In the past few years, I’ve seen many nutritional bloggers attack each other. Not just their ideas, but personal attacks. As someone with strong opinions on certain topics, there have been times I was tempted to “throw down“, but I’ve always resisted. The times when I found myself most likely to go into attack mode is usually when a learning opportunity was just around the corner. It is when the ideas we hold closely are challenged is when we are most likely to attack.
The great thing about being me is that I can change my mind anytime I want. I am comfortable with admitting I am wrong or don’t know. I embrace ideas I find interesting and discard the ones that don’t appeal to me. What some study says is less important to me than what my own experiment reveals. I see nutrition through the eyes of traditional cooking first and science second. That has served me well as the PubMed Warriors defend studies that affirm their bias and attack the ones that don’t.
Attacking is Good For Page Views
I’ve had a web presence of some kind since 1996. I’ve learned there are two basic ways to build an audience. One is to write compelling content and hope an audience likes what you are offering. The second way is to attack someone more popular than you and hope they respond. I could easily poke a stick at a few top nutritional bloggers and get at least one to respond. But I couldn’t care less about pageviews. The motivation for this blog is about learning and sharing. And as I mentioned above, at the point I most want to attack is usually when I am about to learn something.
I have tremendous respect for health bloggers that when they get attacked, ignore the personal aspect of the attack and instead use the increased attention to bring the discussion back to health. They are focused on doing what they believe is best for the health of their readers and not defending their egos.
Affirmation Not Information
I am currently reading the book The Information Diet, which makes an excellent point. People often aren’t seeking information, they are seeking affirmation. They read the blogs and share the links to what they already believe. It comforts them. We see this in politics, but it exists everywhere especially in nutrition. Paleo worshipers are quick to tweet a story that conforms to their already held belief and the Paleo attackers are quick to do the same with their information. Confirmation bias closes off learning opportunities.
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
The title of this post is in reference to the blog Paleo Drama, which I have mixed opinions about. Although it does expose some Paleo quackery, it also gives attention to the very people they detest on topics that have nothing to do with health. In the digital age, it is best to shun the behavior you abhor, not to shame it. Shame rarely works anymore, it just delivers more attention to what you despise.
UPDATE (Feb 6): Paleo Drama responded. Below are my comments.
Some clarifications. I am not anti-Pubmed. I am admitting that I’m unqualified to read scientific literature on nutrition with a high level of comprehension. I have tremendous respect for those that can AND are able to communicate that information to the average person. Hammering people over the head with links to PubMed without context is a form of intellectual bullying.
When I say I use a Paleo/WAPF basis for my nutritional decisions, I am not saying it is perfect or optimal. I am saying I don’t know, so I choose traditional methods as the foundation of my diet. It may be the wrong decision, but it won’t ever be too wrong. I will let others dig through PubMed, I’ll be in the kitchen.
Paleo Drama stated:
We clearly have different views of human nature if he thinks that health bloggers don’t speak up on other issues for the health of their readers for their sake and not because they need to keep up the party line for the $$$. And I definitely feel tolerating hateful behavior is unhealthy.
I like how Paleo Drama goes after the $$$ quackery because it is there the connection to health is clear. As for tolerating hateful behavior, I don’t tolerate it. I ignore it and move on. I don’t draw attention to it, which is often exactly what the hateful person is hoping you will do.
Feb 5, 2013 — 1:11 pm
I love that cover.
Feb 5, 2013 — 2:18 pm
Not sure I agree with you re: Paleo Drama.
Yes, you could say it gives the oxygen of publicity to some of the less attractive characters in “paleo” but I’m also grateful to Melissa and Evelyn at Carbsane for banging the drum on the David Duke podcast interviews and the horrific levels of misogyny at some other places.
This stuff should be exposed and we should condemn it. In the very unlikely circumstance that Richard Nikoley ever feels the need to public speculate about my appearance and love life I would like someone (who I have no connection to) to publicly say “that isn’t right”. Because I don’t think it is. It needs more than just ignoring.
Same with the Duke podcasts. The spineless special pleading as to ignorance of Duke’s beliefs is pitiful. Isn’t it a decent person’s duty to call out someone for saying it’s OK to appear on shows like that as long as they are spreading the word of “paleo”? In the name of solidarity if nothing else? And isn’t a blog a perfectly good place to do it?
Feb 5, 2013 — 3:57 pm
I find the whole paleo drama a waste of effort, frankly.
Sure, certain personalities feed on that kind of intellectually inane exchange. And, yes, those two (Melissa and Nikoley, am not sure of their names) clearly thrive on conflict. Naturally, they also claim surprise when they get responses that match their own. Nikoley even brags about censoring, even banning, dissenting views while both try to turn their readers into acolytes. Well, guess who sets the tone in a blog. Yes, it’s the author. Guess who is to blame for what goes on in a blog. Yes, it’s the author.
It is the reason why I read your (or Sisson’s) blog and not the blogs of those two.
Feb 5, 2013 — 3:59 pm
@SimonM – I am unaware about your issue with Richard, so I can’t comment.
However, I disagree with you on the Duke controversy. Who benefited from the shaming? David Duke. The community stopped talking about health issues and starting talking about David Duke. I hadn’t heard David’s name in over a decade until they started “banging on the drum”. They drew a lot of attention to the very thing they despise.
Shaming doesn’t work in the digital world. It has the opposite effect. How many Paleo people with zero interest in politics clicked over to David Duke’s site to see what was going on? How many clicked two or three links? How many listened to the podcasts? Web traffic can’t distinguish between happy links and angry links.
Shunning the answer. You stop giving attention to those things you dislike. You direct your attention to those providing true value. Then you trust that enough other people will do the same.
Feb 5, 2013 — 11:42 pm
@MAS — I think remaining silent on these matter is worse. Granted, David Duke might have got himself some new converts to his repulsive way of thinking or more people might enjoy the name-calling at Richard Nikoley’s blog.
But there must be plenty more who would have been turned off from the whole “community” by not seeing any form of dissent. If no alternative is put up to this then it gets accepted as the norm.
Anyway I enjoy the blog and best wishes, Simon
Feb 6, 2013 — 12:35 am
The whole Duke affair amounts to no more than Xmas to those folks waiting for a reason, any reason, to go off on each other which, in itself, reveals that this is no more than another opportunity to claim moral superiority.
Feb 6, 2013 — 8:24 am
@SimonM – I have read Free The Animal many times over the past few years, but I only read the posts that deal with experimentation, which is what I think he does best. I just ignore the other posts. I don’t get mad or beat the drum. I just move on. The core belief of some of the posts I see on Paleo Drama is that they don’t trust that I am capable of moving on without their outrage, which I see as condescending.
I might do another post on this topic using an example outside Paleo. I’m a big believer that shun is more powerful than shame in a connected world.
@Txomin – Absolutely correct.
Feb 6, 2013 — 10:06 am
What I got out of this post was a re affirmation of why I like reading your stuff. I’m not really into Paleo…( I read Mark Sissons because I saw his views on exercise in a magazine, and liked what I read, so drifted over to MDA out of curiosity. I’m more with GoKaleo and Chris Highcock’s current thinking when it comes to diet. I don’t like coffee, and finance bores me ( wish it didn’t ….I’d be richer…lol ) and I’m a bit of a technophobe. BUT I do like your posts on exercise. Like other favourites of mine, Richard Winett, Clarence Bass, Bill DeSimone and Chris, you truly are a CRITICAL THINKER. You are not scared to experiment, try new approaches, take from others, discarding what you feel is useless, and keeping what you think is useful. Most importantly you are not scared to admit you are wrong on occasion, and then look for alternatives. I LOVE that approach in your writing. It’s truly refreshing….I just wish there were more like you and my other favourites, instead of so many doggedly sticking to their dogmas because they have a financial, time or emotional investment to protect……
Keep on doing what you are doing…..
Feb 6, 2013 — 11:34 am
@StuartG – Wow. Thank you very much for the super nice compliment.
Feb 6, 2013 — 3:33 pm
I’ve never read a post from you that wasn’t sensible, honest and down to Earth.
It’s because of people like you that I get to go off the rails. 🙂
Keep up the good work, as always.
Feb 6, 2013 — 6:57 pm
@Richard – Thanks man!