Ketil Froyn's blog

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Sat, 09 Oct 2004

Knee jerk reactions

Knee jerk reactions are common, and the name comes from the reflex reaction people have when they get knocked on the right spot on the knee.

I think knee jerk reactions are very interesting. A good example of a knee jerk reaction is that after scientists discovered that sun causes cancer, a lot of people have gotten too little sun. As it turns out, this is bad, because we get vitamin D from being in the sun, and a lack of vitamin D can increase risk of other forms of cancer. In this case, instead of realizing that "too much sun is bad", many came to the conclusion that "sun is bad", which is plainly wrong.

Another interesting example of a knee jerk reaction is the reaction to fat. Obesity is a problem on the rise, so this has been a focus for a while now. Scientists figured out that consumption of large amounts of saturated fats (like animal fats) caused heart problems, so now "fat is bad". Again, this statement is clearly wrong. Inuits can live on fatty-meat-only diets throughout the winter. In an experiment conducted in 1929, 2 men tried to eat only lean meat, and they got ill. When they supplemented it with fat (calves' brain fried in bacon fat), they managed fine, and continued with this diet for an entire year, both losing weight in the process.

In addition, it turns out that the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat in a diet is more important than the amount of saturated fats in itself. Since a lot of people are trying to limit fat intake, what seems to happen is that they get saturated fats from meats, and have less unsaturated fats, and as a result they have a higher chance of getting heart problems.

There are many many other examples. For instance, studies show that the death sentence doesn't necessarily have the wanted impact on serious crime. Perhaps the death sentence ("kill him!") is a knee jerk reaction too.

In brief, I see knee jerk reactions as a bad thing, and it is the opposite of a reflected response. But sometimes knee jerk reactions seem to be elusive, since we all seem to go along with them for years on end. I like to think that, as a rule of thumb, a reaction shouldn't be extreme unless that is the clear answer or only solution. Situations are usually more complex than "black and white".


posted at: 10:24 | path: | permanent link to this entry