Reliability of common wisdom - models and power
TPM Online Article
So: whom to believe? There seems to be no doubt, as these authors and recent research suggest, that there's a genetic component to obesity. Nor is there any doubt that obesity, like alcoholism before it, seems to bring out the self-righteous moralist in people; fat means you've been greedy, gluttonous, or slothful. Or, if you read other recent books, such as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or Marion Nestle's Food Politics , fat is the result of heavy marketing by food conglomerates. Skepticism was a lot easier when we looked primarily at things that had been discredited hundreds of years ago.
Interesting summary of some of the skeptical views around the 'obesity panic' pointing out that "for every truth that seems obvious there's a nay-sayer". The same holds for the other popular wisdom 'global warming' or more recently 'climate change'. The two modes of discourse (frames, models) in all these cases are 1) there is a common agreement, and those who oppose it do so for personal reasons (money - e.g. biostitutes, resentment or self-aggrandizement - e.g. the skeptical environmentalist); 2) the common agreement is wrong and those who follow it do so irrationally more on the because of group mentality than on the merits of evidence (e.g. many discriminatory views of the past - such as that on the inferiority of women; or past predictions of doom). Both models can be applied to either of these discussions and only time will tell which of them was more apt. However, it shows how difficult it is to make the decision purely on the 'scientific' evidence.
The 'global warming' debate is interestingly complicated by the fact that the two opposing camps are both very powerful and powerless at the same time. The anti camp (Bush and cos) have material and political power but very much feel (and are) oppressed in the symbolic arena of the intellectual world (they exhibit typical behavior of the oppressed) . The pro camp have the weight of 'educated' public opinion behind them - the intellectual elites, science, much of the public - and have a lot of symbolic power. However, they feel (and probably are) relatively powerless as to financial and political resources. Of course, symbolic resources can be translated into actual ones (and vice versa) - but it takes time and is not guaranteed. At the moment, there is an interesting conceptual stalemate.
Private hunch: The basic formula of resource input must equal resource output of course holds. The 'global-warming' camp will probably be proven wrong on the straightforward application of this linear formula to a system that is probably not linear. The anti camp will probably be proven wrong (and has been in other issues) on the overreliance on the self-correcting system. Hopefully, I will have more to say about the conceptual foundations about these positions.