Unqualified opinions spreading nonsense

David Katz, M.D.: Opinion Stew

we at least tend to know when our opinions are just opinions. But not with nutrition, where not only does everyone have an opinion, but everyone seems to think theirs is an expert opinion.

And our culture seems to be okay with that. I’m not.

Everyone who has ever gotten fat and then lost weight is embraced as an expert, fully authorized by our culture to dispense advice and sell books advising others on how to succeed. …every one is convinced they have found the universal formula.

Everyone who has ever eaten seems to be granted an equally authoritative opinion about nutrition.  This is not just nonsense. It’s dangerous nonsense.

…our tendency to treat any opinion on nutrition [or health] as an expert opinion.

I see this as the very unfortunate result of collusion among

a culture that fails to require true expertise as a basis for expert opinion;

a news media that profits from the perpetual uncertainty of their audience, and thus their receptivity to the next false promise;

experts willing to do whatever it takes to be heard above this din.

For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority, with no one generally even asking what if any training they’ve had.

This has been the problem in the debate about opiates.  Anyone who has ever been addicted to opiates (or lost a loved one to this addiction) is considered an expert, not just on opiate addiction, but also on the legitimate medical use of opiates for pain.

The media reports these ignorant opinions as though they were of equal weight as statements from experts with education and experience in the field. (see Review of “The Problem with Pain Pills” NY Times)

This is compounded by the fact that, in the famous words of Bertrand Russell, “Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”

It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.

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