Calling out the loons

I have started a new category for posts: Fallacies > Loons. I have no problems with professional disagreements; they exist and more often then not are usually respectful. I have always had a problem with the misunderstanding, misquoting, misuse and misinterpretation of research and science, which was a large part of the motivation for starting this blog. I have an even bigger problem with those who peddle woo and espouse pseudoscientific dribble or if their interpretation of research is so far from the reality of what that research actually showed. They invariably use the usual trope of argumentative fallacies which make them easy targets to deconstruct. Some of them are so far detached from reality, that they need to be called on it. While I am not normally one to resort to the ad hominem arguments, but sometimes when you gotta do it, you gotta do it! Its almost like a sense of duty.

I am inspired in this by the websites that I enjoy checking out: Encyclopedia of American Loons, in which those that espouse the pseudoscientific dribble get called on it (they even called out Oprah) and ScienceBlogs (especially Orac being one of my heroes) and Steve Novella from Science Based Medicine (I often listen to his weekly podcast, Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, when on a long run).

The honor of being the first loon I am calling out is Americas Podiatrist, Dr Michael Nirenberg, DPM. Anyone who self declares themselves as ‘America’s Podiatrist‘ is, of course, going to be a front runner for being nominated as a loon, but I not calling him on that (many others have already done that!); I calling him on this dribble:

Army Study Goes Big, Recommends Barefoot
Whether storming the beaches of Normandy or sweeping across the Kuwaiti border, the U.S. Army is known for making big, bold statements. Take their latest medical research as further proof. This study was huge and thorough. The study sampled over 2,500 people, all of them serious runners. The average person in the study had been a runner for eight years! Army physicians evaluated the incidence of injuries in runners who wore traditional shoes, minimalist and no shoes at all. Did barefoot runners prove to be the healthiest yet again?
Score Another One for Barefoot
As you might have guessed by my enthusiastic buildup, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Runners who opted for minimalist footwear and no shoes at all fared bar better than their shod peers. It wasn’t only in the feet, either. Those who reported their preference for wearing supportive, cushioned running shoes had more injuries in the foot, ankles, lower leg area, knees and even hips! Sometimes when I read these studies, I wonder if there shouldn’t be a Public Service Announcement warning about the dangers of your thick, cozy running shoes.

He is, believe it or not, referring to this study: Relationships Among Self-reported Shoe Type, Footstrike Pattern, and Injury Incidence which appeared in the US Army Medical Department Journal. Lets have a look at the above interpretation of this research:

  • Whether storming the beaches of Normandy or sweeping across the Kuwaiti border, the U.S. Army is known for making big, bold statements. Take their latest medical research as further proof.” This was not an army study; it was not endorsed by the army; the army made no bold statement with this research; none of the participants in the study were in the army. One of the authors of the study is a Lt Col in the army and they decided to publish their non-army research in the US Army Medical Department Journal – that is all. As the disclaimer in the Journal clearly says “Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect official US Army or US Army Medical Department positions.”
  • This study was huge and thorough“. No it wasn’t. No one is taking this research very seriously, except Dr Nirenberg! It was a self-selected study with all the biases associated with that methodology. You can read more detailed analyzes of that here and here. Basically, self-selected populations are biased and other research has already shown how often runners are wrong about their own foot strike pattern.
  • The study sampled over 2,500 people, all of them serious runners. The average person in the study had been a runner for eight years!”. Of the 2500 who responded to the online survey, they eliminated 1,605 from the analysis! (that should set off big alarm bells to anyone reading the study, but obviously not to Dr Nirenberg).
  • Army physicians evaluated the incidence of injuries in runners who wore traditional shoes, minimalist and no shoes at all“. duh? This was a self-reported web based survey. No army physicians evaluated the runners!
  • Did barefoot runners prove to be the healthiest yet again?” Given that no study has shown that ‘barefoot runners prove to be the healthiest‘, there is no way that this can be a ‘yet again“! (see the review of that evidence here).
  • As you might have guessed by my enthusiastic buildup, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”” They did not show that due to the biased self selection of the participants in the study. No one, especially the epidemiologists who do these sorts of studies for a living would not accept the results of this study for that reason. The authors do acknowledge these limitations in their discussion of the paper (I guess Dr Nirenberg missed this; if he even read the full paper).
  • Runners who opted for minimalist footwear and no shoes at all fared bar better than their shod peers. It wasn’t only in the feet, either. Those who reported their preference for wearing supportive, cushioned running shoes had more injuries in the foot, ankles, lower leg area, knees and even hips!” Nope, for the reasons already given.
  • Sometimes when I read these studies, I wonder if there shouldn’t be a Public Service Announcement warning about the dangers of your thick, cozy running shoes.” I have no idea what studies he is talking about, as there are no studies that show that. All the published systematic or  formal reviews of the literature on this topic are reaching the opposite conclusion that Dr Nirenberg manages to get from these studies! (see the review here).

Last, but not least, lets go back to the title: “Army Study Goes Big, Recommends Barefoot” – how can anyone in their wildest fantasies even come remotely close to think that this study has anything to do with the US Army recommending ‘barefoot’? As Dr Nirenberg managed to somehow reach that deluded conclusion, he is called out for being a loon.

How can anyone get this so wrong? As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, so please contact me if you have anyone who should be included as a loon.

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About Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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11 Responses to Calling out the loons

  1. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM April 25, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    I agree Craig, any podiatrist that calls himself “America’s Podiatrist” is at the top of my list of suspects. I find it simply amazing that such misinformation can be put on the internet with a clear conscience from a licensed medical professional. It must be that the agenda overrides the intellect in such cases.

    Your “calling out the loons” may be your best subject yet!

    Cheers,

    Kevin

  2. Brian Hazard April 26, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Great category! Maybe someday it will expand into its own blog: Adventures in Lunacy.

  3. Craig April 26, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    Thanks Kevin and Brian. I working on a few more (busy transcribing a YouTube video to call it out!)

    There are plenty of loons out there. The Encyclopedia of American loons I linked above add at least one or two every day!

    I just do not get or understand how so many can get it so wrong.

  4. Hans April 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    What is your take on the POSE theory of the physics of running, by Romanov?

  5. Craig April 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    See this post (and especially the comments)

    That study shows it is less economical to use the Pose method and many a biomechanistic has pointed out flaws in the biomechanical underpinnings. Given that the adherents to it grasp on to it at all costs gives it the label of being a ‘religion’. Ken Schafer turns up all over the place to defend it, but is blinded by that religious fervor to not see what the evidence is saying.

    For some runners, elements that are used in Pose method will be fantastic, for others it will be a disaster. There is no panacea and no one size fits all (same for Chi running, minimalism, maximalism etc) – they just have to get over the religiousness and blind faith of it…..or risk being called out as a loon.

    • Hans April 27, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      I have myself experienced some of the benefits as well as the limits of POSE, and find the research and your input in the debate interesting. But my question was not really related to this research, or the technique issue as such.

      You might, or not, be aware of that POSE also has a specific theory of the physics of running, and how forward propulsion in running actually occur. The basic idea is that forward propulsion is not caused by the runner actively pushing forward, expending metabolic energy in the horizontal direction (the explisit, or for most writers/thinkers on running, the implicit, understanding of how forward propulsion occurs, and of how we relate to moving under the influence of gravity), but by gravity’s vertical pull on the body’s center of gravity, and the kinetic energy of the moving body, being direct forward by the rigidity of the body, stiction and ground reaction force and gravitational torque, using a falling stick model as a metaphor.

      This is a very short and incomplete description, and Romanov’s explanation also seem to be incomplete and at times imprecise in terms of his use of physics vocabulary, but I still find it interesting, and have tried to fill in the holes myself. I also enjoy reading others thoughts on this, even though this is something that only interest, and is possible to discuss in a meaningful way, with a subgroup of a subgroup of a subgroup of running technique interested people. Extremely few people that is.

      Anyway, I thought this might be something someone like you would put in the loon category, and an analysis by you would make for an enjoyable and interesting read. Also it might fit in your book category, as his most in depth explanation of his theory is available in his most in depth book on his model, POSE method of triathlon techniques.

      • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM April 28, 2013 at 1:25 am #

        Romanov’s explanation of his Pose Method of Running and how it is “biomechanically superior” to other methods of running (read heel striking running) is so full of holes that no running biomechanics expert takes him or his method of running seriously. Of course the body is accelerated not only forward but also upward during the latter half of the support phase of running: the research is very clear about this. In other words, the body is moving away from direction of gravitational acceleration after the middle of the support phase of running and is moving toward the direction of gravitational acceleration from the middle of the forward recovery phase to the middle of the support phase of running. The mechanical analogy used for this is a bouncing ball or a pogo stick.

        Tom Novachek’s review paper on the Biomechanics of Running is excellent and I highly suggest it being read at least twice for anyone interested in learning more about running biomechanics (Novacheck TF: The biomechanics of running. Gait and Posture, 7:77-95, 1998).

        http://www.elitetrack.com/article_files/biomechanicsofrunning.pdf

        Kevin A. Kirby, DPM
        Adjunct Associate Professor
        Department of Applied Biomechanics
        California School of Podiatric Medicine

        • Mark Richard July 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

          Poor paper

  6. Rod June 4, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Great website. Do you mean “drivel” instead of “dribble”?

    • Craig Payne June 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      Actually you right! I had to check the dictionary for ‘dribble’, as I have tended to use that word in lieu of ‘drivel’ ….. but the dictionary did not say that!

  7. DJ January 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    The Encyclopedia of American Loons is a useless compilation of character assassinations from
    two ax-grinding nobodies who operate the site…………and who are themselves among the biggest loons out there. In fact, they should be #1 and #2 on there own site.

    And just who are these two “originators” and writers of “The Encyclopedia of American Loons”? A friend confided that they were “A couple of gays boys at a University.”

    Now, what could go wrong with that?

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