Monday, September 9, 2013

Appealing to Nature

Many people, including those in the Paleo and broader community, often use the ‘appeal to naturelogical fallacy (not to be confused with the naturalistic fallacy), which is essentially as follows: 

N is natural.
Therefore, N is good or right.
U is unnatural.
Therefore, U is bad or wrong 

The appeal to nature logical fallacy is often used to justify a wide range of assertions such as: 

1.      Only eat whole, unprocessed foods
2.      Don’t eat foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t understand
3.      Substance X can’t be bad for you because it’s made by the body
4.      Natural medicine is better than conventional medicine
5.      GMO foods are bad
6.      Drugs are bad for you
7.      You shouldn’t take supplements
8.      Vaccines are bad for you 

Perhaps some of these are accurate some of the time.  I see two main problems: 

(1) Appealing to nature is a poor argument to justify whether something is good or not.  Even though I think it’s kind of a human tendency to fall for it on occasion, it doesn’t take much critical thinking to see the flaws: 

  • Eating poisonous plants is natural, therefore it is good
  • Getting bit in the face by a snake is natural, therefore it is good (courtesy of Paleo and the Naturalistic Fallacy) 

(2) Those 8 assertions above convey absolute certainty (no substance that is made by the body is harmful/promotes pathology) that's very easy to rebut because there are exceptions, for example: 

1.   Some whole, unprocessed foods are extremely toxic (raw kidney beans and wild almonds).  Whereas some processed foods can be useful (whey protein powder and cod liver oil)
2.  Docosahexaenoic acid, menaquinone, ubiquinone, pyridoxine and cyanocobalamin (omg! sounds like cyanide, therefore must be bad for you) are all ingredients that you may not pronounce correctly the first time and may not know what they are, but they are just DHA, K2, CoQ10, B6 and B12, just beneficial nutrients*
3.  Repeating some recent tweets: This is often used to defend cholesterol >> cardiovascular disease.  Just because a substance is made by the body and the body requires it doesn’t mean it can’t promote pathology.  For example SOCS3 causes leptin resistance but a total absence of SOCS3 is lethal.  Most pathology is mediated by cellular signaling (think chronic inflammation)
4.     Natural medicine could include good old snake oil
5.    Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem in the developing world, which depends highly on grains and beans for energy (they have no/low quantities of vitamin A precursors).  One GMO project is the development of golden rice, which contains beta-carotene and could supply the developing world with much needed vitamin A
6.      Some drugs seem really good like metformin [1] and low dose naltrexone [2]
7.    A healthy person who eats an omnivorous, nutrient dense diet probably won’t benefit much from supplementation.  But some supplements can be very beneficial for people with deficiencies or chronic diseases
8.    The flu vaccine may not be worth it [3], but that doesn’t mean others have the same value.  One could argue that widespread vaccinations of smallpox, polio, etc are among the most successful public health initiatives.  That is until enough people refuse vaccination for whatever reason [4].  Some may bring up the adverse reactions, but I suspect the vaccine is merely the trigger and without an underlying problem (like a poorly regulated immune system) there wouldn’t be so many, or any adverse reactions 

* Or even the dangerous dihydrogen monoxide

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