Quite so, but we do need to get this the right way around

Piers Mitchell, a paleopathologist at Cambridge University who worked on the study, said ancient latrines could become a key source of biomolecular information and allow scientists to explain how modern lifestyles affect human health.

“If we are to determine what constitutes a healthy microbiome for modern people, we should start looking at the microbiomes of our ancestors who lived before antibiotic use, fast food, and the other trappings of industrialisation,” he said.

Sure, let us compare ancient shit with new in order to find out. But:

One of the big challenges in working with an archaeological dig was differentiating what was faeces and what was dirt. However, researchers were able to identify a wide range of bacteria, parasitic worms, and other organisms known to inhabit the intestines of humans.

Imagine, say, that antibiotics cause asthma. I’m sure there’s someone out there that claims they do. It is not then true to say that we want to stop using the antibiotics in order to avoid the asthma. Rather, we need to balance the costs of the asthma against the benefits of the absence of parasitic worms.

After all, that we live longer and healthier now is rather proof that we’ve a better or more health microbiome these days.

20 thoughts on “Quite so, but we do need to get this the right way around”

  1. Er…it’s not antibiotics you take to get rid of parasitic worms. You use a wormer. You not kept dogs?

  2. It doesn’t necessarily show we have a better/healthier microbiome, rather that we are healthier regardless of whether the microbiome has changed for good or ill. It might be worth seeing if it could be improved, but not at the expense of those trappings of modernity that have lead to the greater health.

  3. I’m always sceptical of the idea that ancient people were in possession of some kind of profound wisdom that has been forgotten. Before we had the scientific method, people had to learn from experience but had little idea about cause and effect. A lot of what was supposedly knowledge involved making stuff up and then claiming that it was true.

  4. It sounds like the researchers involved are mostly careful to call this proof of concept rather than drawing any conclusions yet. Piers Mitchell presumably got cherry picked for quotation because he was willing to expose his pre-conceived ideas about the standard bugbears. The co-leader of the study was much more restrained.

    I wonder how they’re going to control for lack of information on dead babies that never got around to shitting in the latrine?

  5. “A lot of what was supposedly knowledge involved making stuff up and then claiming that it was true.”

    Aah, the Murphy technique.

  6. The Hygiene Hypothesis is no longer a hypothesis, it’s a theory. Disinfected water supplies, tarmac, bleach, frequent bathing and so on have side effects. Polio struck later in life with more catastrophic effects, allergy incidence has exploded.
    There’s a large element of the Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly in modern medical practice. All flies are assumed to be super aggressive.

  7. that we live longer and healthier now

    Longer, yes. Healthier? Honestly dunno.

    How many adult men in 2020AD have the energy to carry 80lbs of weapons and equipment for 20 miles, fight a bunch of wild, bloodthirsty Gauls to the death, then relax by building fortifications and drinking posca?

    True, I reckon a lot of the difference is due to the horrifying levels of infant mortality before the 20th century, but our ancestors would still probably think we’re a bunch of pansies.

  8. ‘key source of biomolecular information’

    Sounds more like a hobby than science.

    ‘and allow scientists to explain how modern lifestyles affect human health.’

    Approval for projects requires acting like what they are doing is important. Many such statements, like this one, are just silly. But they don’t need to impress us; they need only impress over educated academics, and GUARDIAN WRITERS.

  9. A lot of what was supposedly knowledge involved making stuff up and then claiming that it was true.

    Are you describing climate “science”?

  10. Nah, allergies are rising because global warming causes plants to make more pollen.

    It’s easy to cherrypick the facts to fit any theory.

  11. *digs up his list of known symbionts, saprophytes, and parasites of the human body*
    *limits that to intestinal flora*
    *notices that half of the organisms, especially bacteria, can switch from benevolent/indifferent to malignant depending on circumstance*
    *from another set of articles, notices that the effect of intestinal flora on general health is …highly disputed, other than the fact that if you don’t have one, you’re basically f*cked*

    Yeaaahh… good luck with finding anything conclusive from a general survey.
    But a good way to secure funding in perpetuity…..

  12. I do worry about the horrid effect the Greens will have on the archaeologists of the future. All that lovely shit and garbage destroyed before it can be dug up. Worse than ISIS they are.

  13. Don’t worry, Boganboy..

    Those archeologists will be studying post marks, wondering what happened to us that we went from concrete buildings back to wooden sheds within a generation or two.

    If we let the Greens have the field…

  14. My poor old Mum used to use the expression: ‘As far-fetched as shit from China’. But Chinese shit that we think is full of Chow Mein and Dim Sum is really full of bits of Pangolin, Bat, and Panda.

  15. Yep. I’m sure historic droppings from our ancestors will prove how much healthier they were than us despite the dysentry, cholera, premature deaths, worms and other parasites, legions of infections, leprosy, bubonic plague and sepsis

    Mind you this is how the green fascists want is all to live so it could be quite insteuctive

  16. Was reading about some historic reinactment groups who tried out the Roman legionaries, they found it took them all day just to dig and set up their nightly fortifications without putting in a days marching beforehand
    Taking it all apart as proscribed left them hardly any time to march the next day

  17. After all, that we live longer and healthier now is rather proof that we’ve a better or more health microbiome these days.

    Is it, though?

    People may be living longer on average but it is increasingly the case that they suffer series medical conditions for their last decades – i.e. they are also dying longer – and, despite being propped up by a variety of medications, are unable to get around and enjoy life. The real trick is to live not just a long but also a healthy life, followed by as brief an exit as possible. Falling out of a hotel room in Bangkok perhaps.

    And there’s no doubt that this is overwhelmingly a nutritional issue.

    Also, the microbiome is not just about longevity: it appears to impact a broad range of chronic conditions which will seriously reduce quality of life.

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