One of the forces that drives my passion for science is a fascination with diversity and complexity. When observed at any scale, life is overwhelmingly, breathtakingly and beautifully intricate. By oversimplifying this experience, pseudoscience and bad science, no matter how innocuous the ideas condoned by them, are an insult to this beauty.
That is why healthy lifestyle fads, such as the Paleo Diet and Blood Type Diet (among a slew of others), make me mad. They oversimplify the human experience by limiting what “health,” “diet,” “evolution,” “human history,” and even “science” mean. Their progenitors made a whole lot of money selling books to promote an idea in the name of science that is totally misrepresenting scientific thought and totally misrepresenting what we as scientists celebrate.
Marlene Zuk in her recent book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live cleverly breaks down why the “paleo” lifestyle fad makes no sense in the context of evolutionary thought. She contends that the idea that all humans in the Paleolithic had one utopian lifestyle to which they were perfectly adapted and that humans today are woefully maladapted to their modern lifestyles is misleading. No species is ever perfectly adapted to a constantly changing environment, and each adaptation is a result of balancing trade-offs. That is why genetic variation exists in the first place.
I reviewed Zuk’s book in American Scientist‘s July–August issue. You can read the review here.