09 January 2008

I'm Allergic to Junk Science and Wild Conclusions . . .

. . . yet I don't think there's an MSM conspiracy to spread these dumb stories like wildfire just to enflame my condition.

Serious allergies are no laughing matter, but I think some folks get a touch out of hand when it comes to their own kids, and are always looking to 'syndromize' every hiccup, cough, and developmental oddity.

From the article:
Mix the lack of hard data with an increasingly complex food landscape, and you’ve got Robyn O’Brien.

“Food allergies just become a focus for a broader fear about the food system,” said the author Michael Pollan, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine.

Mr. Pollan, in both “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and his new book, “In Defense of Food” (January, Penguin), shares many of Ms. O’Brien’s views about industrialized agriculture. He also has a niece with a peanut allergy. So Ms. O’Brien sent him an e-mail message, and a correspondence began.

Ms. O’Brien took his responses as an endorsement of her work, and then mentioned his support in messages to other people. Mr. Pollan, who said he has no idea if her theories are accurate, asked her to stop telling people he was working with her.

Leveraging brief e-mail exchanges with notable people is an important method that Ms. O’Brien uses to build her universe. The unlikely mix includes members of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s staff; Mary Alice Stephenson, a host of “America’s Most Smartest Model”; and, recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a regular on Oprah Winfrey’s show.

“The fact that people like him and Malcolm Gladwell, presidential campaigns, celebs take the time to reply means a lot as it gives me hope that people are still engaged,” she said in an e-mail message to this reporter.

While some of her contacts, like Mr. Gladwell, an author and a writer for The New Yorker, don’t remember her, the strategy has worked. Nell Newman, who runs the organic arm of Newman’s Own products, spoke up on her behalf on the national news. Deborah Koons Garcia, the widow of Jerry Garcia and director of the documentary “The Future of Food,” invited her to lunch.

But her biggest asset might be a relentless drive to wind together obscure health theories, blog postings and corporate financial statements. She then posts her analyses on her Web site.

She chides top allergy doctors who are connected to Monsanto, the producer of herbicides and genetically modified seeds. She asserts that the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the nation’s leading food allergy advocacy group, is tainted by the money it receives from food manufacturers and peanut growers.

Does everything have to be a conspiracy? Does every issue have to bring out the anti-corporate nuts? This 'problem' may have a very simple root cause. More people survive early childhood then we are designed for. We are a hearty species, developed to withstand horrendous environments and a whole host of nasty diseases. Even with that, throughout most of human history a good size chunk of infants died before their 3rd birthday. Places with great sanitation, great healthcare, and great access to nutrition have taken away all the old environmental pressures that lead to such high infant mortality rates. The end result is a lot of people who wouldn't have survived to breeding age a century ago, are surviving today. It's not unreasonable to conclude that our gene pool is different, and may be less 'hearty', given that more and more people are surviving past childhood. This isn't a bad thing, but it is the most likely and simplest explanation for the seeming contradiction that as we get healthier as a people, we also seem to be subject to more and more childhood conditions.

Most likely there was as many kids susceptible to this stuff 200 years ago, but they were taken out by cholera or diarrhea or malnutrition before anyone noticed that they swelled up anytime they got near a peanut.

It's much easier to blame modern problems on modern causes, but we may just be 'victims' of our own success as a species. I'm glad our gene pool has expanded, but that doesn't mean the fundamental change in what kind of children survive birth and survive into adulthood hasn't had a profound effect on the kinds of genetic problems that turn up in our offspring. It's a good problem to have, but one that won't go away just by pointing to corporations and making them the big bad scary.

1 comment:

bill said...

One of my favorite quotes from Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum":

Not that the incredulous person doesn't believe in anything. It's just that he doesn't believe everything. Or he believes in one thing at a time. He believes a second thing only if it somehow follows from the first thing. He is nearsighted and methodical, avoiding wide horizons. If two things don't fit, but you believe both of them, thinking that somewhere, hidden, there must be a third thing that connects them, that's credulity.