March Skeptical Meetup in the Mao Bar, Palmerston North

Thanks very much to those of us who turned up at Mao’s Bar on George Street two weeks ago. Sorry it has taken so long to get this typed up!
We had some great discussions and I thought I should summarise some of what went on for those of us who didn’t make it. David.

We looked at Barbara’s splendid bit of writing on hypnopompic hallucinations. Our discussion touched on the age old dilemma of having expert knowledge and communicating that knowledge to people so that they hear it. We helped Barbara towards a second draft aimed at a readership with a short attention span and lower reading ability, i.e., the general readership of a local newspaper. Her piece she has kindly posted here.
http://on.fb.me/xtRR8G

We also looked at the piece brought in by Barbara. This was written by Dr Donald w. Miller on the issue of Saturated Fat in our diet.
http://bit.ly/Ai3KWq
This spawned some heated debate, and we said as a group that we would follow this up with further research. From Barbara’s point of view this article was plausible, and presented for her a pretty conclusive argument, especially based on her own specialised field of research. (Barbara, I hope I am representing your views correctly!)
The rest of us had some concerns about the argument he was making, which seemed to have some stylistic hallmarks that marked it as persuasion rather than science. Ian in particular looked at a graph which he felt could either be representative of the true picture, or a complete distortion. As a group we said we would look into it a little more.
I have to say that the opposing views seem to stack up against Dr Miller. Like Ian……….. I tend to go to the excellent science based medicine website for the quick but well informed read on medical topics. I found this article by Dr. Harriet Hall.
http://bit.ly/ycnH7P
Her conclusion?
I see Dr. Miller as an example of an oft-repeated pattern. A conventional doctor becomes frustrated with his inability to help some of his patients, and he becomes seduced by an overly simplistic answer based on anecdote and speculation; then confirmation bias does the rest. He convinces himself that his new treatment plan is working. He cherry-picks the literature, writes books and articles, proselytizes to the world, imagines conspiracies against the Truth he has found, and generally becomes far more enthusiastic than the evidence warrants. He is sure he is right, and considers his experience proof enough; whereas a true scientist entertains other possible explanations, engages in meaningful debate with peers who disagree, and even tries to prove himself wrong. Listening to Miller gave me déjà vu all over again, and made me feel rather sad.

We also had a rather heated debated about human evolution. Barbara and I were aware of a view that human evolution is actually moving very fast, possibly even speeding up. Ian was sceptical of this point of view citing the more plausible expectation that we have pretty much overcome natural selection, and that this has disappeared from our species as a driver of evolutionary change. I liked Barbara’s simple but effective statement that “we are not cavemen any more”. I.e., our species has changed so much since the ice age that we can barely call ourselves the same animal.
The research that looks specifically at speed of evolutionary change in humans is here, and I suspect that Barbara has read some similar research herself.
http://bit.ly/ABTnWv
He does link to his original paper, but the blog is complex enough an explanation for me! IT even talks about the evolution of lactose tolerance, an oft-cited example of how the species is selectively breeding not only their animals, but also itself!
btw, I recommend Ian’s Blog, Author of Confusion.
http://bit.ly/zzHzoa
Thanks for putting the work into the blog, Ian. Very interesting reading!

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