TAUBES Now hereâ€™s one question for you, you know the Freakonomics guys, right? Did you read their last column on obesity?
INTERVIEWER About bariatric surgery?
TAUBES Yes. In particular, the last two paragraphs, about their recommendation that fat people, in effect, carry around something nauseating. I felt like I was reading something from 150 years ago, where they were using anal suppositories to try to cure obesity. Do you remember those paragraphs?
INTERVIEWER Yes, I do.
TAUBES They’re saying, â€œletâ€™s get fat people to have willpower, like we do.” Hereâ€™s a way they could do it, they could carry some nauseating-smelling thing in a pouch around their neck, and whenever they find themselves going to the refrigerator, they could open it up and smell it.
INTERVIEWER I think they were trying to illustrate the concept of commitment device.
TAUBES I got what they were trying to do, butâ€¦
INTERVIEWER Youâ€™re saying that trivializes the problem.
TAUBES More than that. I’m saying it misses the point entirely. It’s not about how much they eat. Remember, you can starve fat animals, for instance, and theyâ€™ll die with their fat tissue intact. Itâ€™s not about how much theyâ€™re eating; itâ€™s about the regulation of their fat tissue. And if you don’t understand that, you’re not doing anyone a favor by discussing it publicly. If these guys are going to write about this subject, and they’re so now so influential and noticeable, they should have some understanding of what’s actually going on physiologically. We talked earlier about how I can become flabbergasted — your words was “radicalized” — by the idea that people can write about obesity without stopping to think â€œwhatâ€™s the mechanism? Should I know anything about the underlying biology?â€ And again, I never did until the last five years. It was only when I did the research for the book that I realized that you have to actually pay attention to the underlying biology — the hormonal and enzymatic regulation of fat tissue — or you can’t understand what’s going on. Imagine writing about growth defects, about gigantism or dwarfism, without caring about the hormonal regulation of growth. If the Freakonomics guys are going to write about obesity in the New York Times, then maybe they should read my book (he said, ego-maniacally), so they know what they’re talking about. And since I don’t know them personally, maybe you could…
INTERVIEWER Iâ€™ll recommend your book to them. Itâ€™s great that you were invited to Berkeley; that shows people trust you. The fact that they invited you means youâ€™re not a heretic, youâ€™re not off the reservation, youâ€™re a respectable person. The fact that you continue to write for the New York Times, thatâ€™s very good. Every article you publish from now on will push your book forward, will push your case forward, will say that you are a serious person who is respected by serious people. Just maybe, just maybe, this is one of the cases where the authorities were wrong. Weâ€™re all familiar with this happening in the past, and maybe this is just another case. For everybody but the tiny faction of people at the top of the health establishment, I think theyâ€™re perfectly fine with the idea that the authorities are wrong. I think that the lack of progress on the obesity epidemic is making more and more people dissatisfied. Thatâ€™s just a guess. More and more people, outside of the people who are responsible for the current policies.
TAUBES I think that’s true, but thereâ€™s this contrary effect that happens. I said this in my lecture. The science I’m trying to get across can be accepted up until the point at which I say the the word carbohydrate, and then people shut down, and they think â€œOh, itâ€™s that Atkins stuff again.” Their minds close and they turn around and go back to their lives. Anyway, I look forward to seeing the interview and getting your book and reading it. I enjoyed this. Again, I like nothing better than talking about this stuff.
INTERVIEWER I learned a lot from our conversation. Iâ€™m sure my blog readers will enjoy this.