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The Survival of the Fattest

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

Reviewed by Cass R. Sunstein & Richard H. Thaler
The New Republic Online

"The idea of 'the survival of the fittest' is one of the most powerful organizing principles in all of science. That simple idea, stated by Herbert Spencer on the basis of Charles Darwin's work and later endorsed by Darwin himself, captures the theory of evolution, the process of natural selection, and a host of associated notions. And yet the phrase can produce confusion. Some people think that survival of the fittest implies that species will be ever improving, and that those still around today will be well-designed machines, smart, efficient, and, well, 'fit.' But Darwin was focused on reproductive success, and nothing in his work suggests that surviving species are particularly smart or, in any global sense, fit...." Read the entire New Republic Online review.

4 Responses to "The Survival of the Fattest"

    Jenny March 22nd, 2007 at 8:30 am

    The problem with this book is that it confuses correlation with causality. Numerous studies indicate that the "problem of obesity" is a social construct more than an actual social ill. While heart disease and diabetes are correlated with obesity, they are also correlated with being underweight, living in an industrialized country, your ethnicity, gender, etc.

    For another view of the "obesity epidemic," read The Obesity Myth, by Paul Campos, or The Gospel of Food, by Barry Glassner.

    Eunice Riemer March 22nd, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Another windy review from The New Republic that brings in everything but the kitchen sink. I wonder if the magazine encourages such verbose articles in order to boost its heft. It should be reprimanded for consuming trees to put out such trash.

    kate March 26th, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    The authors' grasp of biology - both evolutionary biology and the physiology of fat and metabolism - is abysmal. The authors are deeply confused about the science. It almost hurt to read, and I genuinely don't know where to start with the corrections.

    I know the New Republic has had fact checking issues in the past they'd like us to believe have been resolved. But articles like this are not helping rebuild my faith. If they want to continue to pursue science journalism they either need to hire a science editor with credentials or learn to consult with scientists in the field.

    Diane March 30th, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Oh dear---the author apparently never met a person who had lived through the Depression, or the children raised by those who have gone through the Depression. Otherwise his experiments re: the endless soup bowl, eating everything on your plate or that's given to you, would be more understandable. So that's just one of many flaws in his "experiements" that justify his pov.

    Also, in our society people are taught not to rock the boat, don't complain, don't be the odd one out and don't be confrontational. So his "gatekeeper" schtick is rubish! Did he not consider the very real consequences that may be held against an employee (especially in these times of jobs heading overseas and the Union busting tactings that most Companies use) should the employee go against anything the Company has decided to automatically force upon every employee? Come work reviews, "not a team player" could be seen by some in response to their actions. And even if that were not the case---it plays through peoples minds. Same goes for auto-charity deductions out of their paychecks. It's the very real fear of reprisal that stops people from doing what they would like to have done in these cases.

    Also, just because someone doesn't say anything doesn't mean they don't notice the difference re: his various "taste test" observations. And sometimes, even when you know it tastes the same ie: mashed potatoes with green dye in it. Aesthetically some people just won't eat green mashed potatoes or drink green beer on St. Paddy's day. They're not mindless, misinformed or any of the other negative things said of them.

    Now are people influenced psychologically, environmentally, politically and socially? Sure! That's why advertising plays such an important part in products. But all that doens't mean that fat people, in particular, are any more or less intelligent than their thinner counter-parts, when it comes to susceptability. Genetics, metabolism, environment, ehtnicity, religion, class and gender all ontribute to the diversity of people..and that includes SIZE!!

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