June 25, 2014
While We Are On The Subject Of Empirical Research....
Posted by David Zaring

...I'll weigh in with a holiday-style observation about this article in the really improving 538 on the possibility that minimalist running shoes are better for you than regular shoes.  It's by an excellent and serious economist, and yes, it's just a column, not rigorous, peer-reviewed work.  But the argument is that, if you just look at studies, it's possible that minimalist running shoes, or barefoot running, is better for you than the kind with shoes.

Now I enjoy running, and firmly believe that you can really overdo it on the space age shoe technology.  But this is an argument in the face of two facts:

  • One of the companies selling minimalist running shoes settled a case for millions of dollars facing claims that it had oversold the health benefits of minimalist running shoes.
  • At a first approximation, 0.0% of runners who run lots of miles per week use these shoes.  Sure, some race in so-called "racing flats."  But those aren't minimalist, and they don't train in them.  Go see how many of the 35,000 people finishing the New York marathon this year are running in these shoes.  Isn't that a bit of a market test?

The problem with trusting the data is that no one ever collects all the relevant data; I suspect that the above data is more relevant than the health studies.  I predict that minimalist running shoe sales will crater in the next three years.  So note this in your calendar, and email me in 2017 if I turn out to be wrong.  But I think the jury is no longer out on the health benefits of minimalist running shoes and that arguing otherwise just makes empiricists look naive.

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