Sunday, January 26, 2020

Why I’m Cutting Down on Artificial Sweeteners

I may have been wrong about artificial sweeteners. I’ve always been a big fan of them, because I love stuffing sweet things in my mouth, but also try to keep my daily calorie count somewhat reasonable.
Sweeteners also have an ideological draw—I love artificial things. I’m typing this on an artificial iPad, powered by artificial electricity, basking in artificial heat, under an artificial roof. So when I see people react with hostility to anything that isn’t “natural” (whatever that even means), I push back. You think artificial sweeteners are poison because Splenda packets aren’t plucked from the ground like potatoes? Well, then I’m gonna put Splenda on everything! I’ll sprinkle it on beef I don’t even care. Take that, hippy!
And in theory, my pettiness should be supported by science. If controlling weight is the goal, then all that matters is calories in and calories out, right? Sweeteners lead to fewer calories in, so they help control weight in a world where calories are frickin’ everywhere. That’s the theory.
The thing is, the best theory in the world is worthless without data. More and more data are coming out about artificial sweeteners, and the results often differ from what theory would predict.

Most data aren't conclusive. When you look at the whole population, people who use artificial sweeteners tend to be overweight. That’s just a correlation—maybe bigger people are trying to lose weight with sweeteners. It’s not evidence that sweeteners don’t work, but it’s a lack of evidence that sweeteners do work.
True experiments, in which people changed their intake of artificial sweeteners, would be more definitive if they showed an effect. Here’s a recent meta-analysis reviewing studies on artificial sweeteners, including randomized controlled trials. The researchers concluded:
Evidence from [randomized controlled trials] does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management.
So again, not evidence that they cause weight increases, or poison you, or have any negative effects. But also not evidence that they do have their intended effect: weight loss.
I’ve seen speculation and emerging research on why the theory doesn’t match up with the data. Some people think it’s a psychological thing—the classic “I had a Diet Coke, so I can order two Baconators instead of one” phenomenon. Some think it’s more biological, with sweeteners mixing up the critters in our guts so they suck at dealing with the calories we do consume.
Whatever the case, there’s simply a lack of evidence that artificial sweeteners help with weight loss, or have any other positive effects. When it comes to translating research into actual behavior, here’s where I’ve come down, personally, for now:
  • Artificial sweeteners won’t kill me, so I won’t avoid them. I’ll use up the packets and syrups that we have around the house.
  • But there’s no evidence that they’ll help me, either. That puts them on the same scientific level as any other bullshit health intervention, like eating organic food, fad diets, or acupuncture. I wouldn’t do those things, so why continue slurping down Splenda?
  • Therefore, I’ll reduce my intake of artificial sweeteners. I’ll use sugar when I need it, or better yet, just have fewer sweeter things overall. If I have the will power for that, it’ll almost certainly lead to fewer calories in, with no mysterious counteracting force.
That’s where I currently stand, but I’m a scientist, so I’ll keep updating my opinions and behaviour as new evidence comes out.
For now, I’m cutting down on artificial sweeteners.

This was originally posted on, where I sometimes post serious stuff.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019 In Review

Another year, another complete failure to blog.

That's not entirely true. I occasionally write over on Medium, and have good intentions to copy the posts over here to my main blog sometime, but then forget. My micro-press Forest City Pulp also gets occasional updates. Oh and I've started writing at the group blog Across the Board, where a bunch of other writers write.

But this is my personal blog, so let's get personal. This year was fine for me. The political and environmental turmoil in the world only highlights how incredibly lucky I am to have had a year to hold stead and stay comfortable.

Not that I accomplished nothing. Early in the year, I released Three Incidents at Foster Manor, which has been my most successful novel yet. I'm hoping to put something out in early 2020, but, you know, having a day job takes up a lot of time. That's been going well too though, and the company I've been doing brain science for is almost growing beyond the "startup" label. Cool. Cool cool.

My personal highlight of the year was our trip to Calgary and the Pacific Northwest, visiting real friends and also Bigfoot.

Oh, and I got a nice bike! I've become one of those bike guys, semi-obsessed with getting around on two wheels and giving cars the stink-eye. It does feel so much better to go places on a bike though, both because it makes me healthier and because it's just fun. More bike lanes in London please thanks bye.

Anyway, this is the time of year when I review all the stuff I liked in 2019. Here's what I spent my time and money on; maybe you'll find some stuff you missed, but probably not (I'm pretty much a normie).


As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the top 20 albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

20. Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
19. Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds
18. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
17. Bring Me the Horizon - amo
16. Orville Peck - Pony

15. Hozier - Wasteland, Baby!
14. Cage the Elephant - Social Cues
13. Backstreet Boys - DNA
12. Taylor Swift - Lover
11. half•alive - Now, Not Yet

10. Tool - Fear Inoculum - I first listened to this on headphones riding the Amtrak between Seattle and Portland, and it was a transcendent experience.
9. The Black Keys - "Let's Rock" - I cannot resist a David Lynch reference.
8. Mitski - Be the Cowboy - Ok I'll be the cowboy sounds good.
7. Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - William Eyelash.
6. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride - Did you know there was a character with a named pronounced like Phronk in the movie Father of the Bride? That's not where I got it though.

5. Alice Merton - MINT - As you may have noticed, albums by solo women were sort of my thing this year.
4. Ed Sheeran - No. 6 Collaborations Project - I listened to and tracked a lot of pop playlists on Spotify this year, and I suspect this album is only high on this list because each individual song was played endlessly on pop stations.
3. Flying Lotus - Flamagra - I don't actually remember much of this, but I guess I liked it? I think there is a track with David Lynch on this so maybe that's why it's here.
2. Puppy - The Goat - Sort of a metal Weezer, which I dig.
1. (Tie) Jade Bird - Jade Bird - omg I love her.
1. (Tie) Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated - If she comes out with an album, it's a safe bet it'll be high on this list.


I liked these shows:
  • The Boys
  • Broad City
  • Chernobyl
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
  • Doom Patrol
  • Explained
  • Game of Thrones
  • I Think You Should Leave
  • The Mandalorian
  • Our Planet
  • Perfume
  • Russian Doll
  • Schitt's Creek
  • Silicon Valley
  • Servant
  • Stranger Things
  • Succession
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Unnatural Selection
  • The Walking Dead
  • Watchmen


These are the best movies I saw in 2019. They may not have come out in 2019, big whoop. I'm just listing the movies I rated 4+ stars on Letterboxd, so go there for full reviews.
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • El Camino
  • Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
  • Free Solo
  • Holidays
  • Horror Noire
  • The Irishman
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Lords of Chaos
  • Love, Death and Robots
  • Marriage Story
  • Midsommar
  • Mom and Dad
  • Paddleton
  • The Perfection
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • Starfish
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Under the Silver Lake
  • Us
  • Venom
  • Wildling


These are the games I played and liked. Add me on Xbox Live or Nintendo to play with me. I couldn't get too into many new games this year. I think Xbox Game Pass has kinda ruined me—I usually try out a game for an hour or two, then, because I didn't pay extra for it, I don't feel the need to stick with it if I don't enjoy it enough to want to play it more than yet another game of Overwatch.

  • Baba Is You
  • Dead Cells
  • Fallout 76
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Overwatch
  • Ring Fit Adventure
  • Void Bastards

That's it! That's the year!