Written by Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn 2013-08-05 for ketotic.org

“Why we do it this way”

Some of what we will write here will turn out to be wrong. Errors will be uncovered, either in the scientific evidence that led us here, or in our interpretation of it. This is true of all exploration at the forefront of human knowledge, and it is especially true when the authors are, like us, not experts in the field, but instead newcomers who have had to learn as they go along. How can we justify asking you to spend your time considering these claims, when the topic of human nutrition and health is so fraught with complexities and misunderstandings, and when we are not formally trained experts, but merely amateur sleuths who’ve patiently collected evidence? We believe the thesis of this site is worth your most careful consideration, because even though some of it may turn out to be wrong, much of it will hold up. There is something here—something important. Even if a portion of this work were to be invalidated (either by future scientific discoveries or by finding mistakes in our arguments) there would remain a strong link between ketogenic diet and a swath of major health benefits. This important fact must not be overlooked!

Strategies against error

Cite evidence.

We have one central strategy against misleading you by our limited understanding and our human tendency to make mistakes. That strategy is to tell you not only what we think, but what evidence led us to think it. We include references to scientific publications, and explain specifically how each relates to our claims.With this information, you will be better able to trace the path of any mistakes we’ve made, and to separate out any mistaken parts of our thinking from the correct parts.

We take special care to say how each reference relates to our claims. This avoids a problem we’ve seen in popular writing on science topics, where the author writes a long text with a lot of claims in it, and then follows it with a bunch of references to scientific publications. This immediately gives the impression that there is a plethora of scientific evidence supporting the author’s claims, but this appearance can be deceptive. You can’t easily figure out which parts of the cited paper support which part of the author’s argument, nor can anyone else. It is distressingly common, in our experience, that some of the cited papers do not actually support the claims at all.

We try to be specific enough that you can understand why the papers we cite led us to our current beliefs. We hope we succeed well enough to suit the purpose.

Don’t over-generalize.

We limit our claims to only what is justified by the evidence, even when this makes our claims more complex or less exciting. A certain amount of simplification is necessary for communication, but we will try to be explicit about simplifications.

Don’t put more weight on evidence than it can bear.

It is always tempting to over-value evidence which supports your favoured hypothesis. We resist this by placing only as much weight on evidence as it deserves. We describe how strong each piece of evidence appears to be, and explicitly tag it as being observation, experiment, anecdote, or explanation.

Don’t infer causation from correlation.

A common and devastating mistake is to interpret observational evidence as supporting a causal explanation. Far too often, an appealing hypothesis turns out to be false when tested by experiment, even though it was well-supported by observational evidence. We differ from many thinkers in this field by strictly refraining from treating observational evidence as conclusive evidence of causes. To us observational evidence is at most suggestive of causes, never conclusive.

Strategies against cherry-picking

There is another sort of problem that is harder to defend against: “cherry-picking”, or omitting evidence that contradicts our beliefs. We beg the reader to believe that we endeavour to avoid doing this when it would lead to error. It must be admitted, however, that we cannot avoid it entirely.The wealth of information on the topic of human health is so vast that we have not been able to study even a fraction of it. Among the works that we have studied, there are many which contradict our thesis, but which we find to be doubtful. If we were to include each of these and our reasons for doubting them, this website would be vastly larger and less readable.

Be explicit about uncertainty.

We intend to be clear in every article about our degree of uncertainty. Some of the claims we write about are attested by reliable evidence which has been widely reproduced by many independent researchers. Others are only promising possibilities. Many fall somewhere in between those two extremes. We try to be explicit about how confident we are in each case.

Invite critical review.

If you see that we haven’t lived up to the standards outlined above, please let us know! In doing so, you’ll be helping us, and you’ll be correcting and improving knowledge that can benefit everyone.

Making the results usable

These strategies against error come with a cost. They make our writing longer and more complicated, which makes it harder to understand and remember. To counteract this, we include a summary of each section which is readable and memorable to the interested reader even if they don’t have any specialized knowledge.

If you examine the detailed results in a full section, please check whether the summary presents a fair picture of those results to a person who does not read or understand the full section.