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The Limitations of Occam’s Razor in Biological Science

Gary Taubes’ work changed my life and set me on a journey of reading nutrition and health research as well as eating and exercising differently. However, Taubes himself says that he “fell through the looking glass” when he discovered research on carbohydrates and weight loss that he asserts was ignored by the mainstream. Given the recommendations of the American Heart Assoc, American Diabetes Assoc, etc, it appears he was right.

But I do think that Gary has remained focused on the low-carb meme for too long and it is time for him to move on. I think his physics background has tempted him to want to reduce the problem of obesity to single, basic cause, as one would do in hard sciences. Gary refers to Occam’s razor in this regard in his book Good Calories Bad Calories – that “other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.”  When I first read GCBC, I thought this was a very useful approach, but now, having read more widely in the field of alternative health and diet, I have begun to see that biological systems are very complex and adaptable, and that more than one approach can lead to the same result. Indeed, there are probably elite athletes who are vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, paleo followers, low-carbers,  etc. And they all perform at extraordinary levels. On paper, maybe one or two of these diets are better, but in practice, individuals need to determine what’s best for them.  Perhaps the simplest explanation is still preferable, but it seems clear than there is no single path to optimal health / weight loss. Arriving at your destination takes each person along a different route, in a way similar to that of creative journeys or endeavours.

Now it is time for Gary Taubes to change his direction away from his reductive view that carbohydrate restriction is the only truly effective path to weight loss and optimal health. He is one of the most interesting and intelligent health writers working today, and I would like to see him come back through the looking glass and apply his formidable research, writing and discernment skills to other aspects of the problem of health.

http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/gary_taubes_gina_kolata_what_m.php

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