Monday, June 24, 2019

PubMed Was a Mistake

The idea of PubMed is a wonderful one that is a great service to humanity. But as the saying goes, no plan survives engagement with the enemy. In this case, the enemy is also humanity. Specifically, the humanity that finds itself on internet forums getting into arguments with each other in a proxy battle for the dominance they are unable to feel in real life because their spines and genitals are too small. In this realm of everyone trying to be the smartest idiot for sale in the Idiot Store, this theoretically excellent resource is reduced instead to:

Pictured: The fantasy of an asshole.
PubMed links, instead of being useful pieces of a puzzle that an educated individual can piece together to form a whole in the course of conducting research in a field, have become like Pokemon cards. Your opponent played Rectal Expulsion Volume Reaching Input Device Contact in Uneducated Subjects, Graham et al, 1992? What a goddamn sucker, you had A Meta-Analysis on Prevalence of Oral-Rectal Reversal in Youths, Cunningham and Ortiz, 2001 in your back pocket, just waiting to be slammed down into the comment box. Score - You: 1, Sucker: 0. Should've known that Graham types are weak against Cunningham types. Build your PokePub deck more carefully next time, idiot.

The internet has had a relatively extreme reaction to "bro-science" and "muscle mags" - training information that is "cutting the ends of the ham" or "get people to buy things" in terms of its level of quality. In rebellion, those who consider themselves intelligent have created the new cult of "evidence based training". In theory, training advice based on evidence is an excellent thing that I support wholeheartedly. This is not an "anti-science" rant. It is an anti-layperson and anti-punching-above-your-weight rant. It is important to keep trainees apprised of bad sources of information - those who don't know anything and are misguided, or predators who outright lie in order to make sales. It is important to acquire and share good information that has been tried and tested and has some evidence of being effective.

But the difference between theory and practice is that in theory there is no difference, and again the problem is the intellectual laziness of human beings. "Evidence Based" is a term that should cover a broad spectrum of information sources, but much of the time it's simply used as a fluff term for arguments like:
  • Citation needed - aka, link to PubMed or you're wrong and fuck you
  • I'll just leave this here - aka, here's a link to PubMed so I'm right and fuck you
  • <50 PubMed links> - aka, I just scored 50 points in this argument, how many links you got? 
A coach with a several decade track record of results in their trainees is operating based on evidence. That dude who got big and strong in your gym doing their own thing is operating based on evidence. These people may have read zero science. They may have never even questioned "why" the things they do work, and just have discovered methods that work through trial and error. This is also valid evidence. But to many novices who have spent most of their lives considering themselves intellectuals, what once was worth considering is now "bro-science" because it did not use an abstract as a road map.

A modest proposal - PubMed should be DNS black-holed outside of educational institutions or should at least be kept behind a requirement to show that your brains aren't made entirely of crayons and Elmer's glue.

I feel that the following statements are broadly true, with non-zero but minimal exceptions.

If you:
  • Are not reasonably well educated in a field
  • Have not been exposed to or engaged directly in the actual process of scientific research
  • Have not read the full text of the study
  • Cannot explain what the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of the study are
  • Cannot explain what the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of research in this field are
  • Have not read a significant amount of similar research
You should probably not:
  • Be on PubMed (or any similar other site) at all
  • Be linking anyone to PubMed (or any other similar site) at all
  • Be talking about scientific studies without massive caveat of being a total layman
  • Be using any study as a trump card in any argument
Because you:
  • Probably lack the knowledge and experience necessary to properly parse and evaluate what you're reading
  • Probably aren't capable of forming a useful opinion based on scientific study
  • Probably aren't actually interested in science as a concept or in furthering it as a method in the search for better information
And your goal is not to be "evidence based" if:
  • You treat studies like Pokemon cards that you can mic drop on people who argue with you
  • You ignore that scientific study is imperfect and cannot answer all questions or test all possibilities
  • You treat studies as the only possible source of truth and ignore empirical evidence
  • You ignore that some things are simply going to be unknowable, especially in advance
In summary: There's a reason scientific research and analysis thereof is done by those with high level education and not you or me.

(Somebody's going to accuse me of gatekeeping.)

The Sign on the Gate that Says "Keep Out"

Like a lot of words and phrases, the word "gatekeeping" started off as an occasionally useful term that, when applied in an appropriate context, described a very specific kind of behavior in a negative way. Then somebody used it appropriately on Reddit to great effect, got a lot of visibility, and the bottom feeders of the internet suddenly learned a new word that they could treat like the argument equivalent of this:

Pictured: The inside of an internet idiot's head
And, like so many others before it, the internet diluted the meaning of "gatekeeping" to, roughly, "any time somebody says somebody I like (especially me) isn't welcome somewhere".

"Gatekeeping" has a very specific qualifier in its - usually due to undue resentment or overprotectiveness - because the point of the term is to point out a case where placing a limitation on someone else's participation in something is broadly unreasonable. It is not a catch-all term for putting a minimum qualification on being able to participate in an activity or conversation.

If people in real life used the term "gatekeeping" the way people use it on the internet, you would hear things like:
  • What do you mean I can't tell you how to repair your car? That I've never actually worked on a car shouldn't matter - I've read all the manuals and I've got a YouTube video right here on my phone. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean I'm not qualified to tell you whether or not your leg is broken? I may not have been to medical school, but I know a broken leg when I see one. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean I can't be on the football team? I may not have ever played football in my life, but I've watched every NFL game since I was a kid. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean you won't hire me as a nuclear power plant engineer? My dad was the janitor at a nuclear plant for 30 years and he told me all about it. I'm more than qualified. That's gatekeeping.
Nobody says these things in real life. 

Because they're stupid. 

But tell a guy who has been lifting for a month, or years but isn't strong, that his opinions on strength training aren't interesting and he should listen instead of talk, and you'll hear every possible variation of why you're being a gatekeeper and why the messenger shouldn't matter because it's about the information, man.

I'm here to tell you - No.

The messenger always matters, and sometimes the how of "mattering" is that who they are and what they've done doesn't matter enough.

If you found yourself with a terrible disease, and lamented it to a drunken stranger in the bar, and they told you:
My man, let me tell you what. You don't have to die. I had it my man, I had it bad. And you know what I did? My pappy he was in the War, the big one. He was a chemist, see - helped make the mustard gas. And he figured out that he could refine the gas a bit, break it down a bit, you know, dose me up with some needles, and that'd fix me right up. Gave me a bunch of sores, made me real weak, and I shit myself a lot, but it got me all fixed up good. Look into it man. Give it a try. You won't regret it.
Would you listen to that person? Of course not.

But what if your doctor told you that one of the best drugs for your cancer was the alkylating agent, nitrogen mustard, and that while it had some bad side effects your chances looked pretty good?

Same information. Different messenger.

"tHaT'S A RiDiCuLoUs aNd eXtReMe eXaMpLe aNd iS A StRaW MaN"

Every distinction of some people having authority on a topic and others not in the world is "gatekeeping" if you go by the definition that's used on the internet.

I believe, strongly, that it is important for every person to have an honest understanding of when they matter and when they don't. This is not simply when giving advice, but in going through life. Some people cry "gatekeeping" when they are told that they and what they have to say don't matter. But your schooling lied to you - The ability to regurgitate blurbs of information does not make you matter. In most cases, what you have done yourself is a reflection of how useful the knowledge you have is. This is the application to yourself or to others as a coach, teacher, or mentor. With only rare exceptions, you are a billboard for the quality of what you know.

There are times when it is not appropriate to speak, but to simply listen. I have compared r/weightroom's goal with regards to novices to that of a campfire - The grizzled veterans of war or the hunt sharing their tales and experiences with each other, while those who are green sit quietly, listen, and sometimes ask questions provided they're thoughtful. It's important not simply to understand when you are the veteran and when you are the youth, but to be willing to accept that you may have nothing useful to contribute to a conversation in the first place. And, realizing and accepting that, not talking just so that you can feel that you participated.

But to the internet, telling people that their opinions on how to accomplish something don't automatically deserve to be heard just because they have opinions is "gatekeeping".

Setting aside the incorrect usage of the term to begin with, in almost all cases I've witnessed "gatekeeping" is not even the pejorative that some try to use it as. A hard to swallow pill is that experienced people generally aren't interested in the opinions of the inexperienced. Professionals do not go to conferences to have conversations about their field with laymen - they go to have conversations with other professionals. The experienced trainee is no different. It is not an insult to tell someone experienced "You just don't want to hear from people who aren't as experienced as you, meanie!!". Uhh, yeah. Damn right they don't. Thanks?

Bottom line of this rant - Remove the word "gatekeeping" from your vocabulary, because it will almost always make you sound like a wank. It is definitely not going to get anyone to start listening to or caring about you who already was not. If you want to be listened to and cared about, provide value - be someone of value, who is interesting, who has done something, who has something useful to share.

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Purely Hypothetical Business Model

What I'm about to describe is totally not something that someone is already doing with great success. There is not someone who is doing this right now and raking in a ton of money in the process. Definitely not.

I want to plant a little seed. Put the following questions at the back of your mind and let them ruminate a bit.

  • Why would somebody sell training equipment equivalent to a $40 loadable dumbbell handle and ~$70 worth of weight plates, for $800?
  • Why would somebody sell a training plan that you can only access for a few months for $80, and unlimited access to the same training plan for $100?

Before you get too excited about all the money you're going to make, know that this business plan isn't for everybody. There's a key component that makes it work that is non-negotiable - you need both academic and empirical credentials. You'll want to have at least a Masters degree in something relevant to fitness (physiotherapy is a really good one), as well as having worked with a person or group of people who are important, such as a high level athlete or sports team. It doesn't matter for how long or how successfully - you just need to factually be able to say that you've done it. This is very important and the plan collapses without it. Your baseline credibility must be (effectively, if not actually) unassailable.

In any business plan, you need to have a target demographic. Yours has the following characteristics:
  • Male
  • Consider themselves to have above average intelligence
  • Consider themselves to be scientific or evidence based minded
  • Have lived a generally sedentary life or are generally unfamiliar with physical activity and exertion, possibly due to an injury in the past
  • Generally have modest physical fitness goals
  • Generally have an aversion to high levels of exertion and physical development
  • Have probably tried to work out in the past and not got the results they wanted, and generally believe it was because of something they didn't know rather than something they didn't do
  • Has a broad, general fear of injury and doing things wrong
The second and third points are why the credentials are non-negotiable - half of the work of selling yourself as someone to trust will be done by your targets, on their own, just by knowing that you have those credentials to stand on. Think of Dr. Oz - The guy is demonstrably a raging quack and yet people still trust him because they trust "Dr.". The last point is why physiotherapy is a great candidate for an academic credential - it will help reassure them that you have the knowledge to keep them safe and takes down some of the barriers to selling themselves on you.

Now, for the execution.

The primary goal of this business plan is to create a rapport and trust relationship between you and your followers. You want your followers to consider your credibility as unassailable, and your information sacrosanct. You will be able to leverage that relationship to empty their wallets.

To start, you'll need to be producing YouTube videos regularly. YouTube is important for the following benefits:
  • It feels more like a personal interaction to have someone talking to you, visually.
  • It allows you to present information in dynamic and interesting ways, such as demonstrating exercises, being generally charismatic, making dramatic examples, or drawing on whiteboards.
  • It gives you a reasonable excuse to have your own physical development on display at nearly all times.
  • It occupies time in your followers' lives and therefore more of their headspace.
  • Likes and subscription numbers are effectively free marketing.
  • It can generate extra income in the form of ad revenue, though this is a very distant last in terms of importance.
Here are some guidelines for producing the kinds of videos that you'll need to meet your primary goal. Many of these are variations on the theme of Sharing Secret Knowledge. You are letting your followers in to the Inner Circle, where the Secrets that they failed by not knowing will be brought out of the darkness for them to use with great success. This is the feeling that you will be looking to inspire in your followers, but should never say outright. Your target demo considers itself too smart to fall for "One Weird Trick" (even though that's exactly what they want and is exactly what you'll give them), so make sure that's not how you come off.
  • "The Best Exercises For <Body Part>" - These are a goldmine of content. There are many muscles in the body, many ways to work them, and many variations on those exercises. Because your target demo is generally unfamiliar with exercise, you can get away with presenting exercises that are staples to the experienced but uncommon enough that they will be novel. You can reuse this general idea for the same muscle group by presenting it in different ways. You can do "these are the best", "you're probably not doing these", "here's some fun ones" and so on.
  • "STOP DOING <EXERCISE>" - You want to make sure to play on your followers' fears of injuring themselves or doing something that isn't optimal, so pick some common exercises and make videos about why they're actually harmful or not good and shouldn't be done, or should only be done with certain modifications. These types of videos will be especially useful to you if your academic credential is physiotherapy related.
  • "YOU'RE DOING <EXERCISE> WRONG" - A variant on the above, these are your bread and butter "One Weird Trick But Totally Not A One Weird Trick" videos.
  • "THE TRUTH ABOUT <TOPIC>" - Or other "mythconceptions" themed videos. You can stretch these really far simply by constructing a strawman that borders on unrealistic and attacking it. These will be the main opportunity for you to demonstrate that you are "No Nonsense" to your followers - that you are there to dispel the ridiculous myths that plague the fitness industry for them.
  • In general, you should strive to fill your videos with as much information as possible. Simple anatomical and biological information is a great candidate for this. Use established but uncommonly known terms for things frequently but not overwhelmingly. Remember - Your target demographic considers itself to be above average intelligence and will eat up content that makes them feel smart. You want to be feeding them information that they feel they can show off when talking to others, or use as talking points if they get into an argument. They will often completely overlook the fact that this information has very little actionable, practical value to it because they feel smarter by knowing it.
Now, what is this all for? I said earlier that you will be able to leverage the relationship you create with your followers to empty their wallets. Let's put it all together.

Obviously, you need to have products to sell. These should be extremely high profit-margin items as much as possible. Branded supplements, training routines, and diet programs are top tier here. Supplements are dirt cheap to create and can be marked up substantially. Training routines and diet programs can effectively be created once and sold to (tens of) thousands of people at enormous profit for minimal work. You can also delve into training equipment, marked up with the value of your name.

Many of your followers will not purchase your products, and that is by design. Those that don't pay you directly serve as living, breathing advertisements to bring in others who will, and they will do it because you made them feel like you gave them everything they need for free. That is why the rapport and trust relationship is so important. Your goal is not simply to create or reel in customers - it is to create an army of free, "organic" advertising for your products. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. When your followers are on fitness forums singing your praises, they drive more potential advertisers and customers towards you. And the whole time, they will be thanking you, not realizing that manipulating them into what they're doing is the real reason you did it. Every piece of content you've produced has been for the sole purpose of tricking people into selling themselves on either paying exorbitant prices for what you're selling, or being free advertising for you to find others that will.

The other way that you drive sales is through the good will factor. This is similar to how free-to-play games with microtransactions make some of their sales. Your followers will convince themselves that they owe you support (money) because of all the information (remember that last point from the YouTube section?) you've given them for free, out of the goodness of your heart. They might say things like "He told me all about this routine on his channel, but I bought it for the convenience and to support him". And then they will open their wallets and dump them into your bank account.


That was a bit of a long walk, wasn't it?

Do you remember what I asked you to ruminate on at the beginning?

  • Why would somebody sell training equipment equivalent to a $40 loadable dumbbell handle and ~$70 worth of weight plates, for $800?
  • Why would somebody sell a training plan that you can only access for a few months for $80, and unlimited access to the same training plan for $100?
You probably thought when you first read those questions that the answer was something like "Because they're a scumbag trying to rip people off". It is, but it's also not. The real answer is - Because they're a scumbag who knows how to manipulate people into being thankful that they were ripped off.

This is totally hypothetical, though. Totally.

Beginners: Think Less, Not More

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