinsically harmful. I was stating the fact that it was part of the “displacing foods of modern commerce” introduced with the modernization package that destroyed the health of most native societies that came into contact with white civilization over the 20th century.

      Yes I know, which is what I initially took issue with, at least without qualification.

    • rob on May 17, 2011 at 07:00

      I tried having some fruit with dinner, it gave me really vivid dreams and the energy from the sugar was long gone when I woke up in the morning.

    • Michael on May 17, 2011 at 16:55

      I cook my rice in coconut cream/milk.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 17, 2011 at 17:04

      I’ll have to try that, Michael. One of my favorites it to cook it in chicken stock. Also, have you ever tossed in a cinnamon stick or two? You must. Also, some chopped green onion is always nice.

    • Michael on May 17, 2011 at 17:47

      I definitely use cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg or cloves depending on what makes up the rest of the meal.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 17, 2011 at 18:17

      Rice Infusion, Michael. That’s kinda why I like it, now and then. We prob don’t even eat it once a month, but sometimes there is nu substitute. Especially with any kind of meat curry.

  8. Joseph on May 16, 2011 at 13:14

    So, science puts our knowledge in two categories: (1) recognized bullshit, (2) bullshit that we haven’t recognized yet. Be a skeptic!

  9. Michael on May 16, 2011 at 14:40

    Richard, nice post.

    The problem you note with modern science has been around for a long time. It is just the nature of the case. And its not only the grant whores, either. People get vested in “certain science” for many reasons, and are loath to give up such science for many reasons as well.

    Speaking of grant whores (i.e the influence of money, often collected via theft…err taxes), if you read about the conflict between Pasteur and Bechamp, one thing that stands out is the many ways politics (money) and not science affected their place in history. Regardless of who was correct Pasteur got the upper hand because of politics, not science.

    I posted an article on my blog dealing with The Problem with Science.

  10. Jeff on May 16, 2011 at 15:54


    Excellent post. Paleo(or our best understanding of it) should be the default. If science shows something more optimal then so be it, but the burden is on the new. I will stick with my meat, veg, eggs and some fruit, thanks.


  11. Chef Mac on May 16, 2011 at 16:05

    Your articles are always so awesome, and go right to the heart of so much I believe. The fact that you even eschew your own Paleo-diet by saying essentially, “figure out what’s optimal for you” [you fucking pussies], is probably the most honest things that’s been said by anyone in the history of dietary culture. Everybody else indicates that if you don’t do exactly what they say you’re not only stupid, you’re evil, and will probably die a slow, painful, humiliating and horrible death.

    Here’s the thing: you’re probably going to die that anyway.

    I recall with horror watching a documentary about heart disease where an 83 year old man was dying of heart failure. Now, in his life he had signed up to fight the Nazis when he was 16, stormed the beaches at Normandy, was decorated not only for bravery, but for injuries, came home to get an MBA, started a successful business, married a very pretty girl, was known to his many, many friends as a man of great humor, wit and compassion, had five kids, a decent golf game, and stayed married for over half a century. He also smoked. In the interview, one of his white haired sons, far more overweight than his father, and probably with a less admirable personality (certainly less admirable accomplishments) told the documentarians with great pride how he had scolded his aged father for not quitting smoking and so robbing the family of his presence.

    You see, because as we all know, death only happens to people who do things wrong. It is really always their fault. They deserve to be vilified for it and castigated for their failures. The evidence for this is very plain in the billions of people at least a century old, and the rarity with which people die in their 80’s.

    Wait. What do you mean that’s wrong?


    Sorry, I’ll stop yelling now, but this does get to the heart of something that really does get me steamed.

    Sorry if this breaking news to anyone, but we die. 100% of us so far. When we die it is almost always protracted and incredibly unpleasant. There are exceptions. My grandmother went for a drive in Vermont. Stopped at a cafe and ordered a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. She consumed half of both, was apparently pleasant enough with her waitress that the woman conveyed her experience to the family, and the she fell over dead at the age of 71. Other than having a myocardial infarction during an orgy in Paris, my grandmother’s death sounds like a very good way. In her case, the cause of death was listed as heart disease. Well, if that’s heart disease I’ll take a double.

    We always die of SOMETHING. It’s just in the nature of how things happen. And all these statistics that the doctors have us panicking about are largely built on the analysis of people who die in their 70’s and 80’s. A death certificate can’t just say, “well, this former war hero died because he was in his 80’s and it was time to die”. Science demands that we suffer the final humiliation of getting cut up into bits and satisfying some Orwellian bean counter’s needs so that someone can say something about this or that.

    Recently from a careful study of actuarial tables, including a college course specifically dedicated to death, I learned a shocking statistic. If you do everything wrong: you’re overweight, you smoke, you drink, you eat processed foods, you don’t wear your seat belt, your average life expectancy is about 74 years of age. If you do everything right: stay slim, wear your seat belt, exercise every day, avoid stress, eat your vegetables, your average life expectancy is about 78……Four fucking years. That’s what it’s all about in terms of death people, four fucking years. Obviously there are outliers at either end of the spectrum, a lot of it has to do with quality of life, and as a chef I once knew a 600 pound gourmand who nearly died in his mid-fifties in a very unpleasant fashion but didn’t and probably still consumes 10,000 calories a day. Statistically though, at least so far, we all live on average about the same length of time. 100 years ago I would be an elderly man with few years left at my age of 40. Now, even with my bad habits, I probably have about as many years left to go. Nothing I can do, NOTHING, will change that by much.

    You are going to die and you are not going to like it, but you’re also going to live, and you should try to enjoy it.

    • Al on May 17, 2011 at 23:14


      Noted; and mostly true.

      Personally, I’m just trying to conduct my behavior in such a way that allows me to wipe my own ass on whatever day my physiology decides that it’s finished maintaining.

      Good points, however.


    • Richard Nikoley on May 17, 2011 at 23:38

      Here here, Al. Longevity, in a nutshell.

    • Michael on May 18, 2011 at 12:20

      Good points, though one of my goals in life is to die like the Kitavans as I leave it, who are fit and healthy right up to the very end.

      As for longevity, not much has changed on that front for a long time:

      The days of our years are threescore years and ten (70); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years (80), yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away. – The Psalmist

      And one commenter made some interesting observations on the above:

      And if by reason of strength … – If there be unusual strength or vigor of natural constitution; or if the constitution has not been impaired or broken by toil, affliction, or vicious indulgence;or if the great laws of health have been understood and observed. Any of these causes may contribute to lengthen out life – or they may all be combined; and under these, separately or combined, life is sometimes extended beyond its ordinary limits. Albert Barnes (1834)

      As I noted in a post that Good Food Doesn’t Stop The Alarm Clock of Life From Ticking, it certainly can make it more enjoyable along the way and at the end as well.

  12. Ekono on May 17, 2011 at 07:00

    OT: World Tennis No:2 ditches grains. (He will probably soon be number one, which will make for even better headlines).

    “World No.2 Novak Djokovic claims giving up “pizza, pasta and bread” has made him a better player.

    The Serbian is unbeaten this year, with a 24-0 record, having picked up the Australian Open and Dubai Tennis Championships, as well as Masters 1000 Series events in Indian Wells and Miami.

    Now back home in Belgrade for the Serbia Open, the 23-year-old has spoken of the major changes he has made to his diet over the past eight months to improve his fitness levels.”

    • Paul C on May 19, 2011 at 07:59

      Too bad it didn’t list what he DOES use as fuel, as a top athlete it would have been interesting to see how he replaced those carbs in order to maintain what surely must be equivalent to elite endurance training. The article did state he had lost some weight, so we know some of the fuel was parts of himself. That may not be sustainable.

  13. J. Stanton on May 16, 2011 at 22:34

    Requoted for emphasis:

    “I think the basic point is that we know very little, that science is very slow, and that we have to acknowledge what we don’t know while acting on what we think is probably best.” -Chris Masterjohn

    Very well said, Chris. I’ve got to eat something while I’m waiting for the 20-year population studies to finish. It may happen that a paleo black swan turns up…but until then, I’ll keep eating like a predator.


  14. Contemplationist on May 16, 2011 at 22:46

    Sorry to threadjack, Richard but I thought you would enjoy this, and could highlight it, if possible:

    It’s a new organisation devoted to liberty of consumers to decide what food to eat and from whom – raw milk or cheese, gmo, etc you name it. I think it’s high time!

  15. George Phillips on May 16, 2011 at 23:06

    Learning good eating is, I suggest, an art not science. Human canvas.

    (I wonder what black swan tastes like?)

  16. Frankie on May 17, 2011 at 13:10
  17. Walter on May 17, 2011 at 00:22

    I wasn’t into podcasts and it was Jimmy Moore who turn me around on that. Now I’ve listened to many good ones (some of Robb Wolf’s, Chris Kessler’s and the various ones where you’ve been interviewed, Richard). I have a theory (oops make that hypothesis) that Jimmy started his second podcast because he heard thru the grapevine that you’d said he couldn’t interview everyone! 🙂

    He’s just amazing with the production quantity and value.

    You interview well because of the way the enthusiasm and honesty come thru.

  18. Paleo Josh on May 17, 2011 at 15:54


  19. Ethan on May 18, 2011 at 02:52

    Well done, Richard. On your falsification point, as Bertolt Brecht put it, “The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.”

  20. Andy on May 18, 2011 at 09:33

    Richard said, “Real science is not a method for proving things true (shock!), but rather, a much safer, more sure method of enlightenment: proving things false because that’s the only certainty we can muster, as human animals. We can know for sure that something is bullshit, and beyond that, most bets are off. Through a process of knowing what all is certainly not true, we gain increased confidence of what just might be true; but not absolute certainty.”

    This is the viewpoint of Karl Popper and it makes no sense at all. Are you saying that you know nothing? That you are certain of nothing? That we only know what we don’t know? Look around, humans know plenty. Scientists have discovered how to get to the moon, how to build and program computers, how to develop and use energy, the list goes on and on.

    We are neither infallible/omniscient nor know-nothings — those positions are on the same wrong side of the coin because they ignore how humans gain knowledge. Humans do gain knowledge and certain through correct science by examining data/evidence, forming concepts, and integrating with a method (logic)– and most importantly using the most important human faculty — reason.

    You are putting science and yourself in a indefensible position by stating you can not and do not know anything (or are certain of anything).

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2011 at 10:25

      ” Are you saying that you know nothing? That you are certain of nothing?”

      I am referring ONLY and exclusively to scientific propositions. I’m not a skeptic, and I’m very familiar with all of Rand’s writing, particularly ITOE.

  21. Andy Clarkson on May 18, 2011 at 11:40

    Richard, not sure what you are saying. Can you clarify please? Are you saying that we can only falsify scientific propositions, but *never* gain knowledge or certainty by proving them? If that is the case, then you are saying we can know nothing about science. Not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to get clarification if you mean something else.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2011 at 13:52

      “Are you saying that we can only falsify scientific propositions, but *never* gain knowledge or certainty by proving them?”

      Yes, essentially, and I see no problem with that. Contextually, I suppose one can be certain but not devoid of context or _absolute_. Of course, Newtonian physics is the classic example. Within the context of knowledge at the time one was certain it was true. But of course, it wasn’t absolutely true.

      What I’m getting at is science qua _discipline_. That’s my principle point. It’s a tool with rules for its use.

  22. Andy Clarkson on May 18, 2011 at 14:20

    “The rational policy is to discard the very notion of omniscience. Knowledge is contextual — it is knowledge, it is valid, contextually.”

  23. Nutrition and Physical Regeneration » A New Way To Eat Rice Without Soaking (Brown) Or Refining (White) on June 28, 2011 at 17:45

    […] have recently discovered that many non-dogmatic paleos actually eat white rice, and more than a few members of the Weston A Price Foundation consume it as […]

  24. Zach’s EF testimonial (Part 1) « The Paleo Garden on July 13, 2011 at 18:11

    […] since writing the below from a lot of different people including Art, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, and Richard Nikoley (who was really just ramping up back in 2008).  I’ve also humbly pointed a few folks in the […]

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