In this second post of a series of 3, I use definite descriptions rather than names because I’m not in it for the drama. (Around 1.600 words, estimated reading time: about 8-9 min.)
[a] bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit
I am the older and uglier avocado. I’m an academic philosopher by education, a wannabe cognitive scientist by circumstances, and an amateur competitive girevik by taste.
A couple of years ago, when my academic research was footing the bills, I began to blog about fitness on the side. Then academic research was not footing the bills anymore and I started a fitness-related small business with a great idea (but still a hard sell) that left me with little time for research and zilch for fitness blogging
Early this year (2018) I enjoyed a temporary respite from the unpleasant need to work too hard for footing the bills, and I could go back to academic research and fitness blogging on the side for a while. Although short of being proactive it wouldn’t last long enough to yield something serious.
But I have a plan, 88% of which amounts to living a frugal life. The remaining 12% I leave to charity. In Part I, I shared my
sob story tale of woe (Conan joke: Check). In Part II, I’m going to give you a crash course in bullshit detection, before I can ask for your money (Part III).
Analytic Fitness™: a crash course
I concluded Part I on a high note with prospects of computational exercise science and discrete math. Before the discrete maths could kick in, though, some bullshit-busting needs to be done.
Thanks to Harry Frankfurt, bullshit is a rigorously defined concept in analytic philosophy. And since I am by education an analytic philosopher, that personal crusade of mine was already a rigorous philosophical effort.
But that effort must be brought to the next level so let’s call it Analytic Fitness™.
It takes one to know one
Here’s a shocker: bullshiting is one of the most useful academic skills. Particularly among philosophers, because you need it to justify funding of
a waste of research money abstruse research without practical applications, but elsewhere as well.
Like, getting funding for research on meal frequency in rats in the 2000s when human studies in the 1990s had already concluded to no difference for humans between ‘nibbling’ and ‘grazing’. (Thinking about it, the first science-based fitness bullshit-busting piece I’ve ever read was about that: Martin Berkhan’s Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked, back in 2010 [Myth #1], still a must read.) Getting research funding for that rat thing must have required serious bullshitting skills.
How do I know? Well, it takes one to know one.
I’m an academic. I know bullshit when I see it because I know my own. Just as Harry Frankfurt. How do you think he could give such a pertinent analysis of bullshit, when the method of analytic philosophy is, basically,
introspection and wordplay intuition?
I’m not above bullshitting when I submit research applications. I’d gladly write that funding my research is guaranteeing that I’ll find this-and-that (we all do) while I know that the ‘guarantee’ is bullshit. It’s a bet. And if the reviewers of my applications actually read my research they would know how safe is that bet by my own lights (oh, the irony).
Now, most fitness bullshitters have just enough academic training to learn academic-style bullshitting skills. And since most of their clients, customers, readers, etc., haven’t, they have an unfair advantage.
But bullshitting research funding is
bullshitting bullshiters playing the system. Bullshitting non-academics academic-style is no better than running a con game. It’s not only betting on ignorance, it’s fostering it. Which, for an academic, amounts to moral bankruptcy.
And that’s why the goal of Analytic Fitness™ is to level the playing field. Once you know what the science-based fitness bullshitters really know, they can’t fool you. Well, they could, but, you know, fool me once, etc. You can read the statement on my Patreon.
No, why is this not bullshit? Well, by design, Analytic Fitness™ is bullshit-proof. In fact, Analytic Fitness™ bullshit would be self-defeating: you’d detect it thanks to itself and Analytic Fitness™ would go bankrupt.
And so I can’t bullshit you.
Here we go.
Incremental exercise science
Here’s another shocker: exercise science is not rocket science.
Truth is, the important stuff about exercise has been figured out in Ancient Rome. About 99% of the production in exercise science is what academic journal editors call ‘incremental contributions’. Don’t quote me on the figure, it’s a guesstimate. But I’m a philosopher of science, so as educated guesses go, it’s well-educated. And probably conservative.
The phrase ‘incremental contribution’ itself simply means a contribution that adds to the previous contributions in the field. In practice, it is used when the increment is small and is thus a polite way to say, “Hum, everybody expected that, but I guess it’s good to know for sure”. Or, in non-academic speech, “Duh”. Or, in my daughter’s idiom, “No shit, Sherlock.”
For the record, some academic journals (e.g. in cognitive science) discourage submissions of incremental contributions. Some journals flat out reject them without peer-review. Needless to say, in those journals’ academic fields, incremental research can be a career-breaker. You should not indulge in it before you get a tenure. If your Ph.D. is, say, cognitive robotics (my co-author’s field), and turns out to be an incremental contribution, you’re lucky if the jury gives you a pass. And you’ll never get a job.
But in exercise science, Ph.D. research is expected to be incremental. Subsequently, the entry and maintenance cost of an academic career in exercise science is not as high as in other academic pursuits. Kinda like blogging compared to legit journalism, when you think about it.
The result is a typical good news-bad news situation. For the good news, it’s optimal for successful athletes in sports where money is scarce. Incremental research is neither too hard nor too expensive and when it is, you can get money from the fitness industry, who will be happy to claim scientific support. (Remember that rat thing? Supplement companies that sell BCAAs love it.)
Incremental research can boost the academic creds of athletes who lack flashy sponsors, at a low cost for public research money and land them positions in colleges and universities. There, they can do what they do best: train other athletes. Then, they teach them how to do incremental research, and the system becomes self-sustaining.
Now, mistake me not, there are groundbreaking contributions in exercise science. Like the Tabata, Nishimura, Kouzaki, Hirai, Ogita, Miyachi, Yamamoto study of 1996, colloquially referred to as ‘Tabata study’. More than twenty years later, it’s still an inspiration for incremental research. But it’s not as revolutionary as it is often said to be (and that’s a story for another day).
Now for the bad news. First, this situation is also a breeding ground for bullshitters. Let’s take a hypothetical example.
Say that you spend 4 years in a Ph.D. program collecting data about Division 1 athletes in a handful of sports for metrics that predict performance in the field (strength, power, vertical jump, and sprint). Then, you find that in each of them, leaner athletes outperform fatter ones. The Ph.D. jury says “Hum, everybody expected that, but I guess it’s good to know for sure” (or “Duh”). You trim it down to one paper that you publish in a journal, and you land a job in a Kinesiology program.
In our hypothetical world, are you an expert in the science of strength training? Nope. Thinking about it, it’s not great either for making you an expert in nutrition. Remember the rat thing? It was four published papers. Then again, it was animal research, so maybe that evens out.
Now, forget about the hypothetical, and jump back to the real world. In the real world, you are an expert in strength training and you can run a nutrition company. Because lay people don’t know how sports science academia works. (I’m not making that up, see here and here).
Second, outliers do not hesitate to drop out of academia. Even when they have something that could be revolutionary (example here). Incremental research would perhaps justify a footnote in a revised printing of the 2nd edition of Zatsiorksy & Kraemer The Science and Practice of Strength Training (if ever there is one). Revolutionary stuff might justify revising it into a 3rd. But chances are it won’t because anecdotal data is not research-exploitable.
And that’s how 20 years of data about Norwegian powerlifters never made it farther than conference proceedings (see there, p. 108).
But to be honest, most of what looks revolutionary simply cuts through the incremental noise and implements the basics of what was already in the 2nd edition of The Science and Practice of Strength Training (or Gallienus). And by their own standards, that’s what the Norwegian did (see reference above).
Analytic Fitness™ Lvl 1 Certification (Early Bird)
The previous section was a crash course in science-based fitness bullshit-detection. Supplemental material to the course can be found here and here. Here’s how you can claim a lvl 1 certification in Analytic Fitness™:
- ponder over the course material, follow the links, evaluate my claims with the information you’ll access, and exercise a modicum of critical thinking;
- roam T-Nation, Breaking Muscle, or any website of your choice, detect some science-based fitness bullshit, and bust it;
- send me a Hangout request at firstname.lastname@example.org, spend ½ with me and show off what you did.
I’ll send you a Lvl 1 certification in Analytic Fitness™. For free. That’s really all there is to it. Past that, everything will be incremental contributions to your bullshit-detection skills.
You could do that homework on your own. Or I can do it for you and publish it here. In the latter case, and even if it’s incremental research, it takes time, so I’d appreciate if you sponsored it on Patreon (link below). And if you are really lazy, you can kill two birds with one stone and pick a reward level that grants you an automatic certification.
To be continued in Meet the Newer Avocado – Part III: Crowdfunding a Crusade