Reflections On The Apparent Demise of The Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS)

Here’s the post that came across email yesterday.

After four years of successfully staging annual Ancestral Health Symposiums, we regretfully announce that AHS15 will not be held. We were looking forward to it so much that we began planning for it before AHS14 took place, but despite our jump on the process, we hit several speedbumps along the way that eventually contributed to the event not coming together.

Apparently, they’re looking to ramp up their Journal of Evolution and Health which, frankly, with a single published issue in 2013 is a journal in name only.

I can’t say I’m surprised and moreover, I’ll be surprised if this isn’t really the prelude to the eventual end. Having an ancestral health symposium is a decent idea and I thought AHS11, the inaugural, was really great. I still recall Stephan Guyenet commenting “this is like being in the Internet.”

I also attended AHS12 at Harvard and am particularly proud of my presentaton at that event. It turns out I came within a “cunt hair” of being disinvited. I can’t divulge the source, but long after those events, someone forwarded the entire email thread between those board or committee members charged with the decision (I’d called some women, including Melissa McEwan, a very bad word on Twitter). Ironically, it was Seth Roberts and Melissa McEwan herself who intervened to keep me on the schedule.

That knowledge gave me a bit of added perspective on why, after this post slamming comments by an AHS12 volunteer, McEwan launched a Tumblr campaign against me.

I did not attend the last two symposiums, nor did I submit a proposal for a presentation. Many reasons, but I guess primarily, it comes down to my observation that it was increasingly becoming a giant exercise in lots of confirmation bias, or, simply a get-together where the same speakers, year after year, offer up essentially the same general narrative.

At AHS11 there were really no vendor tables I can recall—just the kind souls at Grassland Beef offering up endless free samples of their wares in the form of beef jerky and pemmican.  Contrast that with AHS12 were there were a dozen vendor tables—a good percentage of them were for various “paleo” treats and bars—along with the embarrassing irony of conducting a “safe starch” panel in the other room (hosted by Jimmy Moore) were its tantamount to a potentially taboo subject. Go get your “paleo” bars, but be very careful not to get taken with the idea that our ancestors ever ate a starch granule.

In retrospect, the iron grip control the LC community in general has exercised over AHS is possibly what’s killing it now. And if that’s the case, justice is served.

I looked closely at the program for AHS14, hoping to see lots of presentations exploring the rapidly burgeoning science on the gut biome. Nope, just a few tokens, the rest largely the same old LC schtick that generally ignores the biome.

In short, the ancestral community has evolved past the Ancestral Health Society. Hopefully, Keith and Michelle Norris will integrate whatever lessons they perceive from this in going forward with their Paleo f(x) Conference. I wish them well and in fact, months ago began hearing whispers that lots of people were seeing more value there.

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  1. Tim Maitski on January 29, 2015 at 17:58

    Richard, Not related to this post but I wanted to share a product I just saw on Shark Tank. I immediately thought of you and how it would complement your Animal Farts.

    This couple invented underwear with a charcoal filter that takes the smell out of farts.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 29, 2015 at 18:29

      Yea, I’ve heard of it.

      Totally ruins the love you build for one another by ripping and big one and holding you wife’s head under the covers.

    • foxylibrarian on January 29, 2015 at 23:20

      Supposedly Ernest Borgnine’s fondness for Dutch Ovening Ethel Merman was the reason their marriage only lasted 34 days…

    • Jed on February 1, 2015 at 19:45

      Ernest didn’t need a good set of gut bugs to live into his 90’s. He just needed his right hand and some good mental images.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 1, 2015 at 20:58

      It was last night or the other night, one of my relative moms was talking about how her son “discoverd” his thing.

      I overherd, leaned over and said “and we never stop playing with it.”

      Got lots of lafs, though they were all my guests, so co formation bias in terms of playing with your own willy.

  2. John on January 29, 2015 at 19:17

    I wish I went to the first one. It was, in a way, a gathering of all my heroes, given how much “paleo” I was reading then.

    I remember reading a post by Jimmy Moore talking about how he wasn’t losing weight incorporating some safe starches. He said he was adding 4 tablespoons of butter to his potato.

    • Hegemon on February 2, 2015 at 08:50

      I started Paleo in 2007, and 7 years later some of these Paleo “gurus” are STILL talking about their struggles with weight loss. Put down the fork, dumbass.

  3. Jew Lee Us C Czar on January 29, 2015 at 20:57

    Dude, this takes me back. When Paleos were Paleos and everyone else was a government titty fucked carb binger addicted to sugar.

    First Matt Stone broke rank, followed by Don Matesz,who made the most glorious transformation of them all. Then there was Stephen Guyenet, but he was never a carb hater so no surprise there.

    Jimmy Moore = fucked by cause of stupidity
    Kurt Harris = had $ and toyed with this as a hobby
    Carbsane = writes good stuff but very melodramatic
    Whole 30 = Live like a fucking monk and love it
    Martin Berkan = lean but alcoholic
    Lyle McDonald = crazy and has since apologized
    Mark Sisson = slick polished corporate Paleo
    Wooo = super crazy fucked needs help
    Petro Hyperlipid = seems smart, but protons and shit?

    Fun times in the blogosphere. Let’s raise a glass to a great many more years of this. I’ve been reading these blogs since 2007 and I love every minute of it. Keep up the debate my friends!

    • Skyler Tanner on January 30, 2015 at 04:43

      Whole 30: live like a monk? That’s the most hilarious thing I’ve heard all week, mostly because it’s so wrong it’s not even wrong.

  4. John on January 30, 2015 at 07:45

    The thing that’s great about the internet is that you can find people using practically ANY dietary strategy- Low Carb, Low Fat, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Primal, Calorie Restriction, Calorie Excess, Ray Peat, IF, Juice Cleanse, Master Cleanse, Pure Carnivore, Weston A Price, GAPS, Slow Carb, and the list just goes on and on. While the idea of gathering together “The Best of The Best” is certainly helpful as a starting point, it’s inherently limiting, and at some point, will most likely be an exercise in confirmation bias. There’s something to be learned from that entire list, even if it’s what not to do.

    • Jesrad on February 7, 2015 at 22:59

      To put it simply: free men don’t stick together, they pull in every direction. Can’t herd cats and all that. The problem of AHS might be that it mimicked too much of the methods of the establishment it was fighting. A “crowd wisdom” movement can’t fit into a specialized peer-review journal and annual colleagues’ formal meeting format maybe ? The whole thing may have been doomed the very moment a committee formed inside it…

  5. Edster on January 30, 2015 at 15:30

    Yhep, ironically it’s turned into tribalism. Time to move on. Something I heard on the radio this morning, how the human virome plays a huge part in the body’s health. And strangely enough there’s a negative correlation between bacterial diversity and number of viruses. Seems that a damaged gut can result in more pathogenic viruses and hence diseases. Would be great if the “Terrible Threesome” could dive into this one. Just think of how big the picture would then become!

  6. Wenchypoo on January 31, 2015 at 06:30

    it was increasingly becoming a giant exercise in lots of confirmation bias, or, simply a get-together where the same speakers, year after year, offer up essentially the same general narrative.

    This is how Jimmy Moore’s cruises and podcasts are looking these days. I get more new stuff just reading the science and health news! I gave up on the Paleo Rodeo because it now comes out intermittently, instead of weekly, and hardly any of it applies to me any more.

    I guess that’s the crux of the problem: science, and news in general, has caught up with and surpassed them all, so now they seem irrelevant as hell.

    • David on February 3, 2015 at 03:14

      I’d really like hearing Jimmy interview someone with an opposing viewpoint (someone who is not just on the show to promote a new book)

    • Wenchypoo on February 3, 2015 at 09:32

      Just the other day, I read an article about some university researchers finding NAD+ mimics the effects of a VLC diet with ketosis…there goes Jimmy’s income! Ketosis in a pill–you knew that was coming, right? To make matter worse, this NAD+ has been around for some time, but (til now) hasn’t received much attention. Now this university is going to PATENT a special combo of the ingredients, calling it “the fountain of youth in lengthening telomeres.” So now NAD+ is going to have a brand name, and a hefty price tag to go with it for the next decade (until the patent runs out).

      As for Jimmy interviewing someone with an opposing viewpoint, there was one guy from the Ornish camp who became very vehement with Jimmy (to the point of shrieking into the microphone)–needless to say, the interview was cut short, and he was never invited back. He has (about a month ago) killed off his forums, killed off his “ask the experts” segments (about mid-2014), and moved what’s left to Facebook, where he still isn’t seeing much activity. His Friday “Low Carb Conversations” is still up and running, but they discuss stuff that’s a week old–the rest of the world has moved on! The writing’s on the wall–I just don’t know if HE sees it.

    • David on February 3, 2015 at 18:19

      I didn’t notice he closed down the forums. I saw his blog attacked Chris Kresser a few months ago. I heard the Dean Ornish and McDougall interviews but they were so condescending, it was hard to listen to.

  7. Sean II on January 31, 2015 at 10:36


    Happy birthday and many more returns.

    The entire Paleo movement seemed destined from the start to end up being another diet label for folks to get an easy way to health.

    If I recall correctly, at the second AHS there was a guy who pointed out the similarities/differences between primitive HGs and moderns and how we all still carry very similar blueprints. What I thought then was missing was looking closer at those HG lives and what health they were truly enjoying.

    Not that I think they have attained optimal health but we are fairly certain they are not dying from diseases of civilisation. The AHS did not seem to look to learn much from those lifestyles but rather got bogged down in the chemistry and biology labs of today.

    With that approach it is not a far step to create recipes for Paleo meals. One commenter went so far as to say we can feed the entire population from well researched Paleo food made in factories because there you can control the ingredients best. This misses the point.

    Human bodies are very good at consistently working towards balanced health in a random environment. Having a sanitised packaged Paleo meal at set times to suit your 9-5 work schedule is kind of like a hack. Just.

    The AHS always had the air to me of “let’s get together to bash out THE FORMULA for the world to live by.” When that is sorted, what’s the next step? Take it to market or to Washington?

    Your mantra of sea level to mountain top, equator to pole does not only relate to what’s available to put on the plate but to the countless approaches to life that the human mind can create given even freedom to face reality.

  8. GTR on February 1, 2015 at 12:30

    As an partially related alternative, at least in the topic around the Paleo:

    Example presentations about nutrition:

  9. Jane Karlsson on February 1, 2015 at 04:26

    The Paleo movement was doomed from the start because of a mistake made by anthropologists. They found lesions in the bones of early agriculturalists and thought they were due to iron deficiency as a consequence of eating grains instead of meat. We know now that these lesions could not have been due to iron deficiency.

    Porosities in the outer table of the cranial vault (porotic hyperostosis) and orbital roof (cribra orbitalia) are among the most frequent pathological lesions seen in ancient human skeletal collections. Since the 1950s, chronic iron-deficiency anemia has been widely accepted as the probable cause of both conditions. Based on this proposed etiology, bioarchaeologists use the prevalence of these conditions to infer living conditions conducive to dietary iron deficiency, iron malabsorption, and iron loss from both diarrheal disease and intestinal parasites in earlier human populations. This iron-deficiency-anemia hypothesis is inconsistent with recent hematological research that shows iron deficiency per se cannot sustain the massive red blood cell production that causes the marrow expansion responsible for these lesions. …

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