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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Arnold Foundation

This article about the Arnold Foundation is a must read. A young former Enron energy trader moved on to run his own hedge fund. In ten years he earned over 4 billion dollars, then shut down the shop. He, John and his wife, Laura, started a foundation to give away the bulk of their wealth. Their philosophy is genius!
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation strives to produce substantial, widespread and lasting changes to society that will maximize opportunity and minimize injustice.
There are three areas of focus: 
  1. Criminal Justice
  2. K-12 Education Initiative
  3. Research Integrity
What first caught my eye was the Yahoo article that began the Arnold Foundations interest in Gary Taubes. I have long been a fan of his and spoke of him as recently as two posts ago. Gary Taubes wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. Nutritional science is a soft science but Gary now has an ally to help him get his message across via a scientific study. John Arnold took note of Taubes suggestion that a comprehensive experiment was needed to answer some of the key questions about how our bodies process food. To me, this is would be a bold move. Having worked in biotech/pharma, I have witnessed the careful excision of experimental designs that might cast doubt on ones theory. Taubes believes in what he is saying so he is betting the farm on his expected outcomes. At the same time, he is not putting up any road blocks to steer the research towards the expected outcomes. 

Just to give an alternative view, here is a Scientific American blogger who disagrees Gary Taubes and John Arnold. I hope that this individual is asked to participate in the experimental design of the obesity study. A vital aspect of this research would be to not only take into account what your detractors are saying, but to invite them to participate in poking holes in your theories. The theories, by the way, will be tested by the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), a nonprofit headed by Taubes and physician Peter Attia. The research will be carried out by a collaborative group of clinicians and scientists from the fields of endocrinology, metabolism, diabetes, obesity and nutrition. NuSI has received its first two years of funding from the Arnold Foundation.

Besides testing theories on obesity and learning about how our bodies process food, I hope one more area of research will be advanced. How do we take two opposing sides and design experiments to settle the argument? In this case, we have an easy target; obesity. At least, it appears to be an easier target than a group of terminally ill cancer patients. The obese individuals in the study will have to be screened carefully. Once this begins, the arguments over how to group the participants will begin. Smokers, age, gender, genetic make-up and so on, will confound the data and generate suspicion on the conclusions. This is where science begins. Each researcher will have to set aside their bias and think only about the way in which the study begins. Most of the work will come from the planning. Once patients begin their journey, no further planning should go into the research. 

Just as Euclid, Descartes and Newton all sat down one day to write their text books to be sold to the Universities, so should NuSI sit down and describe the experimental design of this study. The human body is something of which we know very little. This study can be used to fight against the single target/single treatment paradigm of biotech/pharma that has painted us all as simple organisms in need of simple but very expensive pills.  What ails us is not TNF alpha, amyloid beta, IL-2 or any of the other popular drug targets. What ails us is a complex system of molecules moving about and somehow bestowing upon us the gift of life. How do we begin to understand how those molecules move about. The science NuSI has to advance is not only nutritional science, but the more complex issue of how to study the human body. Let us branch out from the gene hunters and pill pushers. Let food be our medicine!

Thank you very much Arnold Foundation for your efforts to take the Cargo Cult Science out of research. Your focus on research integrity, and your entire philosophy is anti-cargo cult. 

1 comment:

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