Friday, September 7, 2012

Good Scientists, Bad Scientists...

Mad Scientists: Zach Throckmorton on evolution, our feet, and what it means to be human:
D101: Dorsiflexing. That's awesome. Anything else that seems important to note?

[Zach Throckmorton]: Don't run barefoot! There are two main issues with barefoot running. The first is that no matter how thick your callouses might be, they're not as protective as the sole of a shoe. If you damage a ligament or tendon, you can permanently cripple yourself. Running barefoot also makes you susceptible to picking up gross parasites like hookworm and dracunculus. The second issue is biomechanical. Barefoot running tends to promote what's called 'midfoot striking,' where the midfoot hits the ground first instead of the heel. Midfoot striking is better/more natural for some people, but not everyone. People vary in how they run comfortably/naturally. If you are a natural heel striker (most people are), then it's a bad idea to force yourself into becoming a midfoot striker because your foot isn't used to barefoot running. It's a misconception that barefoot running is more 'natural' - we know from the archeological record that people have been wearing shoes (at least soft-soled sandal type shoes) for minimally the last 40,000 years.
OK. Let's start with some arithmetic:
"The oldest known human ancestor footprints, dated to 3.7 million years ago, reveal that some of the earliest members of our family tree walked fully upright with feet similar to ours, according to new research."
Those footprints were from bare feet, btw. I present the arithmetic visually, since that seems to be how Zach likes to work:

Percentage of time spent in each condition

So for most of human history, people have been barefoot. For 1.08% of human history, some, but not all, humans have been wearing shoes.
"A fad is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period, generally as a result of the behavior's being perceived as novel in some way. A fad is said to "catch on" when the number of people adopting it begins to increase rapidly. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone."
Which one is the fad, again?

I'll also note that all the science I've seen comparing barefoot to shod populations indicates that barefoot people tend to have much healthier feet, and that some of the variations that Zach mentions are not natural, but are the result of deformation introduced by shoes.  If Zach ever gets to this page, he can start here with some of the science on the topic.

Oh, and there's virtually no such thing as a "natural" heel striker while running.