Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

Too many facts get in the way of truth

Too many facts get in the way of the truth

One dietary fad that never made sense to me was the campaign against the consumption of eggs.

Now call me an old Darwinist, but here we are having spent a few million years evolving into a bald monkey with prehensile thumbs, perfectly optimised as an egg-stealing machine, and yet the digestion of an omelette somehow came as a horrible shock to our cardiovascular system. What next, I wondered. Perhaps they’ll discover that 45 per cent of cows are allergic to grass, or that sharks are largely sea-food intolerant.

And it seems that the opprobrium directed at eggs was mostly wrong. It was based on the assumption that, since some cholesterol is bad, and since eggs contain it, ergo the consumption of every single egg was a stepping-stone to the grave. In fact it seems dietary cholesterol is not the source of bodily cholesterol: many people who increase their egg consumption find their cholesterol levels fall.

Just by way of contrast, grains have been eaten for only 20,000 years and refined sugars for a few hundred. In evolutionary time, they are still an experiment. Eggs are something we evolved to eat.

This distinction is worth considering in the debate about fake news. Lying, after all, is nothing new. Humans have been cheating each other since the Garden of Eden. Chimpanzees deliberately distract each other by looking into the distance pretending to be transfixed by something significant. Your cat pretends to like you in exchange for food.

No, it isn’t lying that is a new addition to our diet of information. What we haven’t evolved to digest is a huge overabundance of facts.

When there are only a few facts available, they may occasionally help us change our minds.

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