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Sunday, February 26, 2017

One of My Heroes

Gary Taubes has a new book out. I love what he does. Here is an early piece he wrote on one of my old bosses.

Prusiner's proposition has been controversial from the get-go. The researcher who did Prusiner's lab work at the University of California at San Francisco quit over the publication of Prusiner's very first prion paper in 1982, arguing that Prusiner was overinterpreting the available data to push the prion hypothesis.

After three years in Prusiners lab I came to same conclusions as Gary and the above researcher. Prusiner and his minions were hammering a square peg through the round hole of the prion narrative. Only information supporting their narrative was offered up to the public. It was during my time at this laboratory I first read Feynmans Cargo Cult Science speech and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Quick story: To grow cells that express proteins, we sometimes use spinner flasks. The flasks hold media with growing cells. In the flask is a magnetic rod. The flasks sit on a spinner plate that spins the rod thus stirring the growing cell culture. One day the plate stopped spinning. I took it to the repair shop and had it fixed. When I brought it back the ladies using the plate complained that their cells were no longer growing as well. I suggested they adjust the speed at which the cells were spinning. My supervisor informed me that the plate was perfect before I put my hands on it. "Take it back and get it fixed right!" When I explained that the speed is adjustable and that it is up to us to set the proper speed, she doubled down. "Take it back!" I unplugged the plate and walked on down the hall with it. Down in the basement repair shop I told the guy what I was up against. He volunteered to explain the mechanics to the boss lady. I said no. I was defeated by then. I brought it back up, set the speed to where I knew it would work. I let her think we had fixed the problem in the repair shop. She has since been promoted to laboratory manager at Dr. Prusiners Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases. 

Gary Taubes pointed out in his opening remarks at the Seattle Town Hall (see video below), he was obsessed at how hard it is to do science right. How do we do it right? How do we know if the science we have been given is right? Experimentation? Reproducible results? Is that how professional scientists operate? That has not been my experience.

Gary Taubes went on to the most important work of his life, correcting the bad science behind nutrition. We have been handed a load of crap from nutrition science in the western world. Our diet is the leading cause of our poor health. Our health care professionals and their prescriptions are not the solution.

People believe what they want to believe however. What sets Gary Taubes apart is that he has let his research guide him to his beliefs. You can disagree with his message but not his method. The research leads, the scientist follows.


Anonymous said...

Taubes always came across as a bit of Barnum act to me. His actual claims aren't nearly as bold as his publishers want you to believe (and be incensed about). Even so, many of his actual claims are misleading:

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