How to spot bad science and fads- Determining whether an idea is worthwhile:

This is a blog straight from email requests. It’s not exactly about training, but one of the most frequent and perhaps most important question I get asked is how the heck do you spot the good stuff from the crap…

A while back I read the book Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, which is an excellent read, and then just started reading the book Proofiness because of a recommendation. Both books are in a similar vein in that they both touch on how people can get fooled into believing wrong things. One focuses on the use of statistics while the other goes over how “guru’s” use bad science to fool the masses.

While it’s not directly related to training or running, it plays a crucial indirect role. As a coach or an athlete, we are bombarded with different training philosophies every day. If that isn’t enough, many of us browse through the latest scientific journal findings to see what’s going on in that side. It’s hard enough filtering through it if it’s your job and you’re a coach. While it’s impossible to come up with some tried and true method of evaluating claims, I’d like to go over several ways to spot a bad idea, bad science, or a bad expert, first and then offer a few brief suggestions on how to avoid the trap.

Falling into the trap:

The crossfit phenomenon is interesting to me. I don’t want to get caught up in the efficacy of it, but instead focus on some of the claims made about endurance performance from them. Why? Because it serves as a perfect example of falling into the trap. Before I get a backlash from the crossfit people, my premise is that using only high intensity max work to race a distance event isn’t the optimal way to do it. CFE has claimed before that runners would be better off maximizing their running performance if they ditched the traditional way and trained their way, random high intensity, low volume work…

I was browsing through Tim Ferris latest book at Barnes and Noble the other day and read the portion that applies to my area of expertise, running. I was saddened to see that Tim jumped on the bandwagon and essentially fell for the trap in buying into crossfit endurance, pose, and the Barry Ross way of sprinting. Ferris is highly educated and while he does make his living finding “hacks” it made me wonder why intelligent people make that mistake. So keeping the examples in mind from Ferris book, let’s look at how people get hooked in and fooled:

High Speed Video from the Stanford Payton Jordan Invite

I was down in Palo Alto this weekend for Stanford's Payton Jordan Invite.  While I was there, I took some quick high speed video (210fps) of several of the races.  Below you'll see video from the fast heats of the Women's 5k, the Women's 1500m, and the men's 1500m (heat 1 and 2).


Women's 5,000m (Fast Heat):

Women's 1,500m Heat 1:

Men's 1500m Heat 1:

Men's 1500m Heat 2:
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