The Confidence of Ignorance

[See parts I, II, and III if you haven’t already.]

The Problem with “Bro-Science”

To watch most internet discussions, you’d think that science was a contest to see who could fish the most abstracts out of Pubmed. In areas as fuzzy as exercise and nutrition, there just isn’t enough research, and what is there doesn’t cover a sufficient breadth, to be the final answer to all our questions. If you eliminate any evidence without a DOI number, you’ve crippled your knowledge base. That’s as shameful as any puffed-up Curl-Bro ranking knowledge by weight class.

The internet has taken to calling “Bro science” on any sort of trial-and-error gym-observations, with unfortunate consequences. It isn’t “Bro science” when someone discovers, through trial and error, what works for their circumstances. If that’s the case, then I have bad news for you: so is most everything we consider foundational in exercise science. If someone has trained with a particular program or a particular style of training, and they’ve genuinely gotten results with it, then that is the end of the argument.

I will add a necessary caveat here: we have to distinguish genuine results from what I call “gym delusions”. A gym delusion happens when someone mistakes, say, feeling winded, or puking, or having sore muscles or a case of rhabdomyolysis for actual long-term results. A gym delusion means that the thing being done isn’t actually leading to measurable results like larger muscles, bigger lifts, or lower body-fat. Thanks to a hyper-active System 1, the immediate feeling is substituting for measurable results.

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Bro-Science: You Can Find Research to Support Anything

The title here is clear enough; how often have you heard someone say that you can find research to support any position?

In this post, I want to touch on why that’s not true.

The Abstract Isn’t The Study

It’s all too tempting to do a quick search on Pubmed, dig up some abstracts that seem to be agreeing with you, and use them as support in an argument.

Problem is, the abstract may or may not contain enough information to draw conclusions. An abstract is, by definition, a brief summary of an article that gives you the rundown. The abstract should tell you all the basics; what was being studied, how it was studied, the results of the experiment, and what conclusions can be drawn.

Depending on the scope and complexity of the research, an abstract may cover most of the relevant points, but it could just as easily hit only the high points. For this reason, having the full paper on hand is necessary if you really want to see what went on.

Why is this important? Because knowing who or what was being studied, the methods used for the experiment, how data was collected and analyzed, and what conclusions were drawn (and why) are all important when you want to understand research.

All too often, somebody will just read the conclusion of an abstract and assume that it backs him up, only to find out later that it actually says the exact opposite. If he’d bothered to actually look at the methods used and what the authors said about their conclusions, he’d have realized that just relying on the conclusion was being hasty.

Point being, you can’t jump to conclusions simply based on a few lines in an abstract. You have to evaluate the entire study, even understanding its limitations, before you can take any meaning from a piece of research.

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Bro-Science vs. Real Science

The Difference in Science and “Unexplainable” Results

This piece is being written in response to the proposition that “scientific theory” cannot explain certain results, in the context of the human body’s function.

More specifically, the proposition was to the effect of:

“If science tells us that the body mobilizes fat in a fashion that is genetically determined, and therefore spot reduction is impossible, then why do some bodybuilders note that when they work the midsection harder that it gets leaner?”

Well ok, the astute among you have likely noted some of the problems here, but I’d like to go into some detail just to eliminate any doubt. This is a treatment of real science vs. bro-science.

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