“95% of experts agree.”

When I hear those words alarms go off.  That is not how science works.  Science is a systematic method of testing hypotheses.  You cannot prove something, only fail to disprove it.  When people stop questioning assumptions it tells me that science has stopped happening and something else has taken over.

As human beings we tend to feel more confident that something is correct when more people are in agreement.  Interesting psychological studies have proven that actually quite the opposite is true.  In a room filled with agreement, the one dissenting opinion is more likely to be correct.  When debate stops and consensus building takes over then politics have over-ridden science.

Experts become indoctrinated in the status quo.  It is why in so many fields of study major breakthroughs come from scientists outside the field who enter with a new set of questions unburdened by old assumptions.

We are remarkably poor at understanding complex systems.  Without the ability to control variables the best we can do is identify correlations like the fact that umbrella sales are highest during Vancouver’s rainy season.  To leap from correlation to causation is to conclude that purchasing an umbrella increases the likelihood of rain.  It sounds silly but that’s exactly what we do.

For a whole generation we observed that overweight people suffered more heart disease and concluded that eating fat increased risk of heart attack.  Never mind the untenable tangle of false assumptions underlying this incredible leap.  Never mind that there was NO science to back this up excepting one study (which it turns out was falsified).  It became public health policy because 95% of experts agreed.

Why did experts agree?  Mind you these experts were nutritional scientists, university professors and eminent in their field.  They agreed because those who openly questioned the lipid hypothesis did so at risk of their careers.  More than a few of them lost their tenure, failed to get funding for their studies or could not get their research published.  For almost 20 years research debunking the flawed lipid hypothesis was suppressed and North Americans were told to buy fat-free frankenfoods while avoiding things like eggs and butter to prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  I don’t need to tell you how that turned out.

When I discovered CrossFit in 2005 it flew in the face of everything I’d learned about sport science.  And it worked.  It worked really well.  Today, despite being vindicated by study after study and mounting evidence in its favour it is the experts in the sports sciences who are slowest to acknowledge CrossFit as they cling to the more familiar body building and jogging methodology.

These are fitness industry experts who, as we observed at a recent NSCA conference, have difficulty defining fitness (Improved work capacity across broad time and modal domains), are unclear what functional movement is (a multi joint movement required by nature, not an isolation movement invented for the gym), and struggle to explain intensity (force x distance/time).  These are experts in their fields but they had depressingly little they could teach us and the poor results they are producing in their athletes indicates that they have absorbed few of the lessons about athletic development that CrossFit has advanced over the past decade.

Experts make mistakes as often as the rest of us.  But because they are experts we tend to question them less.  And thus a two time Nobel Laureate can – without any scientific support – give rise to a multi billion dollar industry that continues to thrive to this day.

Beware of experts.

Thanks Haiku for the interesting discussion.  It’s great to be in a community like Dunbar Street where we can have intelligent debates between lifting weights.  If that is your thing, check us out   https://www.empowereverybody.com/get-started/