Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Informational Cascade

About 3 months ago, I embarked on a lifestyle change in an effort to lose some stubborn weight that I just couldn't seem to shake from by beer belly and love handles. I began researching the available literature of body builders and nutritionists and found out that my problem was two-fold: I thought I was eating healthy, and I thought I was exercising properly to burn fat.

I quickly learned that all of my pre-conceived notions about nutrition and exercise were all wrong.

I learned that the "conventional wisdom" of weight loss being a simple equation of burn more calories than you consume was also wrong.

What is more important is not how much you eat...but WHAT you eat is most important of all. In short, I discovered that my weight problems had everything to do with consuming refined sugars, simple carbohydrates and not enough protein and good fat in my diet. I had fallen for the conventional wisdom that in order to lose fat, I had to avoid eating fat. I bought only the leanest cuts of meat. I used lean Turkey meat in place of hamburger. I bought only non-fat or low-fat dairy products, and a whole host of other fat-free/reduced fat food products. Yet I could NEVER lose even one pound despite eating like this for years.

As soon as I discovered personal trainer and nutritionist Mike Furci and his advice on foods to eat, and foods to avoid. Found in those articles were references to the Weston A. Price Foundation. From all this readings, I quickly learned just how wrong the conventional wisdom on "healthy eating" was, and I changed my diet accordingly. I now eat as much proteins and healthy fats as I want, plenty of fibrous vegetables and some fruits, and have cut out just about all refined sugars and simple carbs (bread, pasta & white rice).

I have now lost 22 lbs. and counting, and for the first time in 4 years, I feel like I'm in top shape again.

In summary, I learned that whenever you assume you know something because "everybody knows it" (aka "conventional wisdom"), you should never take such beliefs and assumptions at face value because you could be misinformed due to "The Informational Cascade."

Yesterday's New York Times had an article talking about exactly what I've already learned myself - that eating good fat is good for you, and how the conventional wisdom is proving to be wrong. The article is a good one, because it describes the process in which an "Informational Cascade" is generated, and how it leads to all sort of erroneous ideas in society, and how those ideas end up becoming legislation that cause more harm than good.

From Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal “food pyramid” telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group’s members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

Cascades are especially common in medicine as doctors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailments (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children). Unable to keep up with the volume of research, doctors look for guidance from an expert — or at least someone who sounds confident.

In the case of fatty foods, that confident voice belonged to Ancel Keys, a prominent diet researcher a half-century ago (the K-rations in World War II were said to be named after him). He became convinced in the 1950s that Americans were suffering from a new epidemic of heart disease because they were eating more fat than their ancestors.

The article goes on to detail just how wrong Ancel Keys was, and how his research was shoddy, biased and flawed. Yet this one man with an agenda was able to influence the entire cultural paradigm in terms of what the average Western person believes about saturated fats in the diet.
He started an informational cascade and it's effects are far reaching.

When one takes a step back and looks at Western Society today, and look at the basis for much of what passes as "conventional wisdom" of the day, I'm quite sure we can find a lot of instances of "informational cascade" causing generations of people to take action on ideas they think are right, but are in fact either unproven, highly questionable or outright false.

And this is exactly why I'm posting about this topic on this MRA/Anti-Feminist blog...because afterall, we in the MRA Blogosphere are basically focused on debunking the meme's and falsehoods the feminist movements have worked to turn into conventional wisdom. We are in effect waging an uphill battle against the Informational Cascades of Feminist lies and propaganda.

And when we look at this, it is quite the cascade indeed!

  • Males commit all domestic violence.
  • Women are oppressed by Patriarchy everyday.
  • Father's are not necessary to raise children.
  • No-Fault divorce is good for society.
  • Most Divorced Fathers Are Deadbeat Dads.
  • Women make $ .72 to the Men's $1.00 because of discrimination.
  • There are not enough Female CEO's because of the "Glass Ceiling."
  • Domestic Violence incidents spike after the Superbowl and other Sporting Events.
  • It's in the best interest of children if the Women gets custody in a divorce.

Can you think of any others?


Anonymous said...

Most excellent post and analogy HL.
The faulty informational cascade is what our forbears might have called 'An emperor without clothes'.

It applies well to our Western world where fads get passed into law in one country, then spread like disease so that every country has passed it into law within a few short years.

I liken this practice to the way old ship's hulls were built; one hole and the whole ship goes down. Now they are multi-chambered so that even a severe holing can be contained.

With every country adopting without much debate the laws in practice in other countries, there's not a lot of latitude if these laws prove to be fatal - we all get afflicted.

Kim said...

Great post, HL. I've always found it interesting how much store society places on the latest "knowledge", considering that what we know is forever changing and evolving. I've always loved this quote (from Men in Black, no less),

"A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."