Monday, February 11, 2008

He's Outdone Himself, I Mean He's Really Outdone Himself (JM)

New Diet Coke research shows why I am right about almost everything

By Daniel Finkelstein

This headline just caused me to start laughing, very loudly, in middle of my office. Seriously, one of my co-workers just popped her head in to make sure everything was alright. I told her that really, you just have to know Daniel Finkelstein… which shockingly she didn’t. That said, I shall take my lunch time to share my delight with you all.

My previous tongue-in-cheek post on Diet Coke produced a startling response from readers of Comment Central with intense feelings on the subject. I was rather taken aback.

I refuse to even look at this link, on the grounds that it is probably also incredibly silly and thus will take me way longer than my lunch hour to write about. I’ll tell you this: I refuse to be fired over Lord Finkelton.

And now this.

Researchers at Purdue University have concluded that:

by breaking the connection between a sweet sensation and high-calorie food, the use of saccharine changes the body’s ability to regulate how many calories it consumes.

“The data clearly indicate that consuming a food sweetened with no-calorie saccharine can lead to greater body-weight gain and adiposity than would consuming the same food sweetened with a higher-calorie sugar.”

Given how much Diet Coke I drink, you might have thought this would rock my world.

To be fair, this really has rocked my world. I drink nearly a case of diet soda a day and this is upsetting. But let’s quickly analyze what is said here because it’ll be important in a minute. Saccharine causes a physiological disturbance that leads to possible higher weight gain due to consumption.

But far from it. I think this is the strongest confirmation that I am right, not just about DC but about, well, almost everything.

I will bet a million badillion dollars right now, or even better Euros, that this is not true. Well actually, if we are being textually literal, what Daniel is saying is that this is “the strongest confirmation” that he’s right. Not that it is any objective form of strong confirmation. So, maybe this is not as false as I thought at first blush.

You see, I hold the strong view that people risk compensate.

Prevent them smoking in one place and they do it somewhere else. Force people to wear safety belts and they drive faster, killing people outside the car. And so on.

This is the writing of a madman. Seriously, read what the Zodiac Killer has to say and it makes more sense then this. Take a look at the Unabomber’s manifesto and it is way way more logical. First of all, it stands to reason if you prevent a person from smoking in one place that they’ll do it elsewhere. However, less people are exposed to the smoke and the increase in inconvenience makes it more likely they will smoke less cigarettes or quit altogether. Also this has NOTHING to do with the Diet Coke example, which is about a physiological process. The second sentence is even more insane. I don’t know that there has been a madman crazy enough to whom we can attribute this level of illogic. Safety belts save many many many lives. Overall, since safety belts were invented and required automobile deaths on average have gone down- a lot. There may be some individuals who are statistical abnormalities, but even sheer common sense says that this is unlikely. Any person who is nutty enough to think, “They’re making me wear a seatbelt, I’ll show them!”, likely isn’t too concerned about seat belts laws in the first place. Even if I agreed with your “risk compensation” tripe, this would be an argument against seat belts altogether, not their requirement, as the “risk compensation” would occur any time some used a seatbelt. Also this is different than the biology involved in the Diet Coke example.

The theory is explained well in Professor John Adams' book Risk.

Risk compensation is a strong argument against trying to regulate things using law.

This is not at all remotely true. There might be a very limited number of examples where, somehow, motorcycle helmet laws cause the rider to be “riskier” and thus more dangerous. But in the aggregate many many more lives will be saved than lost as a result of such laws. Perhaps, there are better examples about risk compensation, but I sincerely doubt it.

This new research suggests that we compensate even at the basic biological level. If we do this with Diet Coke, it is quite likely that we compensate in a similar way for all diet foods, giving at least one reason why diets don't work.

It’s not compensation, it’s just not. It’s a biological processes. This is akin to arguing that because eating food that is rich in cholesterol is likely to eventually cause a heart attack, it shows our biological preference for lean things, and thus secretly have a preference for limited government. You probably do believe this, don’t you. You are one wacky guy Lord Finkelton.

I am not at all surprised to hear this news about DC. It's why I am so sceptical about regulation of all kinds.

And the decline of Lunchables as an acceptable meal option is why I am so skeptical about the Doha trade rounds…

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