Nothing in Science Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

scienceI’ve been an avid reader of scientific research for a long time. Over the years I’ve read countless papers on nutrition, health, and medicine. One of the things this process has taught me is that medical science is a very immature and chaotic discipline. There is no conceptual framework in place that supports scientists in their quest for knowledge. Moreover, a lot of money and resources are spent on unnecessary or fallacious research projects. I strongly believe that a widespread incorporation of evolutionary theories and concepts into the scientific system could go a long way towards fixing all of this.

Scienitis: A widespread problem

In my recent article entitled Scienitis: A Hidden Epidemic That You Should Be Aware Of, I pointed out that a serious malady has been allowed to spread and take hold within the world of science. This malady causes a lot of suffering and hinders our species’ ability to progress. The scienitis epidemic affects all sections of science, not just the ones that are responsible for carrying out scientific research, but also the ones that communicate science to the public.

To the average Joe, the world of science probably seems were complex and disordered. Via the media, he is bombarded with conflicting information about what he should and should not eat, how he should exercise, what types of drugs he should take, and so on. One week, he may read in the paper that a new research study has found that low-fat diets are healthier than diets low in carbs, whereas the next week he may come across an article saying the complete opposite. This is bound to make him confused.

This is where the symptoms of the scienitis epidemic become clearly visible. What is important to note though is that the epidemic didn’t start here; it started all the way down in the science labs and medical facilities in which research is carried out. At present, medical science is an unsteady field, due to the fact that it lacks an evolutionary platform to stand on. Most scientists don’t factor principles of evolutionary biology and medicine into the equation when they design research projects or interpret scientific findings; hence, it’s not surprising that there’s so much confusion and conflict within the world of science.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s impossible to really understand nutrition, science, and health if you don’t possess knowledge about evolutionary mismatch theories, human evolution, and natural selection. Nothing – or almost nothing – within these disciplines makes sense except in the light of evolution.

What’s really unfortunate is that the scienitis problem only grows as we move from the bowels of science up into the general population. Let’s imagine that a group of researchers set out to do a study to compare the healthfulness of a low-carb diet with that of a low-fat diet. They assemble 100 patients with type-2 diabetes, who they randomize into two groups. The participants in group 1 are given the low-fat diet, which contains roughly 10% fat, 65% carbohydrate, and 15% protein, whereas the participants in group 2 are given a low-carb diet that contains about 10% carbohydrate, 65% fat, and 15% protein. The participants are instructed to adhere to the diet plan they’ve been given for 8 weeks. Before and after the intervention, various measurements are carried out. Among other things, the participants’ blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, body weight, and body composition are analyzed.

When the researchers analyze the data they’ve collected, they find that the low-fat diet induced significantly more fat loss than the low-carb diet. It also brought about a greater improvement in insulin sensitivity. In their paper, they report these findings; however, they don’t make grand statements: they make sure to point out that the difference in the observed effects is quite small and that more studies are needed to elucidate how diets with different macronutrient compositions affect human health. They also go into a discussion about the limitations and weaknesses of their study.

Shortly after the study is published, journalists throw themselves over it. They put up newspaper articles with catchy titles stating that low-fat diets are superior to low-carb diets. Many of the journalists don’t mention anything about the limitations and weaknesses of the study in question, they merely report the primary findings.  In other words, the caveats and subtleties of the research are lost in translation.

The problem is further exacerbated when we get to the last chain in the link: the general public. Many of the people who read about the study in the media are probably even less knowledgeable about statistics and the scientific process than the journalists reporting the findings of the research, and they may incorrectly interpret what they’re reading, perhaps jumping to the conclusion that they should adopt the same diet as the participants in group 1 of the study were given. They may also go on to tell other people they know about what they’ve read, perhaps blowing things out of proportions or twisting the results of the study in such a way that they better agree with their personal views and opinions about nutrition. This would cause things to further spiral out of control and the information that grew out of the study in question to be further modified.

This is not an uncommon scenario in science. It would have been much less common if everyone who’s somehow involved in science was knowledgeable about evolutionary sciences.

It’s almost impossible to overestimate the power of the evolutionary health model

If the scientists who carried out the aforementioned study were knowledgeable about evolutionary biology and Darwinian medicine, they would likely have included a thorough evolutionary analysis of their methods in their discussion section. They would likely have been quick to point that the two diets used in the experiment differed markedly in their composition and that other factors besides the macronutrient ratio of the two diets may be either partly or wholly responsible for the observed effects. Via the help of the Evolutionary health Model (EHM) (a general set of predictions, testable theories, and explanations about health, as well as medical prevention and treatment strategies and recommendations, all created on the basis of evolutionary sciences), they would likely have looked into how the two diets compare to the ancestral human diets that conditioned the human genome.

This analysis would provide them with several possible explanations as to why the intervention had the effect it did. It may for example be that the low-carb diet was lower in fiber – a nutrient that ancestral human diets contained plenty of – than the low-fat diet and contained many foods that have a markedly higher fat and energy density than any of the foods our preagricultural ancestors consumed. Both of these things could obviously contribute to tilting the odds in favor of the low-fat diet.

In the absence of the EHM, it’s very difficult to conduct these types of examinations in a thorough and good manner. The researchers could have tried to piece together information derived from various clinical research studies in order to determine the healthfulness of the two diets, but that’s a very strenuous and difficult endeavor. When compared with a couple of studies or review papers on nutrition, the EHM gives us a much more complete picture of things. The EHM, in combination with modern clinical research, would provide the researchers with a solid foundation upon which they could build their ideas, hypothesis, and discussions. Chances are, if they were in possession of the EHM, they would have designed their study differently.

In an ideal world, it’s not just scientists who would be knowledgeable about evolutionary health concepts, everyone would be. If the average Joe knew more about the evolution of the human diet and Darwinian medicine, he would be better equipped to make sense of the endless flow of information about diet and health that pours into our society through the media and the internet.

Experimental research rarely brings about new and revolutionary discoveries, it merely adds support to inferences that can be made via evolutionary sciences

Some people seem to think that we humans, via modern medical research, constantly make new and revolutionary discoveries about diet and health. What these people fail to realise is that most of the time, experimental research doesn’t bring about new and revolutionary discoveries, it merely adds support to inferences that can be made via evolutionary sciences.

To an evolutionary nutritionist, it’s not surprising that clinical research studies have found that a “high” intake of lean protein and fiber is beneficial in the context of health and body composition, or that wheat and milk don’t agree very well with the human physiology.

This is exactly what an evolutionist would expect to see. For millions of years, the human diet was rich in protein and fiber, but contained no milk or wheat. It’s only very recently – on an evolutionary time scale – that this changed.  There has been inadequate time for natural selection to prepare our bodies for the novelty of the modern diet. Again and again, modern clinical research has validated the EHM.

I meant it when I said that it’s almost impossible to overestimate the power of the EHM. The fact is that a person who is in possession of the EHM typically “knows” what studies will show before they are done. Via evolutionary thinking, he can make a very good prediction as to what the findings of various studies will be. This is not to say that I think it’s a waste of time and money to conduct experimental research studies though. Not every question can be firmly answered via Darwinian thinking. Most of the time, evolutionary sciences don’t provide us with clear-cut answers about diet and health. What it does give us, however, is a solid foundation upon which we can build our ideas, hypotheses, and thoughts. 

Last words

The EHM is more powerful than any clinical study will ever be. If all scientists, health practitioners, and science journalists were knowledgeable about Darwinian medicine and evolutionary health, there would be much less conflict and chaos within the world of science. Moreover, the overall quality of the scientific research that is carried out would undoubtedly be much better.

In my opinion, many research projects that are conducted these days are redundant or poorly designed. Instead of testing hypotheses that have no evolutionary basis, we should, in my opinion, examine the evolutionary path that got us to where we are today and then proceed to design research studies that seek to answer hypotheses generated from this examination procedure.

If the results of a study seem to contradict the basic tenets of the EHM, it is, in my experience, very rarely the EHM there’s something wrong with, rather, there is something we’re overlooking when we’re interpreting the results of the study. It may for example be that we have not paid adequate attention to potential sources of bias or that we haven’t properly controlled for confounders. With all of that being said, it’s obviously important to have an open mind when reading research. We shouldn’t let the EHM make us biased.

The basic rules of evolution always apply. This fact is very important to keep in mind when reading research.

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Comments

  1. Hi Eirik. I usually take food research with a grain of salt and continue to stick with what I know works for me. Science isn’t always carved in stone, for all the reasons you cite, and human dietary research is a prime example of that. There are just too many times when the research (or those who interpret it) will say one thing, then a few years later new information will arise and the initial stance will be reversed entirely. Those of us who are interested in maintaining a healthful diet have seen this happen numerous times. I think we also need to factor in who is paying for a specific study and what their agenda is. Unfortunately, not all of them are totally unbiased.

  2. Staffan says:

    Great article, Erik! It is said that a bishop’s wife exclaimed the following when Darwin published his magnum opus: “Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it does not become widely known!”. I see the story repeating itself, but this time the conflict seems to be about money and prestige rather than religion.

    I have a question to ask. I’ve been eating mostly tubers, vegetables and small amounts of meat (exclusively wild game as of lately) for a few months. The problem is that I’m not getting enough calories, and since I have no more fat to burn I’m starting to loose muscle. I used to get a lot of calories from rice, but I stopped eating it because of its high arsenic content (agribusiness use arsenic in poultry feed to kill parasites, which is then released into the water and absorbed by certain plants… the meat industry is reckless, as you discovered watching the salmon documentary).

    So, what is a good source of additional calories? I don’t eat concentrated fats. Potatoes are fairly calorie dense, but I can’t eat much more than half a kg in a sitting (I eat 2 meals a day). Maybe there are healthy alternatives to rice? Couscos is made from wheat, unfortunately.

    Kind regards.

    • Hi Staffan,

      It sounds to me like you could benefit from consuming more fat. What I would recommend is that you include some avocados, olive oil, olives, and/or other similar foods high in healthy fats in your diet. You may also consider adding in some nuts.

      Are you doing a lot of anaerobic exercise? If so, you may consider adding back in the rice as well. I wouldn’t be very concerned about the arsenic content if I were you. Personally, I tend to prefer brown rice over white, despite its high phytic acid content.

      Hope that helps!

      • Staffan says:

        Oh, I totally forgot about nuts! And I could also substitute reindeer for moose, the latter being virtually pure protein.

        I exercise a lot, so it would be great to add the rice back in. My concern about arsenic is based on an article by Consumerreports that warned about its high PPB value, but I’m not sure if that translates into actual cancer risk. Populations who use rice as the main source of calories seem to be quite healthy, and factors such as rice origin and cooking methods can apparently reduce arsenic content by >80%. It should be fine.

        If I ever need to lose weight I know exactly what to eat, that’s for sure!

  3. Nowadays science is mostly business driven.
    If the evolutionary template is used, lobbies can hardly earn the same.
    And they are the first “science” founders today.
    Can people expect that a study that contradict the founder will be published?
    I’m really tired about the macronutrient endless war when it’s about food.
    We are already overwhelmed by the evidence that the hunter gatherers health is mostly macronutrient independant.
    It’s far more about eating real food.
    Focus on real food that shaped our genome, don’t eat fake packed refined junk.
    After that, we could dig deeper into macro and micro nutrients…

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