Well, one reason is that Yoni Freedhoff already had the name Weighty Matters taken ;.
So I chose Weight Maven after remembering a quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point:
A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own.– Mark Alpert, The Tipping Point
That’s part of the rationale for this blog. Aside from the warm fuzzies I get from imagining people out there reading (love those cards and letters and commments … keep ‘em coming!), I’m also hopeful that some of what I cover here will actually be helpful to someone else.
Maven? Or fox?
So I was quite interested to come across the Lancet’s series on obesity (free; registration required) a month or so ago. Lots of very good stuff there, so take a look. But I particularly liked this editorial — Where next for obesity? — by Harry Rutter, director of the National Obesity Observatory in the UK.
Rutter points out the importance of seeing obesity as a complex problem, not a complicated one:
The distinction is important. A complicated system might contain many different elements, with various interactions, but it is knowable and ultimately predictable: a Saturn rocket is not simple, but plans for it exist, and to calculate its trajectory and send astronauts to the moon and back is possible. A complex system does us no such favours. It is non-linear, subject to unexpected and unintended consequences, contains feedback loops, and displays emergent properties—it is more than the sum of its parts. This kind of wicked problem needs a different set of approaches to understand it and deal with it from those needed for issues that are merely complicated.
Rutter then points out another problem we face: the current world of scientific research is very, very subject specific (this is quite nicely shown in Matt Might’s Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.).
Rutter uses Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox as a metaphor:
Berlin describes how “the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Berlin was writing about literature, but he could just as easily have been describing academia. The world of scientific research favours subject-specific expertise. Most of us tend to focus on fairly narrow specialisms, with both funding and academic career structures promoting this kind of knowledge—we are hedgehogs. For complex issues like obesity the shortage of foxes, with their breadth of knowledge, presents a major obstacle to progress. Notwithstanding some important exceptions, we generally prefer to stay within our own disciplinary boundaries: clinicians tend to promote clinical solutions, nutritionists tend to support dietary ones, and so on. This specialist expertise is crucial, but we also need to understand how the parts all fit together and affect one another, and to be able to step back and see the system as a whole: we need more foxes.
It’s perhaps quite presumptive of me, I am intrigued with the prospect of becoming a fox.
To do this, I’m probably going to have to ramp up my refresh of the basic sciences (last took chem and bio in the late 70s) among other things. But I think the best thing I bring to the party is as someone who came of age when obesity rates first started climbing, and who has tried pretty much everything (save weight-loss surgery) to get to a healthy weight.
I’m sympathetic to the fat acceptance and HAES arguments that focusing on diets and weight loss is fraught with peril. But call me a cockeyed optimist, I’m not convinced that this means we should stop trying; it means we need to investigate other approaches.
So … any other foxes out there?