I’m often told that to criticize gurus or self-proclaimed experts is futile, so I should stop wasting my time.
The logic used to support this recommendation typically goes something like this: “Jake, this person is never going to change their mind and they’re never going to agree to debate you on a public platform, so what’s the point?”
This reasoning is understandable, and the above example accurately depicts what usually goes down when I criticize someone for being intentionally misleading, sensational, and dogmatic. Very few of the many (many, many, many) well-known hucksters in the fitness and nutrition industries ever take the time to acknowledge dissenting viewpoints, let alone to discuss their claims and the supporting evidence with those who vehemently disagree with them.
Yeah, yeah, I understand that most of them are busy making television appearances and promoting the launch of their new, revolutionary (puke) diet book to address the viewpoints of some no-name.
In other words, they’re off doing bigger, better things than myself, who is just rudely attempting to stir up some controversy.
But this goes a bit deeper than controversy for the sake of controversy. Criticizing those in a position of authority is extremely beneficial, for reasons I will explain below.
Debate Encourages Critical Thinking
You should not strive to be a sheep.
Recently, as I’ve taken some time to examine popular nutrition gurus in their natural habitats (i.e. on social media), I’ve noticed a few common trends; one of the more frightening being the cult-like behavior, exhibited both by those who follow these “experts” and the experts themselves.
The lack of critical discussion, enthusiastic agreement on every point, and the complete nonexistence of dissenting opinions is very telling of the environment promoted; one of unity and blind acceptance. This is dangerous, as it allows people to make silly claims and peddle unsubstantiated nonsense to those who may not know any better. And eventually this will have a snowball effect, as the someone will share the page with a friend, exposing these claims to an exponentially larger audience.
So what happens when you attempt to challenge a guru on their own territory? If you’re not banned immediately (as I touched on a bit in this post), you’re ridiculed, swarmed, and drowned by logical fallacies and bigotry.
The above environment is not conducive to learning or progression, and it should be avoided at all costs. Don’t be afraid to question the claims of well-respected experts in any field. Ask questions, challenge their ideas, and think for yourself. This starts by staying away from “communities” that discourage free thinking and rational debate.
Don’t fall for their appeals to authority or the personal attacks by their loyal worshipers.
These Discussions Help Those Observing From Afar
When challenging an expert in a public setting, it may seem as if you are engaging in a two-person dispute. However, your discussion often reaches more people than you realize at the time.
For example, I recently challenged Dr. Mark Hyman on one of his newer blog posts, in which he claimed “Fat doesn’t make you fat. Sugar makes you fat.” As expected, he cited no evidence to support this claim, so I decided to shoot him a tweet.
— Jake Johnson (@JJStrength) December 4, 2013
First of all, the claim that fat doesn’t make you fat offers no context. Fat certainly can make you fat in the context of a caloric surplus, and it it indisputable that dietary fat is stored as fat with great efficiency, especially in comparison to sugar. Secondly, this claim is a prime example of a false dichotomy, or black and white thinking. Sugar can certainly contribute to fat gain if it causes you to exceed your caloric allotment, but the same can and should be said about dietary fat.
Was I confrontational? Absolutely. But in this case I felt it was necessary, as Hyman is known for spreading misleading nonsense. As a medical professional, it is his duty to provide evidence-based information to his audience, and with this recent post he displays either the inability or unwillingness to do so. This is disconcerting to say the least.
Anyways, check out the entire conversation, and you will see how many members of the “evidence-based” community chimed in, with their views, and a tiny call-out grew into an epic guru slaughter. Some people enjoy art, music, or poetry, but I prefer a nice scientific beatdown. Ah, it brings a tear of joy to my eye…
There is no doubt that at least one person benefited from this call-out, which should always be the end goal. One person is now more informed about a controversial, often confusing topic, and as a result they will have the ability to make more informed decisions.
So don’t be afraid to engage in these debates because you feel they are selfish endeavors. Actually, they are quite the opposite in most cases.
You Expose the Hucksters
Some people are emotionally invested in a guru to the point of no return. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do in these cases.
However, some don’t realize that the person they are trusting to provide valid information is actually fulla’ crap, so it’s helpful to expose them when they step out of line. If no one challenges these scam artists, they will continue to mislead people and contribute to a growing problem in the fitness and diet industries, which is the blatant disregard for scientific evidence.
Most gurus aren’t too privy to being asked for science to support their claims, so their reaction to your request for evidence should be a good character gauge.
I apologize for letting this one run a bit long, and I hope it was entertaining enough for you to at least skim and get the gist of my point, which is essentially: Don’t hesitate to question fishy claims.
This criticism will benefit yourself, the person making the claims, and many observing from afar.
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by Antonio Valladares
The Real Reason We Need Haters by Joy Victoria
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