“All anti-barefoot running research is paid for by the running shoe companies”

Time to call out another loon…and I not in the mood for some serious science.

I belong to a number of skeptic groups involved in fighting anti-science and pseudoscience in many topic areas. In those groups I am always impressed about how often they take screenshots of debates and comments. I now know why they do and just wish I had done the same of a recent Twitter discussion as it was a hoot. Unfortunately, I ended by getting blocked and now can’t access the tweets!

It all started with a tweet, that I responded to by pointing out that all the research on the topic actually contradicted the claim that they just made (I often respond in social media pointing things like this out).


Normally after pointing this out, things typically go down hill from there with the usual array of logical fallacies, conspiracy claims and ad hominem attacks. The response to what I posted was:

“All anti-barefoot running research is paid for by the running shoe companies”

I was seriously and genuinely intrigued as to actually what research that they thought was anti-barefoot and what anti-barefoot research was funded by the running shoe companies. I was not aware of any, so I really wanted to know what research that they thought they were referring to. Needless to say, after a bit of back and forward, they came up with done. I still really wanted to know what motivated them to claim that; what did they have to back it up? Why were they making this up, just like the claim that they made up that started this dialogue.

I assume that they got the information from within the particular running cult or from their particular guru who just made it up and they parroted what they read or heard. Each cult has its metaphoric echo chamber, that a prerequisite to entry is a complete lack of critical thinking skills, so they just parrot what they heard in that echo chamber without actually checking and critically appraising the source, if indeed there was actually a source. More often than not it was just something that someone just made up and wished was true (ie the wishful thinking fallacy) that was echoed and feed into the cult’s confirmation biases. They then resort to the usual trope of other logical fallacies to back it up.

The irony is that the running shoe companies have been accused many times of not doing research to “prove” that their shoes work by critics. Yet if they did do that, the research will be dismissed by the same critics as they funded it or did it. I do not get it.

After that, I tried a different approach in the Twitter discussion. I asked them what they thought of the research of Dr Daniel Lieberman (I reviewed one here). Needless to say they could not speak high enough of his research and him and that he “speaks the truth“. I then politely pointed out the funding that he gets from a barefoot running shoe company (do you see the irony?). I was then promptly blocked from that Twitter discussion …. making me wish that I need to get into the habit of taking screen shots. One thing I have learnt from the skeptics groups that I am a member of, at a certain point, all that is left is mockery and ridicule.

As an aside, and not related to the above Twitter dialogue, I have been accused many times in the comments section of this site of secretly working for or being paid by the running shoe companies (I’m not). Just because all the systematic reviews and meta-analyses by people from a number of different backgrounds and published in a number of different places all conclude that there a no systematic benefits to barefoot running over traditional shod running and then I report on those systematic reviews, that I somehow are working for a running shoe company (I don’t). However, that is the level that dialogue on this have degenerated to in recent times.

On a serious sciency note, this does give me the opportunity to comment on the industry funding of research:

I do not have a problem with industry funded research. I have done some myself. Industry is a significant funder of research and a helluva lot of research will not be done without that funding. I do however, expect that the source of funding is declared in the publication and 99.99% of the time it is declared.

Like the Twitter discussion above, should the results of that research be dismissed if you do not like the results because of the funding source? Of course not. I am not going to dismiss any of Lieberman’s work because he got some funding from a barefoot running shoe company. I do expect that the funding is declared (and he does do that) and I will interpret the research in that context.

Does that funding source bias the researcher? In the industry funded research that I have done, of course not. I would hate to think that I was consciously biased because of the funding source. I can only hope that I was not subconsciously biased because of the source, but I may or may not have been. At some stage you have to trust the integrity of the researchers to remain independent.

How can the potential for bias due to the funding source be avoided? By blinding. I will look for that. If the participants in the study were properly blinded to the nature of the intervention being tested and the researcher undertaking the outcome measures is blinded as to which intervention that they are measuring the outcomes of, then there is no potential for bias due to the funding source. In these situations if you are going to accuse the researchers of bias due to the funding source, then you are implying that they somehow faked the data deliberately (and you may need to find yourself a good lawyer to defend your claims).

Where can bias creep in due to funding sources? If there is no blinding of participants or the researcher doing the outcome measures is not blinded, then there is the potential for a subconscious bias and this has to be acknowledged. I am rarely going to dismiss the results of a study based on that, but accept results with caution. There may also be a bias to not publish the research if the results are negative (publication bias). One problem I do see with bias in industry funded research (and specifically the research I am most familiar with, running and running shoes) is the bias in the nature and tone used in the discussion of the results and the conclusion that is drawn tends to be more favorable to the sort of outcome that the industry funder might like. I can think of several specific examples of this. In these specific examples I have no problems with the actual methods and results (there was good blinding etc in the studies) but the results were not necessarily favorable to the funder, but the spin put on the results in the discussion was more favorable.

The moral is, focus on the methods and results and not on the spin. Unfortunately, the fan boys tend to focus on the spin leading to the typical misinterpretation, misquoting, misunderstanding and misuse of research that we so commonly see in the various cults.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and focus on the methods and results and not the spin, conspiracy theories or the parrots in the echo chamber.

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3 Responses to “All anti-barefoot running research is paid for by the running shoe companies”

  1. Friendly Skeptic June 29, 2015 at 2:17 am #

    I enjoy your blog. I have one trivial complaint though.

    “I go where the evidence takes me until *convinced otherwise*” seems to be saying someone could convince (trick?) you to ignore the evidence. Presumably you don’t actually mean that. So I wish you would remove “convinced otherwise” or else rework this somehow.

    • Craig Payne June 29, 2015 at 4:27 am #

      Thanks. Good point!
      What it supposed to mean is that I will be the first to change my mind on something when the evidence tells me I should.
      Those who have heard me lecture over the last 30 or so yrs know what I mean as they see me change my mind as accumulating evidence tells me I should.
      I sometimes get embarrased at what I said previously many many years ago, but I often explicitly say what I thought and why and what evidence changed my mind. I actually have a lecture that is subtitled “Why my hair fell out” that maps what I went through.

  2. Mike August 10, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Great post on this topic, one of the best I’ve seen. I’ve been looking into whether to try minimalist shoes, and have been dismayed by how much of what I have found on the net is unhelpful discussions about restoring our “natural abilities” and corporate conspiracy or just pure woo. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a list of the best organic, GMO and gluten-free minimalist shoes that haven’t been vaccinated….

    This is unfortunate since I don’t think the premise of BF running or minimalist shoes is illogical in itself. I’ve just ordered some Vibram fivefingers,so will see for myself…. (I’m ok with a good placebo effect, too….)

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