I love Fast Company's Co.Design, and I really admire Cliff Kuang. But when he posted an infographic, Pasta, Not Bacon, Makes You Fat. But How?, I just felt I had to once again explain why I hate infographics so much, and how dangerous they can be. Cliff writes as if it is accepted common wisdom:
One of the most utterly surprising scientific findings of recent decades has got to be that fat isn’t so bad for you after all…..So it’s worth recounting the science behind how carbs make you fat, and it’s all laid out in this infographic created by Column Five for Massive Health, and based on Why We Get Fat by noted science writer Gary Taubes.
The problem is, a lot of people consider Gary Taubes' thesis to be completely bogus. Others consider it deadly. Read his daily diet, quoted in Scientific American:
I do indeed eat three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, typically a couple of cheeseburgers (no bun) or a roast chicken for lunch, and more often than not, a rib eye or New York steak (grass fed) for dinner, usually in the neighborhood of a pound of meat. I cook with butter and, occasionally, olive oil (the sausages). My snacks run to cheese and almonds. So lots of fat and saturated fat and very little carbohydrates.
Let's not even bring into the equation what that kind of diet is doing to the planet, the carbon footprint of eating that much red meat and cheese. They blithely accept the infographic at face value, writing that "One of the most utterly surprising scientific findings of recent decades has got to be that fat isn’t so bad for you after all" when in fact nothing of the sort has happened at all. It's infographic brainwashing. As John Horgan at Scientific American put it, Taubes is "oversimplifying and distorting reality. "
A picture is worth a thousand words. But if you are going to have a real discussion, words matter more. Infographics are a step backwards; I said earlier that:
Even the best of them are impossible to check because of the lack of hyperlinks, Tim Berners-Lee's invention that is the core of the world wide web. Why would we produce stuff for the web that doesn't have its single most important defining feature?
An article on the subject of why carbs are killing us might have had a hundred hyperlinks to appropriate research and commentary and footnotes. This infographic has not a single one. Infographics like this are little more than propaganda posters pandering to people who can't be bothered to read, and who don't care about the facts behind them.
I personally am sticking with Michael Pollan, who doesn't need a page of infographics:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.