Trying to Throw Science at Them: Yvette d’Entremont and Kavin Senapathy on Food, Fads, and Fear

December 29, 2017

We are living in a land of confusion, as the band Genesis warned us back in 1986, but even they could not have predicted just how much more confusing things would get 31 years later. With a storm of misinformation engulfing almost every field of human endeavor, 2017 was ripe with confusion. And one of the most bewildering subjects is also one of the most personal: our health.

With celebrity gurus pitching pseudoscientific nonsense, conflicting news stories about what will and won’t kill you, and an entire culture of hyper-privilege teaching people to be suspicious of science, people are being made to be afraid of their food. And there’s a lot of money to made off of that fear.

To help us navigate these choppy waters, Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo is joined by two brilliant science communicators; Kavin Senapathy, a science and parenting columnist and co-author of The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House; and Yvette d’Entremont, better known as the SciBabe, whose writing has appeared in a variety of outlets such as The OutlineGawker, and Cosmopolitan. The two of them will guide us through this land of confusion, and maybe, with their of smarts and humor, make this a place worth living in.

Bonus for Point of Inquiry listeners: Get a special discount to purchase the new documentary Science Moms, featuring Kavin, when you use the promo code “CFI” (without quotes) at checkout.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, December twenty ninth. Twenty seventeen. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry, the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry, an organization that seeks to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values. 

I’m your host, Paul Fidalgo. Remember how everyone was so glad to see the end of 2016? It had been such a stressful roller coaster of a year. We were all eager to give it a good swift kick out the door. Haha, joke’s on us because of 2016 was a dumpster fire. 2017 was a raging landfill inferno, sending great swirling clouds of noxious gases across the continents as its flames licked the sky sickly, tinged with an eerie greenish hue. And speaking of sickness, I wanted to close out this disorienting and nauseating trip around the sun with a look at the current state of pseudoscience in health and nutrition. I mean, if there’s ever been a time when we all need to be taking better care of ourselves. This is it. But there’s so much conflicting information and misinformation about what we ought and ought not put in our bodies. Even a well-informed skeptic can become bewildered. Get ripped off or even latch onto some health fad that winds up doing them real harm. So I asked two of my favorite science communicators to help me sift through this mess. Kavin Senapathy covers topics such as science, agriculture and parenting at outlets like Self and Forbes. And she’s coauthor of The Fear Babe, shattering Vontae Hari’s Glass House. She’s also one of the stars of the new documentary Science Moms. I’m also joined by Evet Dawn Trauma, who has been refuting pseudoscientific claims at places like the outline, Gawker, Self Cosmopolitan and many others. But you probably know her best as the CI babe who invites you to come for the science and stay for the dirty jokes and fair warning. She brought some of those dirty jokes with her. But after a year like this, we all need a good laugh. In between all the heaving sobs I mean, let’s get to it. Here’s Kevin. An event. 

Evet don’t trauma and Kavin Senapathy, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you for having us. For having a. 

I’m so glad to have both of you on today. It’s been a very strange year in countless ways, but particularly I think there’s been a lot going on in the realm of pseudoscience and particular nutritional and medical pseudoscience. I feel like it’s been reaching some very bizarre heights in ways that I never really thought would become a thing before we kind of get into looking at some of those things. I just want to give the audience if they’re not already aware of who you are. I have to imagine that they at least know something of you, a better idea of where you guys are coming from. So I want to start by mentioning what I think is a unifying force for the two. 

We both have vaginas. Yes. Well, that was a I had to go for a bad joke to start with just to just to break it off. Thank you. I appreciate that. Well. Vaginas that we don’t want to glue together with vagina glue. Very good. What is that is one thing we’ve debunked. It’s a given. 

That’s true. You both handle that. But I feel like you both came to attention because of the food, babe. So and I think for a vet, I believe it was a blog. 

And Gawker. Am I correct about. It was. Yeah. That was my first professional piece of writing. It went nutty, virally covered. And I have both been writing about Vonnie for a while and she wrote the book, coauthored the book The Fear Babe. That was a wonderful, really, really in-depth piece of writing about her. I did this one like I’d written a few blogs about her that that, you know, done pretty well and that I had this one piece of writing that really went viral about Vahedi. And we just kind of for, you know, for about a year or so, really, really went after Vani Hari. And eventually now here’s the thing. Bonnie still has a career, you know, promoting her bullshit, but she’s less in the mainstream now. 

And that’s the the best. 

She’s pretty much just more fodder for for, you know, when it comes to the mainstream art. 

You know, at this point, she’s become valuable in that she is a great framework to examine not only some of the most common food myths about our time, because she’s a purveyor of all of these myths, but also to examine kind of why they proliferate despite all of the evidence against against these myths. And that’s what makes her particularly interesting. And she continues to be interesting in that way because she’s such a caricature. 

You could say, how did she first come into your crosshairs then? Well, I know that she has been particularly popular, but you’re saying her fame is sort of waning at this point. Was she, like on the precipice of some sort of world domination and she had to be brought downward? How did she, you know, first raise a flag for you guys? 

Well, she and Kim Jong un were working together for nuclear control that no can go on. It’s well, it’s so I mean, I think I think Kevin and I might have come at this from different directions. 

I kind of fell for all of the woo that I eventually ended up working on debunking. And that’s kind of how I got introduced to this whole universe. Like I was I was a sick person, fell for all of the crap because I was trying to not be, you know, not be ill anymore. And eventually found found my way back to science. But, you know, that was that was how I got introduced to all of this. And eventually, you know, I was I was someone who, you know, follow the Food Babe site and eventually was like, wow, this person is really duping people like me who need good information. And I got very angry. And, you know, this was not this is something that I saw as a mission to stop people like her from hurting people like me and that, you know, and there are so many reasons why she was effective at what she did. And it was and there were a lot of other people like her who spread similar information and didn’t get as far. And then one of the big problems with her was she promoted many different types of pseudoscience and got into the mainstream with it because she had such a such a comforting, sweet, like packaging of really horrible information. I think Covington I mean, contact your ex are her tactics are certainly impressive. 

I give her that much. They work it well, at least at least for enough time for her to build up this following. Now she has enough of a following to fund her own product line. We could get into that later. But really, she’s good at what she does. I mean, she takes bites out of yoga mats. 

I mean, you got to admire that kind of dedication to the combat, though. 

It’s total bullshit. Yeah. Like, I’ll I’ll give her that much. But I mean, the reason now is that I also I didn’t get into Woo because I had any health specific health problems. Well, I’ve always been a really gullible person. I mean, I admit this always. Somewhat sheepishly, but I think in 2011 it was. I bought a supplement because Dr. Oz recommended it. And I’m saying this because I know you guys are going to be kind to me, but. So I. But after I became a parent and I realized that so much of the fear around food was targeted at parents, especially bombs, for largely sexist reasons. When I started examining these issues as a hobby, I mean as a hobby, just because I was passionate about it, I was writing these writing these blogs. Now, there’s a career at the time, but as I said, a hobby. It was inevitable that I would run into the food bait because she was so. 

And at the time, when it comes to food misinformation, that brings up an interesting point, that the whole idea of the implicit sexism and the way they’re directed at certain segments of the of the population, particularly in the way that the two of you have your particular brands within skepticism, let’s say. Where is that? You’ve got a name that directly contradicts the food babe with the science, babe. And Kevin, you are associated with the science moms, which is a whole different kind of direction. So it started. If you can start with that, maybe I’m interested in the idea of coming at this from the perspective of the mom and how moms are targeted by this kind of pseudoscience. 

Oh, yeah. So so like I’ve mentioned, that when you become a parent and as I’m sure you know, Paul, like, it’s it’s kind of scary. You’re like, oh, my God, I have this this tiny, helpless being now to keep alive and take care of. And just last year, I would whine when I had a cold. I mean, I still white when I have a cold. 

Yeah, well, you guys are talking. I’m whining. I just turned them. 

Yes. Yes. We just we just lied all the time, which is totally acceptable and to be expected. But essentially that that natural fear that parents have has been blown out of proportion by the Internet age, which has ushered in this fear based marketing and right rhetoric targeted to parents and science moms. It’s a 30 minute crowdfunded documentary began in in response to this and kind of a an effort to fight back. And what happened is that these moms I’m one of the five science moms in the film, so we’ll give a quick background. Three of the moms are scientists. Plant geneticist Attestations Bodner, neuroscientist Alison Bernstein, also known as Mommy Paige, Ph.D. and on the Internet, and human molecular geneticist Layla Layla. Heidi, right. And then Jenny Splitter and I, who are both communicators, all of us are moms of young kids. And we’ve we all were tired of the bad science and ideology so prevalent in the parenting world today. But we all also share the same anxieties that everyone else does about about parenting and about food and health. And so it all started with Buffy the Vampire Vampire Slayer and the story. 

Well, as you know, any story to do or other bombs. 

And I we knew each other either just through interacting remotely, as some of us know, knew each other in person. 

We had this chat group. 

And when Allison and Layla, especially, who are huge Buffy fans, learned that Sarah Michelle Geller was among these celebrity moms who are speaking out specifically against GMO owes Layla and now are so upset. 

They said, you know, they said it seems as if they’d been slain. 

And so, you know, we’ve been known to do. And so we write this open letter to these celebrity moms from we called ourselves the mom moms for GM. It was at the time we write we write this open letter asking celebrities to weigh these issues with with facts and reason rather than fear and hype. 

And that letter kind of took off. We ended up having several people sign on, including a few kind of prominent figures in the food movement. And the filmmaker, Natalie Newel, came across this open letter and, you know, she thought we were the answer to all of the parenting nuttiness that’s out there. And so she proposed that we make this film and we’re like, oh, yeah, cool. We’ll make a film. Sounds good. And then so now there’s this movie. And that’s my long answer to your question. 

So but you have to kind of come at it from a particular perspective. So you need to kind of reframe it from a mom friendly prospect. 

And when I say that, I mean the kind of cultural stereotype of how the mom is supposed to be represented in the media and things like the five of us are all communicators, that our own rights and we all have very unique styles, for example, of mommy HD never swears the character Mommy HD at least. 

But, I mean, you know, she’s very even handed and and how she communicates these issues. But we all have our unique style. When the five of us come together. Yes. It’s I think it’s what makes us unique. 

That that kind of also makes us compelling as a group, because we’re all just these regular moms. We do share a lot of the socio economic anxieties that that the public shares when it comes to food. So we understand that corporations have done some less than savory things. We understand that people, when they say they’re worried about GMO, aren’t necessarily worried about genetic engineering. They’re worried about the transformation of lifeforms and into intellectual property. They’re worried about corporate controlled food system, about chemicals, about the health of their families. These are all really valid concerns. 

So to your point that we kind of what what would you say like an antidote to a typical mom in the media? I think that’s true. I’m not sure that definitely. And filmmaker Natalie Newel framed it in this way very intentionally. But when the five of us get together, this is just how we are. 

Oh, sure. Sure. I was going to say, you know, I saw the film at the last Psychon convention in October and it was really great. But also particularly as a parent myself, not a mom, unfortunately, but as a parent myself, I think it spoke to me on a level that it might not have at another time in my life, because it does acknowledge the genuine fears that people have and the fact that, you know, we cannot expect people to be so up on every single bit of information about nutrition and what isn’t is not bad for you. So it’s totally understandable that people will be overwhelmed by that kind of thing. And to have that acknowledged by this interesting and smart and diverse group of moms is actually kind of a revelation in that way. So. But to on the flip side now, if that was your persona, though, a direct response to the food, baby. 

Absolutely was. And like the thing with her is she takes herself so goddamn seriously. I have never seen someone who just take like I’ve seen her occasionally try to crack a joke. And it’s bad. It’s this girl does not understand how humor works. Like, there she is. She is. I find her to be a humorless individual and not I don’t mean somebody who can’t laugh at a joke when it’s presented to her. I mean, she can’t laugh at herself or at the concepts that she is presenting. And I find science to be very funny. I find everything that I’m writing like I think I can poke humor out of almost anything. And I think that’s the difference between the comedian and, you know, someone like food, babe. So like, no matter what you’re talking about, you can find humor at it. And like, I think I like I also think that no matter what, I’m never gonna be a full grown up because no matter what, I’m always going to laugh at the Bangkok leg. 

I just think, oh, for me, it’s a shuttlecock. So that’s the thing. 

Like, I guess like I like for for like Thanksgiving just passed us by recently. And you know how I prepared my turkey, partially because it’s a good way to prepare your turkey and part because it’s a funny word, a spatchcocked it. 

Oh yeah. Yeah I did. Oh yes. That have to Google that later. Fast cock and make sure you have safe search on when you do. 

Well Spatchcock spelled S.P.C.A. TCHC Okeke is S.O.S. K just to spell the S.O.S. K part again. Spatchcock in your bird involves removing the backbone of it and then and then breaking the breastbone of it forcibly. The record allows the bird to cook more evenly, gives it crispier skin and and allows it to cook much more quickly so you can bake a 20 pound bird in about two hours. 

This became a very different show very quickly. 

Anyways, there’s your. But yeah, I can’t I can’t get through something without giggling. And I thought that, you know, communicating all this stuff in a way that was funny would get more people to tune into really important information. And turned out I was right. 

Seems like it. Yeah. 

Every so often I will still get an email from someone every every. So this will still happen. I’ve still got an email from somebody saying you would be sell-by. It’s better if you just didn’t swear. Oh my God. I’m like I’m like, OK, you can. I’m like, here’s a thing there. And this is why I love that we have this rich tapestry of. Communicators, we have we have like us covered, and I write about a lot of similar things. And, you know, like I’ll I’ll veer into some different things sometimes. And carbon veers into different things sometimes, and that’s totally fine. But we cover a lot of the same subjects. And yeah, people that don’t like reading my swearing and they’re going to be people, people who read Coven and they go, I want someone who swears and right. Like is that way people are going to get that information from somebody. 

And like I you know, that’s what I do with my style. And like, there’s like and like I write in Cosmo sometimes and I write in places that are designed for, you know, for a hip story, people like over at the outline and covered. And I both write itself and we write for a for a large for a wide range of of audiences. And that’s important is that you write for. For your audience so that it’s going to resonate with different people. And that’s something that we both do. 

So we’re ending with all of that, with all of the awfulness that that was the Internet in twenty seventeen. 

One thing that remained awesome was this as evet describes tapestry or community of people who talk about these issues in a very public way, complimenting each other and and also pointing people, you know, to one another and really covering it together as a whole. 

So much of the misrepresented science and the in the food and health sphere. 

That’s an interesting point, because this is something I’ve been thinking about for a bit ever since Dr. Oz went before that Senate committee and got dressed down by Claire McCaskill. This was I think in 2015 or so, I feel like there’s been something of a sea change in the way, at least maybe, if not how the public perceives these figures, but at least how they are covered. I mean, I’m so glad that I see you guys have your byline and all these different places, and it’s really encouraging to see that kind of thing. And you mentioned the food babes celebrity seems to be on the wane, at least in terms of how seriously she is taken by the mainstream. Dr. Oz seems like he’s gone down a couple of notches. I could be wrong about this. Maybe this is just my own anecdotal perception, but it seems that way to me. And even Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, is getting mocked mercilessly for Adnan Syed. 

Right. But it is awesome. 

It’s fun, as you said, not fun. I mean, I don’t, of course, relish seeing people get taken down. But when people are in these positions of power, these prominent positions that really they’re what they’re doing is dangerous. So that’s OK. I mean, I do describe this as kind of a mess. I call it a misinformation height. Right. Like, we can chop. Yeah. Gwyneth Paltrow head and the Vani Hari had and even the Dr. Oz head and other ones are just gonna keep popping up kind of fulfilled, like filling that open space for for misinformation to to thrive and to spread. And so I think the objectives of people like like me and you and others who do this all by albeit coming from different angles. I think we all share this goal of also just arming people with the ability to kind of see bullshit as it comes at them. And so that way you’re almost helping inoculate people against this. So, yes, we it is important to bring science and facts and balance to some of these issues and some of this be asked that these people spread, but also just to kind of model how to think about these issues. 

That’s a good point. And then I wonder what you think about this. Is is that project working? Because if we are successfully kind of lessening the halo around Gwyneth Paltrow or something, for example, are we also at the same time advancing the point of the whole thing, which is to get people thinking critically about this kind of stuff and not to buy into the nonsense? Or is it just that we’ve taken down these celebrities? 

I think well, there are a couple things to look at here. One is that even though obviously people are still buying their products, there is there is something to be said for the fact that the media is other than just us is going after them. And I mean, you know, the very mainstream media likes you know, there’s Steven Kull is is making a joke about Gwyneth Paltrow. 

There’s there’s no coverage of Vani Hari on CNN or CNN anymore when she makes another petition. She’s not she’s not getting an article in The New York Times anymore. She’s not the expert. They call on CNN. What’s happened is we’ve made these people so toxic and so untouchable by the mainstream media. By destroying their credibility because, you know, they didn’t have any real scientific credibility before. So what’s. As we’ve made them kind of unprofitable to have on the air by showing how unscientifically valid they are, because we know that if they’re on the air right afterwards, all the people who follow us are going to write letters and are going to make a big stink on these people’s social media. So we’ve we have, you know, bye bye. Turning up a fan base and my writing enough about these people turned up enough proof and made it really, really disadvantageous for different corporations to promote all of these bullshit artists. So it’s been even though they have a multiheaded hydra of misinformation. We have a multiheaded hydra to attack them right back, which is kind of nice at this point. 

OK, so what? So we are seeing than some kind of a culture shift here. We are seeing some some kind of change in the way the general public is perceiving these issues. I’m interested in the culture of virtue and things that these sorts of products kind of push on, people that you have to be at a certain level of detoxification, that you have to have been cleansed somehow, boy, and all these different ways. 

And I and I and even and I don’t even just mean when the celebrity people know that when Paltos Colon is so clean that you could perform surgery on it is cleaner than it is. It is cleaner than a baby’s bottom. It is the cleanest surface that you’ve ever seen. 

I have not I’m not up to date on my academic journals for medical science, so I did not know that. 

She has detoxed. So, sir, it sparkles. I’m sure it is. It is like you be half her her at the inside of her asshole. This is like a it is like dragon scale, just fresh, clean loveliness. I don’t understand why these people who like every week they have a new diet that they claim detoxes them better than anything before. And then the next week, they have a brand new detail. What were they eating last week? Shards of glass and maggots. 

I do wonder about that. If you ever go to the supermarket and you stand there and you see all the magazines there that are that are aimed at that certain demographic and it’s all about weight loss. This weight loss that UCLA. Yeah. Yeah. But it’s and it’s all and it’s but it’s always making the same promises over and over again. Week after week, month after month. And you have to wonder, like, have we not figured this out yet. And actually that’s not comes to a really important question, frankly, which is that I feel like we’re just stuck in this place just as a species where for some reason we don’t seem to have come to an agreement as to what the hell it is we’re all supposed to be eating. We don’t seem to have an agreement as to what is bad for us and what is good for us. And we have some general ideas like vegetables we all seem to agree are pretty good. 

But beyond that, I feel like we’re still stuck in this place where it’s not 100 percent clear. Now, is it true that it’s not really clear? Or is it just been kind of marketed to us that it’s not clear so that there’s different solutions to the problem that may or may not actually exist? 

I think it’s largely been marketed to us, right. 

If you talk to, you know, your your odds or your your girlfriend or whatever, just talk to some some random person and they’ll say, you know, I don’t really know what to believe because when we read the news or we watch television, then one day we see a headline that says X, Y, Z is is good, like eggs or turmeric or whatever. And then the next day we see a headline that it’s bad. So I don’t know what to believe. Right. And the point is, is obviously that single studies are getting reported on, but single studies don’t tell us a whole lot. And this confusion in the market is important, too, to the stakeholders here. Right. 

Because right now, it’s it’s pretty much indisputable that we have the safest, most abundant and very food supply ever in the developed world. And so it’s a saturated market and there needs to be confusion to kind of differentiate one product from another. Whereas if you talk to most credible experts like, say, two registered dietitians, they’re going to tell you that all of like that front of the package labeling is just fluff. And what’s meaningful is on the back. It’s on the nutrition facts panel. It’s on the list of allergens that are listed. Now, there is there are some issues with allergens not necessarily being accurately listed. But the point is, we know that the average American needs to reduce their sodium intake, their sugar intake, especially added sugar and their caloric intake and all of this other nitty gritty. If if there’s any important change in what we really need to be eating, then. The leading medical authorities are going to come out with a statement about it outside of that. All of these little headlines and blogs, I would argue, don’t really matter when it you know, in terms of what we should be eating, which was your original question. 

So the fundamentals really haven’t changed and which is good to know now. But you mentioned sugar, though. Now, sugar is under a lot of scrutiny over the past few years. As you know, it went from being the thing that will make you fat to the thing that won’t necessarily make you fat. And now it’s the thing that will give you cancer and kill you. 

Sugar is toxic and your dick is going to fall off for looking at it. I read that on the Internet. 

So there you have you have this unicorn magical natural sugar. And then it’s going to be perfect and you don’t have as much as you want. 

The brand crusty you get in the. 

Yeah, I read that Volney. Hurray! Is severely allergic to sugar. And that’s on the Internet. So it’s true. True. Must be true. 

Yeah. So I just recently read an article all about sugar and why it’s it’s awesome for it. No, that’s not what I wrote. But I did I did write an article about sugar recently and we did all of the research on it to see what, you know, what’s true and what’s not. Because there is a lot of misinformation on it. And here’s the thing. You shouldn’t eat too fucking much sugar, obviously. And we do eat too much of it, but we eat too much of everything. And this is kind of curious. Around the year 2000, around when, you know, all the low carb diets started becoming the fad or shall we say the beginning of the low carb diets, because we’re still kind of doing low carb diets. We’re just doing different low carb diets. Now, we don’t call them Atkins anymore. We call we call them South Beach and. And bullet proof and whatever. They’re whatever the kids are. Exactly what we call them, kiddo, you know, which is totally different. No, it’s not. Anyways, so it’s. But here’s thing around the year 2000, and this is all from FDA data. They serve people started reducing their sugar and carbohydrate intake. Now, people overall are still eating too many calories, but the proportion of too many calories that people are eating overall now are coming from fats and oils more than they’re coming from sugar and carbohydrates. So so that’s kind of been interesting to look at. So, yeah, we’re still getting too much sugar. We’re getting too much of everything but more. And that’s coming from fat and oil now. There it’s so other myths that we looked at. We’re not getting cancer from sugar. So, one, this is pretty this was really clearly red. Scare the crap out of me. I should tell you, this is this is really clearly written up from the American Cancer Society. So, yes, there is there is a correlation between higher body weight and some cancers. However, there is no direct causal link between sugar and cancer. So, yes, tumors to feed on glucose. But but breathe every cell in your body for the most part feeds on glucose. If you live on a low sugar diet, it will not starve the tumors. Its your body is going to convert other types of calories into glucose and continue to feed the tumors. So basically you just if you get cancer, listen to your doctor’s advice and eat a normal, healthy, balanced diet or, you know, eat whatever you can get down down along with the marijuana. I’m just saying anyway. So it does it also doesn’t cause diabetes if you have type one diabetes. That shit is genetic. I apologize if you have type two diabetes, that can be caused by a number of factors. One of them is being overweight. Yes. And excessive sugar can cause that. But any type of calories, any type of excess calories can cause that. Genetics also play a role. It plays a role into that. But it’s not just excess sugar intake. 

So that and there is this myth that Type two diabetes is a fat person’s disease. And I mean, absolutely, being having excess weight, carrying excess weight can influence that. But there are there are absolutely thin fit people with these perfect ideal diets who still have Type two diabetes and they’re just going to have type two diabetes. 

I have a friend who is a fitness competitor who has type two diabetes, perfect body weight. You know, it’s like you wouldn’t look at her and think of I don’t want to use the term perfect for body weight, but not a person who you would think at look and think that she has anything wrong with her weight and yet develop type two diabetes. Go figure. But yeah, we went through and busted a lot of myths that were related to sugar. So, look, you know, here’s my point for the article was not to tell people you to go out and gorge on all the goddamn sugar in the universe. My point is, you know, it’s like there’s not a lot of difference between, you know, between the sugar that, you know, you get in crystalline form and, you know, in the white crystal in a teaspoon. Form and honey, there’s not. There really isn’t a ton of difference between all the different forms of sugars. But, you know, you shouldn’t get. You shouldn’t be too much of it. Make sure you’re not getting a large percentage of your of your calories per day from it. Get most of your of your calories from from fruits and vegetables. And don’t be fucking stupid. Seriously. Like, why? Like, I feel like a lot of the rules about food come down to don’t be an idiot. Like like like if you’re eating three Big Macs a day and then going like what. And drinking a couple of Big Gulps and asking why am I overweight like I did? Does someone have to actually explain this to you? And I don’t think that’s what most Americans are doing when they’re overweight. I think that we’re just eating larger portion sizes and occasional extra cookie and not adding them up. Right. Like, I don’t think that the Big Gulps are the reason why people are fat. I think that it’s like the extra cookie here or there and we don’t count them. 

Right. You’ve also written a lot about the the artificial sweeteners. I know. And that’s been that’s been very comforting to me because, you know, the whole the whole idea that they are not going to kill you. 

I love our Diet Coke. 

I was I was going to say, you know, my own doctor who is an awesome doctor, I’m a GP. He he he told me, like, get off the Diet Coke. So things the artificial sweeteners, he says they’re gonna kill you. He didn’t give me, like, any particular evidence one way. Now, as to why, but when my doctor tells me, you know, they’re going to kill me, I think, well, I mean, he’s a nice guy. 

I mean, I writers are not infallible. It’s they’re also I trust them. It’s we should we should trust them on a lot of things. And I hate I hate it when I use this line that I tell other people not to use. But doctors are kind of they’re not scientists. They’re they’re really like what I say that I don’t mean they’re not people of science. I don’t mean that they’re not people who are studied in this, but they’re not in a lab doing science. Most of them, your general practitioner is probably not in a lab doing science on a regular basis. They’re not like they’re people who they use a lot of anecdotes in their study on a regular basis. So it depends I mean, it depends on the doctor. 

So, I mean, this is a thing that that’s fairly common, that you’ll hear a doctor say, well, you know, my sicker patients, they’re they’re drinking a lot of Diet Coke. Well, I’ve you know, I do read I read a ton of studies on diet soda to see what’s, you know, what’s reported to them, how the studies are conducted and these types of things. And one of the things they’ve seen in diet soda studies is that the eating habits of diet soda drinkers tend to be similar to the eating habits of regular soda drinkers. So when your doctor is seeing a lot of people who say, well, I you know, I drink diet, you know what? What are your eating habits? What are your drinking habits? I eat diet. So, you know, I drink diet soda. I have these eating habits. Your doctor might associate some bad lifestyle choices with, you know, with diet soda consumption. And that’s not necessarily the case. You could just drink diet soda because you like the flavor. 

So I would like to take a step back here because I’m interested in the kind of culture and the pressure, the societal pressure that people get put under when in regard to a lot of this stuff. I was recently in Point Reyes, California, for a thing, and I was there for a couple of weeks. And if you’re not, you don’t know where that is. It’s right on the San Andreas Fault. It’s kind of a mountain town and it’s kind of a little bit of a hippie town in the middle of nowhere. And in Marin County, when you walk into town and you go to the grocery store and the and the only things they pretty much have, you’re surrounded by organic, this organic, that non GMO, this non GMO, that everything is natural. You know, in quotes, every place you could buy food was the same where the local coffee shop did not have any artificial sweetener whatsoever. I know that was really troubling. 

What is it, stevia? Do they get all these teto stevia? Yeah, they did. They tried to poison you with David Stia. I, I kid. I guess so. But anyway, there’s a school district. 

Marin was also the first in the nation to serve exclusively organic and non GMO veal. We’ll see. 

There you go. And everything was really expensive too. But luckily I was only there for a little while, but the impression that it had on me was pretty profound. Now I have like the culinary sophistication of like a box of Lunchables or something. So it was all kind of alienating to me anyway. 

But aside from that, just the idea that the dominant products on display were the organic and non GMOs and things, and now it’s just like a standard and you could find the other stuff. And even like name brand stuff was hard to find, but you could find the other stuff, but you kind of had to go to the bottom shelf. It was kind of tucked away and the feeling was that if you’re buying this, you’re not really doing it right. 

You may not read that in love feeling that. Exactly. 

And so that’s the kind of thing I’m interested in. It’s one. It’s a silly little concentrated example. But it’s the same way that political identification sort of is today, that I feel like there’s this virtue signaling or a tribal identification that goes on with this emphasis on organic. Yeah. Go ahead, please. 

Oh, absolutely. And that that what you’re describing in Marin County some time ago has now, I would argue, become become the mainstream. You now go to any grocery store in the United States, at least in my experience, and like that that non GMO kind of virtue signaling on packages is everywhere. Now, I mean, the non GMO project, which I, I have written about time and again, because they are so problematic, is growing so quickly. I I’m curious to look at their 2017 figures, 2016 and the label was on 19 billion dollars worth of worth of food. And this is growing fast. And so, yeah, what used to be like the the food that you would see in this kind of ritzy hippie ish corner relegated to this to this kind of fringe corner of our food market is now everywhere. 

Yeah. And the effect so you have the virtue signaling that the products that the brands feel like they have to do. But also like what was apparent to me was how I mean, how alienating it was for me to kind of pick up the cheaper stuff that wasn’t, you know, non GMO that wasn’t organic and and bring that to the register. And like, you could see the kind of sneers on the faces behind the people behind the counter. And now I’m curious as to how how widespread that is now becoming. The problem is also a little bit of a privilege. Right? Because only certain people can afford to to live this way. And I wonder the kind of impact it has on the folks who can’t quite reach that, who can’t quite afford to have the non GMO or the or the organic version of some. 

There are some data that show that when there’s enough confusion over, for example, the safety of specific produce, specific fruits and vegetables, that this confusion can influence people who, you know, who don’t have the financial means to necessarily make these choice to simply not choose certain fruits and vegetables. And there are there are organizations that are covered regularly in the mainstream media, environmental working group as one of them, who literally every single year put out a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that if you can’t buy organic, that you just shouldn’t buy them. 

Which is, to me, completely misplaced, misleading, scientifically wrong. And it’s completely ethically wrong as well. 

And mainstream media outlets run with this like like it means something like the environmental working groups definition of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15, like it actually means a thing and it doesn’t. But, you know, here’s here’s how seriously people take this to you. Remember a few years ago when Vivienne Westwood, the you know, the clothing designer was like, if you can’t afford to eat organic, you should just eat less of hers. Of course, she thinks that she wants everyone to be a size zero to wear clothes. 

Well, that’s not too different from Mike Michael Pollan. Right, because Michael Pollan, the famous food writer, has has these, like, simple rules that he asks you to to live by. And it’s like, you know, some of them pretty obvious, you know, eat more plants. That’s great. Eat more locally if you can. OK. And one of them is pay more. Right. Pay more for what you’re eating, which, you know, leaves a lot of us out and in that. 

Pollan isms just kind of boil really complex issues with a lot of factors. Boil them down into something far more simple than we could ever you know, than you can ever make these issues. Like you just can’t tell people to eat how their grandma and expect that to be a sensible piece of advice. 

Do you also use a phone? The way your grandmother used to phone there is these things just don’t work for the food system in the world we have now. It’s like the problem. And this is why I have such a problem attacking Michael Pollan the way that I would love to like. We can’t attack Michael Pollan quite the same way we attack like Bonnie hurry because body hurry is just fucking wrong about everything. Right? But like Michael Pollan, if you kind of follow us food suggestions, you’re not going to you probably won’t become Author Rexach like you would with the food. Babe, you probably won’t eat an unhealthy diet. And he doesn’t tell you these foods are off limits. He says, go ahead and break the rules like he doesn’t sound too crazy. Until recently. When, like, you know, there’s a video of him in the streets of of New York, like picking Dan like dandelion leaves out of the Ceyda sidewalks, streets of New York City, I’m like, bro, you’ve got a little too far with the urban foraging. 

I’m not I’m not picking salad out of out of, like the streets of Brooklyn. I’m just saying I’ve seen too many people peeing in the streets of New York. That’s not that’s not where you get dinner, buddy. That’s no good. That would be natural. It’s natural. So. Oh, yes, sir. So are asteroids hitting the planet, which we desperately need. Time for the thermonuclear cleansing. But 20. 

But the point is, though, the pollen, you know, he seems to someone like that does have the right idea in terms of what it would be good for everybody to do. But I think aside from these, the pseudo science purveyors, there’s also he’s pushing kind of some some of the more benign myths, I guess. I don’t know if they’re benign, but but the myth that, like you must that you really need to be doing this to be doing it right. Whereas, you know, if you can just buy the regular vegetables, just go by the regular vegetables and it’s OK. 

There was a there was a great thing. I think it was on PBS. There was a documentary with Michael Pollan. I feel like whenever I say there was a documentary with Michael Pollan, you know, some bullshit’s about which of the 30000 are we talking about? Oh, yeah. And I believe it was on PBS and they went to like, it’s it’s here. Here’s another lie where, you know, it’s about to get good, where they went to the jungles of Africa. They discovered. Oh, yeah. Michael Pollan discovered something in Africa. Bull shit. He did. And they were and they were trying to demonstrate that these people who were still eating their natural diet in Africa had a healthier diet and a healthier microbiome than us living here in the U.S. because of our evil, sad microbiome. And I’m like, I’m like No one. We don’t even know what a perfect, healthy, wonderful microbiome is. Number two, you understand that the people that are living in in Africa and this developing country are spending half their day running around trying to catch their food. Right. Like this is. Yeah. This was literally a nomadic tribe that I believe. And it’s been a little while since I watched this, but I believe it was a nomadic tribe that was struggling to find enough food. 

And he’s trying to say, look at how fucking healthy they are. I’m like vaccines, Michael. Thank you. 

They created the microbiome, microbiome, science. And maybe now epigenetics is like the quantum of the food. Oh, that’s good. That’s good. Like anything that, you know, that kind of needs a little bit of woo injected into it. And to make it to make it sound science enough, you’ll get the microbes out like the microbiome whisperers. You know, like Deepak Deepak Chopra, who thinks that the microbiome listens to your thoughts and has any preference. 

Oh, that’s right. I mean that. Yeah. 

Let’s say gut say microbiome. And there’s your answer somewhere. 

Yeah. Now, did that replace probiotics or are they now. 

Still it’s still in there because probiotics are the key here too. Oh, what else. Your microbiome. I say I get I get pitches all the time from companies who want me to write about their their product. And like I want to say, like once every couple weeks I get a pitch for like the latest and greatest probiotic company that targets something specific about microbiome. Your microbiome excuse me, is going to fix all of these specific problems. And I’m like, you’ve got to work on your PR dude. 

Is there no merit to the whole probiotic thing? There is merit. 

It’s just that the science on this and is in is in its infancy. There’s nothing actionable that we know of by some like Rabbi. I mean, I think it’s doctors will tell you that it makes sense to take a probiotic if you’re on antibiotics. But other than that, there’s nothing kind of actionable that we can do, like certain probiotics. 

Yeah, like at this point, they haven’t shown like, I would I would love it if they would show, like, here’s the probiotic that’s going to prevent you from having, like, horrible rampant diarrhea for a week after being on antibiotics. But sorry, I just gave you way more information about my life than you ever needed. But it’s like, here’s the thing. Like, a lot of times, like antibiotics do wipe out gut bacteria and that’s how you get things like C. diff. So anyways. But that but that’s thing with with antibiotics is that they do wipe out gut bacteria and they can they can lead to bacterial imbalances. 

And we are starting to find that that some bacterial imbalances can lead. They’ve been able to they have been able to induce allergies in mice and then quote unquote, cure them or help them with with bite by reintroducing proper bacterial. So I’m not sure if that’s a thing that’s ever going to show more results in the future. That was a fluke. But that’s c like I don’t know if that’s something they’re set up to. 

Do you have maybe you had like I should point out, that based on what you’ve got saying is an important caveat always to point out. But people like evet and I kind of forget to point this out. I think sometimes it’s when a study happens in mice, it’s very important to realize that the studies in mice. So you’ll see again, like circling back to those headlines we were talking about earlier. I’m single studies. So many of these are mouse studies. 

And people are sitting here like, oh, now this thing I do is going to hurt me or help me. And it’s like just, you know, just calm down for a second. 

This is kind of a theme we’re dealing with here, which is that there’s a there’s a little bit of scientific progress on on one area of nutrition or something. And that comes out in a study of some sort. It gets reported in the news and it almost seems to overnight. That’s born in industry. Right. Because now somebody has said something about probiotics or the might or the microbiome. And so now there’s a whole industry built up around. Just what I guess you could pretty much say at this point are just now speculations and rumors about what might they might entail. 

I’m not even sure how the probiotic things started. You know, someone’s. But like, everyone is sure that that eating the right yogurt is get a you know, it’s going to make them pretty at this point. So but I think that’s what the entire beauty and health industry is. Everyone thinks if you take the right pill or eat the right food, you’re going to suddenly look like Chazelle. 

And that’s just not how that works. So it’s you know, you have at the end of the day, like there’s no miracle. You have to, you know, eat the right amount of calories for your for your energy expenditure. You should move a little, you know, in you know, in order to make sure you keep doing that, you have to find a type of activity that you enjoy it. 

That’s not always easy to to find. And, you know, you have to you have to put in the work over a long period of time. Like, you can’t go to the gym for a week and stop and you can’t eat one carrot and be like, well, back to the cupcakes that like these are you know, it’s like a supplement is not going to do it. You can’t get it out of a bottle. And yet you have to keep on doing this for the long haul, like. And the problem is that people are like, but why? And we’re going to keep on going back to the to the bullshit artists to keep on trying to find a way around the hard work. And along with that, even though it’s not just about the bullshit, people are gonna keep trying to find ways to make life longer. 

It’s people are going to keep hunting for, you know, the fountain of youth and really like we’re pushing the limits on this as far as we can get for. For some things like we’ve we’ve beaten all the big things at this point. So we’re trying to beat the little things now. 

So we’re we’re approaching the hour mark. So I want to wrap it up with a kind of a a broader perspective here. We are recording toward the very, very last days of 2017. This will probably get posted at the beginning of 2018. 

So it’s such a wonderful year is a great year. 

God, it was a rollercoaster of delights. But in the last episode of Point of Inquiry, I spoke to Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post. We were talking about the state of journalism and misinformation. And I asked her, you know, to kind of sum up like, how does she see things going into the future? And much to my surprise, she shared my feelings, which which was one of deep despair, that things were kind of getting worse and it was hard to see how we were going to kind of recover from all of that. Now, on this particular avenue, however, we mentioned before how some of these major celebrities are kind of getting kneecapped in their influence and they’re seen as more kind of risible figures than they were before. So we’ll start with you, Kevin. How do you see things going into the next year and beyond? Are we on a good track to get people to start thinking a little more critically and so that these bullshit artists don’t quite have the power that they do now? Are we are we going in a good direction? 

You know, I’ll just speak from my personal feelings. This is not going to be completely you know, data can’t be scientific. 

This is your own anecdotal perception. 

But yes, but post election, I mean, for several months, I was super discouraged. 

I kind of just went through the motions sometimes of writing about these subjects and hoping to kind of get the passion. Back into it. Because I was not feeling it for a while, and so I think I’m more hopeful now. As we approach the end of the year. But I had to take a different approach and kind of reshape how I think about these issues. And for me at least, I can only speak for myself debunking bad science and refuting health and food mythology. It’s always very important. But that misinformation radar that I mentioned earlier, I’ve just kind of been trying to apply that on a broader scale. 

But someone like me, if I if I write something about something considered political, whether it’s gender or or a a prominent figure or a specific politician or feminism, I’ll always get a few people telling me that I should stay in science. They follow me to read about science. And for me, it’s just much broader than that. I think I’ve told you this before, Paul, but it’s always for me, Ben. Ultimately, the wielding of science and facts towards a broader goal of justice, and that’s become a lot more important to me personally in my work. 

And so, yes, I’m hopeful. 

I’m glad you brought that up. Yeah, because I. Because I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve been talking about, particularly with some of the social pressures and the situations of privilege and whatnot, that justice really does kind of become the underlying theme to all of that. Is that what about you? 

Good question. 

It’s been hard to figure out where, I guess where I’m at in terms of how optimistic I am, in terms of where the where the skeptic movement is going and where I’m going with it. Over the last year and over the last six months. And like I, I’m always optimistic that more people are going to come toward skepticism and more people are going to come towards critical thinking. And like, I feel like the last years kind of shaken me because you never like there’s there’s a political convention that I go to every year, political on in Southern California. 

And like the previous few years was it’s like it’s I love it because it’s this it’s this political sparring match where you get things like Chelsea Handler and tell me Larin on the same stage to fucking duke it out. And it’s amazing. Oh, yeah. You just get it’s it’s like the you like the previous year, like after Ted Cruz had been eliminated, there were still Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders people there, and both of them had been eliminated from from possibly running. 

It was amazing. But this year, after I get it, this isn’t a political episode, but still good to have it. But like it was after Trump, it won. And it was such a strange atmosphere. It’s in Southern California and there were a ton of Trump supporters there. And it was just very strange to be, you know, in Pasadena and see a group of screaming Trump supporters holding white supremacist type paraphernalia below a while. 

But it was very odd to see that in in Pasadena. And it’s like, I get it, that this is not you know, I’m more of a science writer, but it’s been it’s it speaks to the broader point, though. Yeah. It’s like it has affected my ability to work a little bit because it’s like, I don’t know, like it sometimes it makes it rattles your brain and makes you go, you know, what’s the point of trying to get people to think about science when we have somebody who’s, you know, in office who’s not going to fund grad schools, whose school is going to tax grad students at the rate of eighty thousand dollars a year when they’re making 30 like these, these things actually go through your head. Some days when you’re trying to write and it’s not like it’s it’s shitty that this is what I’m mean. It’s like I get it that I should probably talk to my doctor about my anxiety issues. 

But still like this is this is not what I should be thinking about. 

This is not the cloud that should be going through your head. 

It makes perfect sense to me. It’s like we thought we’d all come to a consensus on Nazis were bad. Right. And then suddenly, you know, we’re giving them a second look now. Right. So I completely understand because it’s a it’s a situation where we feel like we’ve had all these things settled, that some things are just we we’ve we figured them out. We’ve worked through them. And and now they’re all kind of bubbling up again. And when when we can’t even come to consensuses about those sorts of things, what you’re talking about, the kind of higher minded stuff, you know, whether or not we should be paying more or less attention to the studies on on nutrition, it becomes sort of secondary, like how we need to get some fundamentals back first before we can get onto that. So I completely simple. That’s what you’re talking. 

It’s not that I think critical thinking is dead, it’s just that I. It’s it’s made me it’s made me wonder about the abilities of large groups of people to reject really, really horrible thinking. Because I’ve seen people who I highly respected not reject some of the worst bits of thinking from this administration. And I really wonder what’s the point of trying to throw science at them? And I’m going to keep doing it, obviously, because I you can’t fucking shut me up with a ball gag. But it’s disheartening. But we fight because that’s what we do. 

So, OK, well, so as with my previous episode, we end with a slight note of despair about how things are going. But I will say. But I’m going to say, though. And I’m usually the despair guy. From my vantage point, as someone who’s not ostensibly a science communicator, really, but watching the work that that the two of you were doing. And folks like you is very encouraging to see it enter into the mainstream and not not be a fringe interest. It’s not just on the Web sites of skeptical blogs and stuff that you guys are reaching audiences that really need to hear it. And the fact that you are getting the positive responses that you are and getting the audiences that you are, to me, is very encouraging. So we are out of time. I have had a great time with this discussion. So, Kevin and Evet, thank you so much for being on the show. 

Thank you so much for having us. That’s a good time, as always. It’s nice to actually get to talk to you at length because you’re always so busy. Well, thanks for being. 

That’s our show for today. 

And that’s our show for the year. We’ll be back with a new episode in the coming weeks. You can find evet on the Web at Sybase, babe, dot com. And be sure to check out Kevin’s documentary, Science Moms at Science Moms Doc dot com. As a special gift just for point of inquiry, listeners pop in the promo code CFI. When you go to purchase the film and you’ll get the full documentary for the steeply discounted price of one ninety nine. If you’d like to support this show, go to point of inquiry dot org slash support and donate to help feed the little podcast. Hamster’s that power the show. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. 

And why not make a New Year’s resolution to give us some fresh five star reviews on Apple podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen and subscribe? Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry. Learn more at Center for Inquiry Dot Net. 

I’m your host and producer, Paul Fidalgo. Thank you for listening. And I wish you a happy and safe 2018. 

Paul Fidalgo

Paul Fidalgo

Paul Fidalgo has been communications director of the Center for Inquiry since 2012. He holds a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University, and has worked previously for FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy and the Secular Coalition for America. Paul is also an actor and musician whose work includes five years performing with the American Shakespeare Center, and he currently directs productions for the University of New England Players. In 2017 he was the second Richard Kirschman Free Thought Fellow at the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California. His work also appears in the 13th book of the Dark Mountain Project. He lives in Maine along with his two dangerous kids. His personal blog is Near-Earth Object, and he tweets at @paulfidalgo.