I wandered off into the Barbell Medicine archives this weekend and found this interview with Greg Nuckols of Stronger by Science. It’s a fun interview, with deep thoughts about the Arkansas countryside, the nature of epistemology (how do we know what we know?), and how to deal with the ever-present false information in the health and fitness realm. It’s this last bit that had my mind going off on tangents, so lucky you, you get to enjoy them with me!
One of the reasons I began writing was because I found myself frustrated at the lack of scientific literacy in the health and fitness realm. The abundance and popularity of pseudoscience offends me in a way that I acknowledge is probably taking it too personally, even in my position as a professional science educator. I want people to be better–the people selling their wares and the people buying the products–I want to believe we can be more thoughtful, more nuanced, and develop a greater level of sophistication in how we interact with information.
And compared to Greg, I seem like such an idealist.
His response to this world of misinformation? Basically, “it’s always going to be there, so why bother trying to fight it?” He sees it as an inevitable element to the health and fitness industry. And I suppose all those interviews with Dr. Conor Heffernan would support that conclusion–it sure seems that early in the development of physical culture, there was the concurrent development of selling quick fixes and false promises.
And yet, I also see that the world of information is always improving. Science slowly permeates into popular culture. My own bias as a biologist suggests it takes about a decade for something to seep from academic circles into the more educated mainstream, and as much as another decade after that before it becomes “common knowledge” in the general population. (I’ve witnessed this pattern firsthand with climate change, dietary cholesterol’s low impact on serum cholesterol, and other hot-button issues I encountered in college only to watch them s.l.o.w.l.y. become more widely understood by the public at large.) However long it takes, it does happen, and the thrust of history is towards improvement. And the activist in me says we all have a responsibility to do our part to combat misinformation and to help history along. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Jordan agrees more with my approach than with Greg’s.
I can’t argue with Greg’s point that nuanced arguments, thoughtful commentary and an unwillingness to simplify ideas just don’t get the same traction. Apparently most of us are drawn to simple, easy-to-digest, concrete advice, even if it leaves a lot of important caveats off the table. I like the caveats. It increases my trust in the knowledge base of the advisor, but I recognize my feelings on the matter are informed by my highly analytical tendencies. I’m looking for like-minded folks to help me understand my unique circumstances, not just good advice for most people. In a recent 3DMJ podcast, Andrea talked about giving advice on a flow chart rather than just a list, and that’s the kind of thinking I trust. But, I’ve always been in the minority.
I don’t know if Greg is right and it’s inevitable, but I’d like to think that at a minimum, I’m not adding to that tendency in the health and fitness world towards quick fixes and misinformation, and maybe, I’m doing a little good here to spread alternate narratives.
What do you think? Is it worth pushing back on misinformation in the health and fitness universe, or should we just do our thing, find the folks that resonate with us, and let the rest of them do whatever they’re going to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Leave a comment below, or help me combat the algorithms controlling our lives and find and follow Progressive Strength on Facebook.