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Issue #70 (August 2020)

From the Editor

The idea that one of the key characteristics of a human being is the ability to reason dates back millennia. A lot of early views of reasoning suggest that it’s a rigid process that allows us to access the capital-T Truth. However, more recent views of reasoning have highlighted the social aspects involved in how we think things through. Thomas Kuhn’s take on scientific reasoning is one example, highlighting the idea that science necessarily proceeds within certain social structures and paradigms. Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s argumentative theory of reason goes a bit further, suggesting that the main goal of reasoning is to persuade other people of your own view, rather than to collaboratively find the truth.

I’m not sure how much I buy these views of reasoning, but I do appreciate their emphasis on the social nature of reasoning. I don’t know about you, but I find I think things through much better when discussing them with other people, especially if they’re knowledgeable and, pace Mercier and Sperber, when they’re interested in collaborating rather than Winning the Argument.

I’ve brought up these ideas because there are a couple items in this volume of NERD that highlight the value of conversation when trying to reason about nutrition research. The first is our coverage of a debate between Ronald Krauss and Penny Kris-Etherton on whether public health guidelines should push people to lower saturated fat intake as much as possible. Two of my favorite things about this debate were how it highlighted what aspects of the saturated fat wars they actually agreed upon, and what research could help resolve their disagreements. I’ve been a fan of formal debates for a long time, and this Oxford-style debate highlights just how edifying structured, formal debates between experts can be.

Another reason I brought up the value of the social aspects of reasoning is because I spent some time talking with NERD reader and nutritionist Monica Reinagel about the research we cover in this volume examining the effects of weight loss rate and body composition. The conversation led me to dig even deeper into the article, and even fire up RStudio to do some barebones statistical analyses of the data myself. We’ll be talking a bit more about this study in a future episode of her podcast, so stay tuned!

Our conversation started in the NERD Facebook group. Given how valuable having collaborative conversations can be, I encourage you to get involved there, if you’re not already. It’s hard to think about things clearly in a vacuum.

Gregory Lopez, MA, PharmD
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

See other articles in Issue #70 (August 2020) of Study Deep Dives.