This blogger says that you can click on pictures to embiggen them. I really like that word. You will also find at this blog a non-comprehensive but really long list of the Knitting Olympics teams.

Knitting Olympics teams include Australia, Canada, the U.S. sock knitters, Ireland (“Drink first. Then knit.”), Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Germany, Norway, Portugal, California, Wisconsin (Team Cheese), Connecticut, Alaska, Minnesota, Virginia, Boston, Pittsburgh,  and of course Wales. There are also some more exotic teams, such as Team Goth, Team Merlot, and Team Cat Bed. I think it would improve the real Olympics if they had teams like this.

(Oh, and did anyone understand what the announcers had against the Russian fellow who won the gold medal for cross-country skiing?)

Elsewhere in the virtual world, there are discussions of a study of a whole bunch of post-menopausal women which found that telling these women to change their intake of fat didn’t improve their chances of avoiding cancer and heart disease.

Many people are interested in this because they seek loopholes, and I have sympathy for that. However, the thing about this that interested me is what it shows about science reporting.

Following years of evidence that reducing saturated fat and increasing fiber have beneficial effects on health, there is this study that finds no statistically significant difference in the incidence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease between old ladies told to improve their diets and those who were not told to do so. Do folks respond by tracking down the raw data, comparing this study with others that appear to contradict it, and gathering all the information before making a decision? Of course not! What kind of headlines would that provide?

The headlines people are going with tend to be things like “Nutritionists Know Nothing! Break Out the Sausages!” More accurate headlines ought to be things like “Nagging old ladies does not prevent cancer!”

Here’s the scoop. First, this was not a controlled study of what the women ate. Naturally. Unless they were institutionalized, no one could keep proper track of what people actually ate for eight years. Instead, this was based on annual self-reporting — forms filled out by women who had either been told to reduce their fat intake, or not to make any changes.

I do not want to make generalizations about older ladies, but I wonder whether all those years of training did not cause at least some of them to overestimate their success in making the changes the doctors had told them them to make.

But let’s suppose that they were accurate in their reports. The women claimed that they had reduced their fat consumption from 35% to 24-29%. Just for perspective, I tried to find something in my kitchen that contained 24% fat. Nothing but oil and butter met that level. There was no distinction made between lard and olive oil, walnuts and Twinkies. They were also told to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but weren’t able to succeed on the whole grains thing. Again, no distinction is made between peach pie and fresh peaches, or between Triscuits and brown rice. So, as far as we know, we are looking at a very slight change in eating habits.

The ones who were supposed to change their eating patterns were reminded often that they were supposed to do this, and met with nutritionists. They — and the control group — were also presumably bombarded with messages from the world outside about the importance of reducing fat in their diets. This is one of the messages that everyone has grasped by now, resulting in “lite” hot dogs, Snackwell’s cookies, and baked potato chips — but not, in the population as a whole, in a healthier eating pattern.

It would have been great news if the researchers had found that telling people to eat less fat prevented cancer, but it is not amazing that this turned out not to be the case. What is amazing is that it was reported as proof that all the nutritionists have been wrong all along.

I read some years ago that the level of knowledge about science in the population as a whole now lags so far behind the level of scientific knowledge among scientists that we would believe anything if it were reported to us as “Scientists have learned…” The example, I believe, was that cups could be turned into sentient beings. As long as it was presented as something like “scientists have learned how to stimulate molecular change in seemingly inanimate porcelain with lasers,” we’d believe it.

Perhaps we would not all believe it, but I can sure see it being reported in that way. Any study that can be presented as a gripping headline is immediately treated as a breakthrough. If at all possible, it is treated as something that contradicts all previous knowledge on the subject.

The result is that many of us think that scientific information is in a constant state of turmoil, or entirely unreliable. Health textbooks from 1914 warned of the dangers of cigarette smoking, but people have made fortunes by pretending that they had no idea that cigarettes were bad for them. Nutritional advice has been roughly the same throughout my lifetime, but people ignore it on the grounds that it is constantly changing anyway. Our government is able to claim that environmentalists are relying on fuzzy numbers and uncertain science, and more or less get away with it.

“More or less getting away with it” is where I am on my modular knit bag, too. On every row, I find myself having to fudge extra stitches or add some to make it work out. The effect is imprecise to say the least. The triangles do not line up properly, as you no doubt notice in the picture. However, I persevere. I feel sure that I will have the hang of it by the time I get to the end. The bag itself will have folk art charm. And I can still felt it, after all. I may just develop that into a threat, to be used against recalcitrant wool. “I have a dryer, you know, and I’m not afraid to use it!” Dal ati!, Daliwch ati!  Which means “Keep at it! Don’t give up!”