Saturday, May 21, 2022

Another Steaming Pile of Junk Science

In my personal "war on junk science" I can't really influence anyone who's doing the science, I can only hope to point the junk being passed on out there.  Maybe if enough of us hassle the agencies paying for this crap, things might get better.  Hah!  I make myself laugh sometimes.  We won't affect those agencies. 

In essence, this is a followup to a post from just over one year ago, The War on Meat and is based on a long post called "Why are We Basing Food Policy on Black Box Data?" from Nina Teicholz at her substack, the Unsettled Science newsletter.  Going from memory here, Nina was newspaper journalist in her early career.  At some point, her newspaper assigned her to be the food correspondent, sort of a "secret restaurant critic".  At some point, she couldn't help but notice how much better food prepared at some restaurants was and somehow learned it was because of the natural, real butter and cream they used in sauces.  Like most people, she grew up fat phobic and was afraid of it.  This led to her researching and writing a book called The Big Fat Surprise which is just full of stories of the kind of crap that goes on in food science (I've often thought if I treated test data on how some electronic system performed like Ancel Keyes treated the cholesterol vs. heart disease risk data in his famous "Seven Countries Study," I'd be in jail.)  That led her to become one of the founders and first president of The Nutrition Coalition, a grass-roots organization of people trying to clean up the US Dietary Guidelines.  

It shouldn't be a surprise, just as everywhere else and every little thing the Fed.Gov touches, industries and lobbying organizations pushing their particular agendas, spreading money around directly or indirectly.  

It's a bit on the long side, but definitely worth a read.  As I usually do, I'll post some highlights here to tease going there to read the whole thing.  The main topic is in serious errors in a study called the Global Burden of Disease study, which like so much other junk science, tries to link the harm done to people by their diets.  A note from epidemiologist John P.A. Ioannidis goes particularly well here; so well it could have been written about this study, but wasn't. 

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?

As we said then, how could everything have “statistically significant associations with mortality risk”?  How could everything either lengthen or shorten our lives and nothing be benign?  That's what the GBD study is looking like.  Back to Nina Teicholz:

It turns out that a highly influential 2019 claim—that no amount of unprocessed red meat is safe for health—was completely inaccurate, according to a statement in March by the authors of the Global Burdens of Disease study (GBD), an on-going project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Two years earlier, in 2017, these same authors had judged red meat to be the least likely cause of death among 15 risk factors analyzed. Then, in 2019, red-meat’s risk jumped 36-fold. A forthcoming publication will correct these errors, and the risk will drop significantly, said the lead author Christopher Murray, in an interview. Despite the inaccuracies, however, he says he does not intend to correct or retract the paper.
GBD has also been a collaborator with the World Health Organization since 2018, and its numbers are increasingly being used by the United Nations, including work to reduce meat consumption as part of the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals.” The most prominent of these groups, EAT-Lancet, for which Murray was a “Commissioner,” aims for everyone on the planet to eat zero to 2.4% of calories as red meat.

Altering the world’s diet along these lines is intended to stop global warming, yet anyone can agree that global policy affecting human health ought to have a foundation in reliable data. With the still-rising epidemics of obesity and diabetes, we can’t afford false steps. In this light, GBD’s wildly fluctuating food-risk estimates look perilous.

It's not just their estimates on red meat that are problematic. 

In fact, other food risks calculated by GBD also changed dramatically from 2017 to 2019. The risk of salt dropped by 40%, while risks attributed to diets low in fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables, seafood omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids declined by more than 50%.

One of the sources Teicholz links to is an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, known widely as JAMA telling the story of the attacks on a different medical journal's editor by a group calling itself the True Health Initiative (THI).  This other journal, Annals of Internal Medicine was only tangentially involved, getting some letters critical of the GBD studies.  The editor noted the hostility and tone of the THI emails (apparently she got 2000 copies of the same email) was the worst she's ever gotten.  

This gets into the way the anti-meat sources resemble all the leftist/cancel culture stories we hear.  There have been doctors who have had their lives ruined for not following the accepted stories.  When the stories are wrong and need to be corrected, groups like THI fight like mad.  Everyone knows the line that goes: "if a conservative doesn't want to eat meat, they don't eat it; if a liberal doesn't want to eat meat meat, they demand that nobody eat it and the world stop producing it."

Go read. 


  1. Most nutrition 'science' is junk science. Like the food pyramid. The attack on fats. The attack on meats. The attack on wheat (really, if wheat is sooo sooo bad, why is it the food of any civilization, hmmm????) And so forth and so on.

    Like Diabetes. Type I and II. Do you know what used to be the treatment for diabetes before insulin and other modern treatments (like artificial gila monster spit, no, really, ugly lizard spit...)? An all meat and some veg but no carb diet. Mostly meat. Meat broth, meat chunks, meats meats meats...

    Funny also that the Party of SCIENCE is so anti-scientific method.

    Now do the Beepocalypse. Which isn't.

    1. Those behind all this have fond memories of the Holodomr.

    2. Type 2 diabetes runs in my family - my (late) mom had it, my brother does, and I was on the pre-diabetic path. Until going fully keto in 2015. Meat and above-ground (mostly) green things. My brother finally got the message a year and a half ago, and dropped most or all of his meds, including long-acting insulin, putting is A1C down firmly in the normal range. Since the Dietary Guidelines around '80, obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. Obvious correlation, but they'll fight like crazy over the cause.

      There's a book or two to write (and have been written) over this.

    3. Then there are the things that affect diabetes that have nothing to do with diet. Like having an infection (sinus, tooth, latest bug) or being constipated or having diarrhea or being stressed or having a stroke or an aneurism or other major body injury.

      All cause one's blood sugars to climb, sometimes radically. But because one is overweight the docs and the ER will assume one has just cleaned out the candy aisle at the local convenience store and will not start looking for other things until either further complications show up (like that projectile vomiting from an aneurism or other head injury) or someone with a lick of common sense (something hard to find in the medical industry) finally listens to the actual presentation by the significant other of the affected individual.

  2. Is there a perfect human diet? Perhaps there is more truth in the old saying "One man's meat is another man's poison." Isn't it reasonable that given differences in ethnic groups, family makeup and individual variations, each person may have a different "best diet?"

    1. Not according to our Betters. Soylent Green was not meant to be an instruction manual.

    2. Due to bizarre metabolism, I can't eat: dairy, fruit, or anything from the onion/garlic family. Haven't had these things for over 25 years. Vitamin pills work just fine. Vinegar is your friend.

  3. Soylent Green - a dysfunctional country run by incompetents, reduced to eating processed people, is set in 2022. Coincidence?

  4. Your diet doesn't 'cause' diabetes. Your diet treats diabetes. But diabetes itself is genetic. "pre-diabetes" is a made up term which simply means ypou have some of the same markers as a diabetic person. It does NOT mean you have diabetes or will ever have diabetes. The term is so meaningless that if your doctor uses it you should change doctors.

  5. One of the workout/health proponents advocating for a meat centric diet on a u-tube channel points out that a group studied that had a clear timeline of when they switched from hunter/gatherers to agriculture showed a dramatic drop in height of both sexes, judging from grave studies. About a 4 to 5 inch loss. That is normally a clear indication of nutritional deficiency in childhood. I've seen that same problem in my own family history.

    1. I recall reading that in Scientific American back in the '80s; maybe '90s. The thing that stuck out with me more was that skeletons showed evidence of arthritis that wasn't seen in the hunter/gatherers. There were women with arthritis in their feet that was attributed to the position they would kneel in to grind grain.

      However, I've heard or read so many people who have healed conditions that bothered them for years by going carnivore that when I hear the greenies talking about eliminating cattle I can feel the pain it would cause.