Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Crisis in Nutritional Science

I've mentioned John P.A. Ioannidis on my pages many times before (the first, I think).  He's the author of what’s widely quoted as one of the most downloaded papers in history, “Why Most Published Research Findings are False 2”, in which he presents data that as much as 70% of published science is wrong.

Last year, he extended his purview to probably the richest source of bad science, nutritional epidemiology, in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Bottom line, this field has got to be fixed because it is just so far from good science that it’s dangerous. Not only is it endangering peoples’ health, it’s ruining confidence in science as a way of finding out how the world works. You can read and download the paper (2 page pdf) here.  The unusual part of getting to this article is that I bounced there from Watts Up With That, a post by frequent guest author Kip Hansen, "Epidemiology, Diet Soda, and Climate Science".  You should RTWT. 

As I always do, some quotes to get you to read it.
In recent updated meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies, almost all foods revealed statistically significant associations with mortality risk.  Substantial deficiencies of key nutrients (e.g., vitamins), extreme over consumption of food, and obesity from excessive calories may indeed increase mortality risk.  However, can small intake differences of specific nutrients, foods, or diet patterns with similar calories causally, markedly, and almost ubiquitously affect survival?
Ioannidis' clear thinking comes across very clearly here.  He's saying that when they looked at epidemiological nutrition studies, almost every food item looked at had “statistically significant associations with mortality risk” or in other words, everything we eat is killing us faster and sooner, or making us live longer, and he asks if that's even possible.  Everything?  Nothing is neutral or has no effect?

Perhaps my favorite paragraph from the whole article (emphasis added):
Assuming the meta-analyzed evidence from cohort studies represents life span–long causal associations, for a baseline life expectancy of 80 years, eating 12 hazelnuts daily (1 oz) would prolong life by 12 years (i.e., 1 year per hazelnut), drinking 3 cups of coffee daily would achieve a similar gain of 12 extra years, and eating a single mandarin orange daily (80 g) would add 5 years of life.  Conversely, consuming 1 egg daily would reduce life expectancy by 6 years, and eating 2 slices of bacon (30 g) daily would shorten life by a decade, an effect worse than smoking.  Could these results possibly be true?
Before you order your yearly 23 pounds of hazelnuts, hold on a minute.  It stretches credulity to think all of those could be true.  One year of extra life for every hazelnut eaten daily?  Or 6 years less life for one egg eaten daily? What happens if you have one hazelnut and and one egg daily?  Do the effects cancel?  Does only one year cancel, so you only die 5 years sooner?  These answer are the result of the way these meta-analyses work; they find spurious correlations.  You might recall an article I did on the King of Junk Food Science (where the adjective "junk" modifies science, not food) and a link to a FiveThirtyEight column where they post funny spurious correlations they found.  In these nutritional studies, they frequently study "all-cause mortality", but the top causes of mortality include accidents (#3) and medical mistakes (usually left out of the rankings, but numerically could be more than accidents, taking #3).  How could they be improving mortality dramatically without affecting those to some degree? 
Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250 000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300 000 edible plants alone. Seemingly similar foods vary in exact chemical signatures (e.g., more than 500 different polyphenols). Much of the literature silently assumes disease risk is modulated by the most abundant substances; for example, carbohydrates or fats. However, relatively uncommon chemicals within food, circumstantial contaminants, serendipitous toxicants, or components that appear only under specific conditions or food preparation methods (e.g., red meat cooking)may be influential. Risk-conferring nutritional combinations may vary by an individual’s genetic background, metabolic profile, age, or environmental exposures. Disentangling the potential influence on health outcomes of a single dietary component from these other variables is challenging, if not impossible.
Dr. Ioannidis concludes nutritional epidemiology is intrinsically unreliable.  It produces results that cannot be considered causal.  I hope/trust that's enough to get you interested in reading the article because I can't do it much justice without well exceeding the limits of TL:DR.  I recommend the version on WUWT rather than the original JAMA paper, if you're only going to read one.  Author Kip Hansen shows the mess that is nutritional epidemiology and then compares the field to climate science, another field with an incredible number of variables that may or may not interact with each other.
Similarly, for climate science, the object of study, the Earth’s climate system is not only exceptionally complex, but also chaotic.  First, we have to understand that, as we see in nutrition science, climate is comprised of hundreds of interacting components, each changing on time scales ranging from seconds to centuries, each being integral influencing and causal factors for the others — all correlated in ways we often (almost always) do not fully understand.  And, as in nutrition science, almost all climate variables are correlated with one another; thus, if one variable is found to be correlated to some weather/climate  outcome, many other variables will also yield significant associations in the huge present-time and historical data sets relating to Earth’s weather and climate.

Thus we find the situation, unacknowledged by most of the climate science field, that [paraphrasing Ioannidis] “Disentangling the potential influence on medium to long range climate outcomes of a single climatic factor, such as atmospheric GHG concentrations,  from these myriad other variables is challenging, if not impossible” based simply on the complexity of the climate itself.

John Ioannidis - Stanford University photo


  1. Ya know ... "food" is a slow-acting poison. It'll kill you if you put that stuff in your body for 80 years or so.


  2. Hadn't noticed you allowed comments w/o a Giggle acct.

    1. I try to be open as they'll allow. I tried to turn off Captcha but it won't let me. Then I read that Gooooogle is using it to train their AI to recognize things.

      My persistent problem is that I get spam comments to posts going back 5-10 years. They're bizarre, obviously intended to flatter or provoke or something, and they hit certain posts constantly. Every stinkin' day, sometimes a few times in a day. Only some posts, though. I moderate all comments for posts older than two weeks and deleting them on sight is all I can do.

  3. It has become really clear that atmospheric science is insufficient to describe climate. But almost all climate scientists, or at least those that are scientists, are atmospheric scientists. To describe climate we must include helioseismology, cosmic motion, astrophysics, plate tectonics and oceanography at a minimum. Not only do none of our current models include that, we don't know how to include that.

    We are just starting to understand at a prior ice age might have been caused in part by exploding asteroids. We still don't know the reason for our current ice age. The earth was mostly ice free for 250 million years before that.

  4. Slogged my way through WUWT. Both, nutritional and climatic so-called "sciences" are a hoot. There's no way one size fits all. Besides, in their studies they left out the continuous degradation of nutrients in vegetables and the geoengineering of the skies.

    Remember the times when carrots tasted like carrots (not like water) and there were genuine, natural clouds in a blue sky?

    I think, I'm being nostalgic, but the world hasn't improved as far as I can see.

    To guess is cheap,
    to guess wrongly is expensive.
    Old Chinese proverb.

    In this case 'their guesses' about AGW, sold as scientific fact, prove out to be very expensive to us deplorables. But, what else is new?

    1. Remember the times when carrots tasted like carrots (not like water) and there were genuine, natural clouds in a blue sky?

      The first one is becoming a research interest of mine. Everyone talks about fewer minerals in the soil, especially magnesium. But elements don't turn into each other so where do they go? I've never heard anyone talk about the ocean suddenly has so much more magnesium from pollution runoff.

      Magnesium is at the heart of every chlorophyll molecule, so if there was no magnesium, all the plants would die, and if there were lots less magnesium they leaves would be pale, sickly green. I don't see it.

      Personally, I never liked carrots, so I'm the last guy to talk to about that, but I'd wonder if there were different varieties being grown today for better shipping qualities or things like that. As for natural clouds in a blue sky, I see them every day. The sky is different shades of blue depending on the time of year and the time of day. I also have to recognize that being an old guy, my color vision isn't as good as it used to be so it's going to look different to me.

    2. The clouds are formed naturally, except for contrails, which are a natural reaction to something moving quickly through moisture-laden air.

      Carrots taste the same, if you're eating the same variety of carrot, grown in the same soil. Farmers go through fads just like clothing manufacturers do. The carrots of today are not the same varieties as the carrots of decades ago. And we get a lot of food from central and south America now.

    3. RE: "contrails, which are a natural reaction to something moving quickly through moisture-laden air." McChuck

      Contrails are formed from HOH, a product of combustion, leaving an internal combustion motor (piston or turbine) into a region of the atmosphere where ice crystals can form, typically 25,000 to 40,000 feet in altitude.

      You described a variety of a "shock wave cloud."

      Dan Kurt

  5. Concerning the so-called 'natural clouds' occuring in our skies may I refer you to the excellent website of Dane Wigington www.geoengineering.org where he has been exposing chem-trails and SRM (solar radiation management) experiments for years. You just have to open your eyes and really look at the sky sometimes.

    Ja, my 'watery' carrots are probably due to hybrid breeding for size, colour and to survive transport. But also, almost any meat you buy is reduced in volume by at least 25% (nail me) when you cook it due to the water content. At least up here in the Canadian boonies.

    Another interesting thing about food and nutrition:

    Last but not least about magnesium, don't know if you've already discovered it:


    My guess is if Magnesium works its way up from the soil to the crop it certainly is not disappearing into the ocean. There come the fertilizers and pesticides. Gotta rotate what is being grown and avoid excessive chemicals on the soil which will kill it in the end anyways. Oh well, deep subjects all around.