In July 2002, The New York Times Magazine published Gary Taubes' article "What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?," which made the case for carbs, not dietary fat, as the cause of heart disease and obesity. Taubes was swiftly excoriated by the health and nutrition industry and made fun of by other food reporers. Nearly 15 years later, Taubes is no longer a heretic, and the idea that many kinds of fat are healthy is promoted by the orthodoxy, who act as if they knew it all along.
In his piece for The Vindicated, Taubes writes about how the press and the health and nutrition industries came over to his side without admitting they'd ever been wrong.
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Here are three issues I have with the concept of vindication, at least of the variety for which I am, regrettably, a candidate.
1. You have to establish the conditions for vindication to be necessary, which means you first have to be publicly shamed or ridiculed, an experience I personally could have lived without.
2. Vindication is not a binary phenomenon; it’s not a yes or no, black or white thing. The people who had publicly insisted you were an idiot are very likely to continue to do so, rather than admit or, perhaps more important, acknowledge to themselves that they might have been wrong. That’s human nature. The best you’ll ever get is some degree of vindication. Never the whole thing.
3. The orthodoxy can always protect itself by accepting your once-heretical ideas as valid, but conveniently forgetting or ignoring the heretic’s role — i.e.,
My favorite n=1 experimenter, Seth Roberts, wrote about how someone managed to greatly reduce her migraines by avoiding certain household chemicals.
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Sarah MacDonald (pseudonym) started getting migraine headaches the summer before she started college. During her first year of college, she was in a car accident and hit her head. Her migraines got much worse. More than once a week, she had to stay in bed all day, in darkness and silence, not eating anything. She tried pain killers. None worked. "They spread out the pain," she said. "They made me totally stupid." The only relief was sleep.
The summer after her freshman year (2004), she stopped getting her period. In November, she saw a doctor near her university (Mount Allison, in New Brunswick). Blood tests showed that her prolactin was way off. The likely cause, said the doctors, was a tumor on the pituitary. But CAT scans and MRIs found nothing. The tumor must be small, her doctors said. It would grow and become visible.
She waited for this to happen. Her doctors kept ordering new scans, looking for the tumor. Eventually she had two CAT scans and five MRIs. None found a tumor. During the year of waiting, she tried about fifty different drugs. None helped. I'm getting desperate, she told her doctors. "You need to give the medicine more time to work," they said. It was almost a requirement of treatment that she start taking birth control pills. Over the same year that she tried fifty drugs for her migraines, she tried thirteen different birth control pills, hoping to find one that was tolerable and made her migraines better.