Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Will recent articles countering the Food Babe do any good?

Taking a whack at the "The Food Babe" has been very popular the last few weeks. There is one by the ScienceBabe, another one by Science Based Medicine and a third by Violent Metaphors. There are plenty more as well. (Heck, I even a satirized her myself a few weeks ago.) While I applaud the efforts of those people to spend a lot of time in providing factual rebuttals to the Food Babe's errors, I really question whether it will do any good at all.

It all comes down to the concept of "presumption". I can't speak for other countries, but here in the US, presumption is most often associated with the criminal justice system, where defendants have a presumption of innocence. While this presumption has lots of implications that are carried along with it, I want to focus on just one element today: with the presumption of innocence, in a case that is "tied" evenly, i.e., one where the arguments on both sides are equal, the defendant wins. The tie goes to the defendant in the same way that in baseball, the tie goes to the runner.

But this is all associated with the criminal justice system. In the court of public opinion, the opposite is true. The tie goes to the accuser. This is not true for every individual in the public, as many are thoughtful and rational and will make their own decision, but for the public as a whole, presumption is with the accuser. If it is a "he said/she said" argument, the accuser will get the benefit of the doubt.

It shouldn't be this way, but it is. If you doubt me, think about the presumption of innocence: the mob mentality that sides with the accuser is why we need the presumption of innocence codified in the first place. It's the reason Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

And while our fellow scientists are putting together effective replies to all of the accusations of the Food Babe, very seldom do they do more than just counter the accusations, leaving them merely negated. Meaning that what the public sees is a "He said/ she said" argument, albeit carried on with scientific terms. The Food Babe speaks up first, and while the arguments from the scientists are true and accurate, they merely cancel out the original arguments, leaving the public with a "tie" to decide. And who do they decide with? Who has presumption? Who wins the tie?

To take down the Food Babe, you must do more than just deconstruct her arguments; you need something extra to put you over the top and there has to be an accusation or two (or more) in it. And that needs to be presented from the get-go, not as an afterthought. Continuing to do otherwise is to keep "preaching to the choir". Thanks, we already got the message and scientists all over are snickering at the Food Babe.

If you want to win in the court of public opinion, you need to understand the rules and the rules are very different than the rules of scientific arguments. So while scientists everywhere think of themselves as smarter than the Food Babe for making some of the stupidest statements about science imaginable, she still goes on and on. So who's the smart one?

Previous Years

April 14, 2014 - Ketchup Rheology Video

April 14, 2011 - What's In a Name? Marketing Gobbledygook

April 14, 2011 - On the Move

April 14, 2010 - Modulation


Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like you're saying someone needs to take her to court over her self-interestes misinformation campaign.

John said...

You would have to have "standing" for that to occur, i.e., show that you suffered harm, and probably some degree of serious negligence or intent on her part. Not too likely at all. Stupidity is not a crime.