'Trust me. I'm the Expert'
Tim Crowe is one of the authors of my first nutrition text book, 'Understanding Nutrition'. He has a website, 'Thinking Nutrition'. Let's have a look at what he has to say there.
Dr. Tim Crowe clearly has credentials, building on a '25-year research career'. He is a 'credentialed Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian with the Dietitians Association of Australia', and has 'a bunch of geeky letters to put after my name such as BSc(Hons), MNutrDiet and PhD'. As the coauthor of 'the leading text used in nutrition and dietetics courses in Australia and New Zealand', I think it is fair to consider the man a pillar of the nutrition establishment in Australia. I'm new to the field, so don't know any of the big names, but that's my first impression.
Looking over his website gives me some insight into how the world looks from the perspective of leading lights within the mainstream. These people have devoted their lives to this field, they have climbed the ladder, they have worked hard to achieve their position at the top. But as they look down, what do they see ?
They see their authority challenged everywhere, and by who ? Amateurs, cranks, anyone with a computer and an opinion, and of course when it comes to food, we all have an opinion, we all eat, we know what we like, we know what makes us sick, we've all tried this diet or that. We all consider ourselves to be experts. As Tim Crowe himself says, the area of nutrition is 'always controversial'.
So, there is a lot of noise when it comes to nutrition. The people who really know, the ones with genuine credentials, are having trouble making themselves heard above the din. Which is a shame, because they really know.
This is how Tim Crowe puts it, 'I started this website as a way to be proactive in providing credible, evidence-based nutrition messages in straightforward language. And then turning this information into practical implications for what it means for a person’s health'. The key words here are of course, 'credible, evidence-based', its what separates out the ones who really know from the amateurs and the cranks.
Tim Crowe then comes to the point, the real point, the only one that counts. He says, 'There is so much conflicting information in the field of nutrition. There are lots of people claiming to be a nutrition expert, but who can you trust?', which means of course - Trust me. I'm the expert. I'm the one who really knows, I've got decades in this game. And to ram home the point, he adds, 'All of my communication messages are informed by my 25-year research career which spans laboratory molecular biology research right through to clinical nutrition trials. If you really want to geek it up and know more about this research, here’s my full publication list over at ResearchGate'.
The real purpose of his website is not hard to work out. Its to establish his authority, to rise above the noise, to preserve a position where twenty five years of hard labour within a discipline actually counts for something.
I can respect that, in principle at least.
Or I could, if that was what was really going on. But it's not.
The real problem Tim Crowe faces is not that he is being challenged by a bunch of amateurs and cranks, its the exact opposite. The mainstream position in nutrition is under siege right now because the quality of its science is simply appalling. He is under attack from all sides by SERIOUS PEOPLE who actually know something about the subject matter. Sure there are cranks out there, fad diets, celebrity wonders, there is a din of noise, but the main reason for the racket is the inescapable failure of the dominant viewpoint to address any of the issues surrounding health and nutrition at this point in time. People are getting sicker and fatter, and they want answers, ones that actually work, not more of the same ones that don't, that got us into this mess in the first place.
Nutrition science is in CRISIS, that's the first point to note. Its in crisis because the advice given by the mainstream DOES NOT WORK. People don't want to hear more of the same, its why they are not listening to the Tim Crowes of this world. They did before, and they got burnt. No more, hence the noise.
Amid the noise, however, are serious researchers, with alternative hypotheses, a critical eye, and a proper understanding of the issues at stake. This is Tim Crowe's real problem, it is the threat that he really faces.
Lets talk about broccoli to illustrate the point.
The most popular post on 'Thinking Nutrition' is this one. Its headline reads, in inverted commas, "Broccoli is bad for you, like, really toxic bad". Its opening sentence states, 'Don’t believe the headline – broccoli is one of the healthiest foods you can eat'. What Tim Crowe does in this post is to take the piss against a view that broccoli might not actually be as good for us as it is claimed to be. He creates a classic straw man argument, talking first about goitrogens, and then formaldehyde, pretending to paraphrase anyone stupid enough to question the orthodox view of broccoli as a 'healthy green'. After playing with this format for a while, he closes with, **End of parody – the rest of this blog post is legit**.
Having set up his straw man, Tim Crowe goes on to demolish him, although even here his technique is interesting, mostly relying on assertion, rather than argument. 'Okay, so back to our normal programming. Broccoli is awesome and is super healthy for you and I rate it (along with other cruciferous vegetables) as one of the best foods you could be eating'. His attempt at a genuine argument, looks like this, 'So what about all those alarming health concerns I wrote about? Ignore them. Most of them are theoretical as lack any context of dose. Just about anything will cause cancer of the everything in rats if you give it in high enough doses'.
So, what's the issue here ? The problem is, we are not dealing with a genuine discussion, a real debate, between two people or sides. There ARE genuine concerns over broccoli, raised by REAL people, serious people, but Tim Crowe won't go near them, he won't touch the actual questions in dispute. Instead he creates a caricature, takes the piss, and leaves it at that. How do I know this ? Because he doesn't address THE serious question mark that hangs over broccoli, the one that even I as a first year student and novice to the field know to be the real issue - OXALATES.
For an introduction to oxalates and why they matter see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfNfehT5F2g&t=4341s
Tim Crowe might well have an answer to Sally K. Norton's position on cruciferous vegetables. But we never find out, he doesn't go there. I have no idea what Tim Crowe's views on the oxalate question are. The only return on a search of his site is a 2013 article on kale, which does mention oxalates as a potential problem.
What are we to make of this ? Tim Crowe argues broccoli is something we should be eating, and portrays anyone who thinks differently a crank, not someone who really knows. But what does Tim Crowe really know ? The debate, the REAL debate, is not about goitrogens, which hadn't come across my radar before, but about oxalates, which have. Does Tim Crowe keep abreast of the literature, the debate, or is he above all that, the 'noise'.
The problem the Tim Crowes of this world have, is that we read their books, we study their work, but they don't read ours, they don't study our work. The end result is we know everything they know, but also a whole lot more.
I'm a first year student. I KNOW about oxalates, and I DON'T eat broccoli.