So, by now you hopefully know that the health and performance claims of the “The Game Changers” documentary were wildly overstated and intentionally deceptive. And before you click out of this article, don’t worry; to address those isn’t my purposes here.
However, if you are a little slow to the party, Jackson Peos wrote a fantastic article addressing the pseudoscience that appeared in the film – which you can find HERE. Following that, Jacob Schepis wrote an excellent article outlining the intellectual virtues and cognitive skills that one should look to adopt, so that one isn’t as easily duped by such propaganda, plant-based or otherwise. You can find his article HERE also.
Today, I am going to begin my contribution to this series of articles. I say contribution, because there will be (I hope only) two parts. As always, I have a lot to say on these matters.
Now, you may wonder; isn’t the issue dealt with already, can’t we just chalk it up as a crappy documentary and move on?
And to be fair, you’d have a point – but not the most nuanced and correct one, in my humble opinion. But before I go any further, I would like to set the tone for what follows with one of my favourite quotes, by the sagacious 19thcentury philosopher John Stuart Mill.
“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”
So let me ask you, as you almost certainly had an opinion on the documentary before you started to read this article; how fairly have you considered the arguments both for and against the film? Have you read articles that both attacked and defended the credibility of the film, or have you only sought confirmation for your previously established biases?
Only you can truly know the answer to that – but I know what I would bet on.
Unfortunately, I think few people remember that there are many sides to any story, and they often confuse an argument that merely aligns with their cause or opinion, for an unquestionably correct one.
The overwhelming purpose of today’s article is to remind all who are reading this is that no matter how intelligent or confident you are, it is much more probable than not, that every single one of your beliefs contains at least one or potentially even multiple errors of reasoning – whether it be in the premises they hold, or the conclusions they result in.
The unawareness or conscious neglect of this has been all too apparent in the commentary that surfaced after the film reached prominence.
However I do admit, not all pieces have been completely tribal in nature. A small portion have been very good in regards to the specific claims and issues they’ve addressed (Jackson’s & Jacob’s are examples of this), but I do think there are still a few pieces of the puzzle that would be beneficial to inspect more closely, before the issue is forgotten about and we sweep it under the rug.
Dealing With Misinformation In General
While I actually have very little interest in the documentary itself, it does provide a useful “teachable moment” due to the popularity of the film, and the broad reaching discussion and criticism that have ensued.
The film itself has been rebuked writ large, as I alluded to earlier, yet a lot of the criticism that has been directed its way is also worthy of its own criticism, as I see things at least. The film certainly wasn’t perfect, and exemplified many claims that are incongruent with fundamental logic, however, the fallacies certainly didn’t stop once the end credits started to roll. But we will return to that point later.
Before I go into that though, let me explain first why I care so little about the actual documentary.
Firstly, I don’t really care what people eat. As a coach, it is a common presumption that I judge others for eating things that might be deemed “bad” or “unhealthy”. This simply isn’t the case. Anything that is generally considered a humane source of nutrition is fine by me (although what is considered humane is not universally accepted, so even this seemingly benign definition can be problematic – even simple statements like this contain more grey area than most are willing to admit). Regardless, and most importantly, I simply encourage people to be an informed consumer and understand that there are far-reaching implications of what they eat; whether it be for their own mental and physical performance, or their mood, which effects those in their immediate vicinity, or their eventual burden on the healthcare system, which is impactful on a societal level. The seemingly insignificant act of choosing what and how much you eat can begin a profoundly large chain of events. Maybe I’ll call that the butter-fry effect…
Second to this, I simply can’t dedicate the time or mental resources in trying to target and takedown all sources of nutrition or exercise misinformation. While this is a common pastime for many crusaders of truth in the fitness industry, I see two fundamental issues with this approach.
The first is that there will always be more mistruth and misinformation, as well as misconceptions and misguided thinking than their correct and preferred antonyms. Any single unit of precise and accurate knowledge can be contorted, warped, miscommunicated and misunderstood in a magnitude of ways that far exceeds the number of which it can be veraciously applied and transmitted. The law of entropy suggests that the universe will trend towards a state of decay, and objective truth, which is such a precise and fragile thing – at least when humans possess it – is subject to the same degradation.
The second issue with constantly criticising any perceived-to-be biased or inaccurate fitness claims, is that the solution targets the symptom, not the core of the problem. Fundamentally, the issue is not the presentation or propagation of misinformation, but in fact, the apprehension of it. As the first issue highlighted, the capacity for misinformation will rise exponentially for every unit of true information we gain. Thus, for as long as true information exists, we will be confronted by more of its alternative. This suggests to me that the correct modality of treatment is helping individuals to source and curate objective truth for themselves, through learned cognitive skills, rather than just trying to silence each individual source of pseudoscience – which is effectively just a game of mistruth whack-a-mole.
A More Critical Analysis
What I would like to do is examine the documentary and the hysteria a little more critically. Not so much in regards to the specific arguments made, but more so looking at the mechanisms that resulted in them being so convincing to a naïve audience.
Instead of saying, “this claim was wrong and here’s the evidence why…” I instead want to more abstractly overview the kinds of traps that one needs to look out for when processing information – as there was a few ‘intellectual hazards’ that I picked up in the 85 minutes of film time. The result I’m hoping to achieve is kind of like that saying; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a day, or teach him how to find the nearest supermarket so he’ll eat plant-based fish-substitutes for a lifetime.
I believe this to be of importance, because if you understand the way that information is packaged and proliferated, you have a better ability to determine what are designer clothes, and what are jocks and socks, before you even open the wrapping. This sentiment is expressed in a common definition of critical thinking by, who would have thought, The Foundation for Critical Thinking:
“Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.”
I wanted to mention this first, as it highlights an (and maybe the most) important component of critical thinking, the fact that it can, and should, be applied to “any subject, content or problem”. Throughout the past few weeks, many individuals have asked for my thoughts on the documentary – particularly in regards to health and performance. Once I explained many of its flaws, they became frustrated or despondent due to them having to change their view back to the previously held one. When I explored this further with them, a complaint would often be “it’s easy for you to know that the documentary is wrong, you know about this stuff – I don’t”.
They had failed to think critically, because they thought themselves uneducated on the topic (strangely enough, most neglect to think critically even when they DO consider themselves educated on a topic – but that’s a story for another day).
There is some truth to their defence, but only up to a point.
The ability to think critically is without a doubt domain-specific, but not in its entirety. The more knowledge you have within a domain, or on a specific subject, the more methods you have for analysing and grappling with the information in order turn it over and find its hidden flaws. What this doesn’t mean though is that you are defenceless without domain-specific knowledge.
So what should you do then if you have to process information, yet you have limited knowledge in the field that it pertains to?
Typically, the best default-stance is scepticism. While the current position you hold on any given topic is likely to contain some degree of error, you should maintain that position, error included, until sufficient evidence accumulates which suggests you should alter your position.
Why? Because whatever you’re currently doing and believing has some adaptive benefit – you wouldn’t be here if it didn’t. Therefore, when it comes to changing your mind and behaviour, it’s better to be slow and sure, than fast and regretful – on average. If something is true, it isn’t going away, the truth persists, that’s why it’s the truth. However, dubious claims and dangerous fads are hiding under every rock, and that’s an issue, because lots of people have rocks in their head.
So with that preamble out of the way, next time we will examine some aspects of the film with (what I can only hope is) a rational-sceptic lens. I think you might find that there was a little more truth in there than what the trending articles and posts will lead you to believe. But hey, as you hopefully know by now, I’m not interested in what’s trending, I’m interested in what’s true.