180 Dinosaurs Can’t Be Wrong, Can They? – Call for BMJ to Retract Criticism of Dietary Guidelines

You can’t challenge the status quo without resistance. The BMJ recently published a harsh criticism of the obsolete and unscientific government advice to avoid saturated fat.

Now a big group of experts is calling for the retraction of this criticism, because of numerous “errors”. In fact there are no less than 180 people, many of them prominent scientists with long careers behind them, signing the letter. And 180 dinosaurs can’t be wrong, can they?

The low-fat diet is dying. There’s no good health reason to avoid natural saturated fat, like butter. Most informed people know that now, most people that is… except for the aging experts in charge.

Two ways to shut your critics up

There are two favored tactics of people in charge who happen to be wrong, when they want to silence their critics. Number one is appeal to authority. They are running the show, so they must be right. Right? Why get 180 signatures to a letter? The number is clearly over the top (while still only a tiny percentage of all the nutrition researchers out there).

The second favored tactic is attacking the critic instead of the message (ad hominem attacks). This includes mentioning that your critic has written a book on the subject, as well as finding any little error or perceived error. The implication being that if there are any small errors there’s no reason to believe the main message either.

Was a report published in February of 1980 or was it in fact published in May of that year? Did the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend to not eat eggs or did they, in fact, only advise people to switch to egg whites or egg substitutes? That’s the level of nitpicking going on.

History goes on

Nothing in this niggling about details or bloated list of signatures can change the arc of history. The low-fat diet has been proven to be useless for preventing heart disease and the least effective diet for losing weight. The asteroid has already hit and the 80s style fat phobia, like recommending skim milk, is a dying. No appeal to authority can change that.

Earlier

TIME: Eat Butter. Scientists Labeled Fat the Enemy. Why They Were Wrong.

The US Dietary Guidelines Expert Committee Said to be “Completely Dissociated” From the Top Level Scientific Community

The British Medical Journal Slams Unscientific and Biased Low-Fat Dietary Guidelines!

Credit Suisse: The Future is Lower Carb, Higher Fat

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Stop Worrying about Saturated Fat!

Headlines All Over the World: The Fear of Fat Was a Mistake from the Beginning

38 Comments

Top Comments

  1. Using the term "dinosaur" is not necessarily an ad hominem attack. It's an attack on their obsolete view of nutrition in general and saturated fat in particular. That's what makes them dinosaurs. Not that many of them happen to be past retirement age, which is totally beside the point.

    Their criticism is not very interesting to me, as it's all about getting the discussion bogged down in the details, to avoid the bigger and harder questions.

    I honestly don't care whether some report was published in February or May of 1980. I care about the big picture: if there's any credible reason to keep warning people about natural saturated fat in 2015, and keep the failed war on fat going. I see nothing in their letter about that.

    Replies: #9, #10
    Read more →
  2. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Worth remembering: The response comes from scientists who are responsible for the current guidelines. During the time we have had these guidelines it has been an exponential growth of the metabolic syndrome.

    The question I would ask, Robin, is why is it so important for 183 experts to criticize one article from one journalist so emphatically ? My analyze of that is that If the science behind the guidelines would have been solid then the critic would have been unnecessary. I'm seeing forward to how Nina will respond to this.

    Yet to find a lie ha? Have you not read the response from the 183 scientists? I suggest reading that if you have not found any "lie" or, as I a bit nicer could state, misrepresentation of "facts". It's what we are discussing.

    Read more →

All Comments

  1. George Henderson
    Nina Teicholz' BMJ analysis of the guidelines report is long and refers to a very long and in too many places incoherent document. The CSPI letter is constructed of nit-picking arguments construed by their lawyers (and Nina in answering the point about the WHI study has caught the DGAC in a further contradiction, so they're not unanswerable). The 180 signatories are all so far as I know very busy people.
    So did they all know what they were signing, considering that that amount of diligence would take several hours of hard work even for an expert in the field?
    Instead of trying to find evidence of inaccuracies in Nina 's analysis, they would serve the public better by addressing the many accuracies in her criticism. The issue raised by Georgia Eades in her rapid response (below) also highlights the DGAC practice of misrepresenting the evidence and provides further proof that it is an actual institutional problem that Nina Teicholz is drawing attention to, not a media beat-up.
    The DGAC report is a summary of evidence for politicians who can't be expected to check the science and need to trust the experts. There is ample proof that the evidence has been selected to create a preponderance in favour of the status quo and that it has been blatantly misrepresented in places - in other words, that the experts have betrayed at least some of this trust. There are 180 people out there also in positions of trust who should have thought about this before putting their names to that letter.

    http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4962/rr-28

    Reply: #26
  2. Murray
    Richard Feynman: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."
  3. Pierre
  4. Marshall
    (paraphrasing from someone I don't have time to look up)
    Stages of progress:
    1. They ignore your idea
    2. They laugh at your idea
    3. They attack your idea
    4. They accept your idea
    Reply: #5
  5. With 180 signatures and tons of detail they seem to be quite far into stage 3...
  6. RobinEH
    You bring up ad hominem attacks in a post where you call people dinosaurs and do anything but respond to the criticism. The 183 "dinosaurs" are absolutely correct in the errors they've pointed out. The article by Teicholz does not belong in BMJ.
    Replies: #8, #12
  7. Apicius
    John Kotter of Harvard Business School investigates change management and ways to get buy in for implementing change in companies. He provides very good advice of how to change company cultures, and in this case, I think it also applies for changing the perception in an industry. He also points out the killers of buy in, and the strategies they use to kill your good idea from spreading to everyone else. In his book "buy in", he describes 4 common tactics used to kill your idea:
    1- create confusion (make the issue appear much more complicated than it actually is)
    2-create fear (punishment for those who follow the change)
    3-death by delay (slow the movement down until in loses momentum)
    4-character sabotage and ridicule of people leading the change

    Looks like they are using #3

  8. Using the term "dinosaur" is not necessarily an ad hominem attack. It's an attack on their obsolete view of nutrition in general and saturated fat in particular. That's what makes them dinosaurs. Not that many of them happen to be past retirement age, which is totally beside the point.

    Their criticism is not very interesting to me, as it's all about getting the discussion bogged down in the details, to avoid the bigger and harder questions.

    I honestly don't care whether some report was published in February or May of 1980. I care about the big picture: if there's any credible reason to keep warning people about natural saturated fat in 2015, and keep the failed war on fat going. I see nothing in their letter about that.

    Replies: #9, #10
  9. Johan Wallström
    It's not about what date the report was published, it is about her statement that it was disregarded. This is a false claim, and it is part of the narrative that she is building on. In her story contrarian evidence has been disregarded, but in reality this is not the case.

    Of course it's relevant to know that a journalist is personally economically invested in what she is writing about. I hardly think that you would let a sugar-defending journalist with stocks in coca cola off the hook that easily. But this is not an ad hominem attack, but rather a completely normal declaration of competing interest. What you are doing on the other hand, calling people dinosaurs, this is in fact an ad hominem attack. You got that backwards.

    http://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-authors/forms-policies-and-che...

    The scientific community is a big error and bias filtering machine. Errors will be criticized. Science can be mean that way, right? What if she rewrites her little investigation without all the errors in it, maybe people wouldn't be such bullies?

    Reply: #19
  10. RobinEH
    Let's think about this Andreas. 180 scientists responds to an article, cities 11 points and responds to them directly, proving the errors and this is makes you call them dinosaurs? How do you know the views of these 180 scientists regarding saturated fats and general nutrition when all they did here was to respond to factually incorrect information, point after point?

    I care if you claim that X was published before Y calling out the group publishing Y when in reality Y was published before X. It's factually incorrect and that's what these "dinosaurs" called out. The "big picture" is irrelevant here.

    Reply: #31
  11. Scooze
    I wonder how many of the 180 have written books themselves.
  12. BobM
    I applaud Nina Teicholz for bringing up these points. She's not the only one to do so. Here's an article from Denise Minger, which is also highly critical of the Dietary Guidelines:

    http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/02/04/the-new-usda-dietary-guideline/

    The problem is that the guidelines have never been based in science; instead, they've been based on pseudo-science and beholden to what the people who make the guidelines believe, not what the actual science shows.

    Here's Credit Suisse's analysis of saturated fat:

    "Saturated fats: the wrong target
    One of the biggest myths in nutrition is that saturated fat intake above a certain level—say 10% based on most dietary guidelines—significantly increases your risk of heart attack. This conclusion that has held for almost half a century is inconsistent with the wealth of epidemiological data or scientific evidence in the form of clinical randomized trials. Plenty of research funding has been earmarked to study and back this hypothesis, yet we cannot find a single research paper written in the last ten years that supports this conclusion. On the contrary, we can find at least 20 studies that dismiss this hypothesis."

    Yet the DGAC completely ignores studies like this, blindly following their previous rules.

    Furuther, to lump saturated fat with sugar as "empty calories" is completely ludicrous and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of fat: you can't not eat saturated fat, unless you stop eating fat altogether. Even olive oil is about 15% saturated fat. Butter is about 63% saturated fat, but about 25% monounsaturated fat.

    The DGAC simply don't know what they're doing. In my opinion, they should all be fired. If you can't issue guidance that's based in science, don't issue any guidance.

    Replies: #13, #15
  13. BobM
    Plus, that the DGAC completely ignored the largest randomized controlled trial ever done in this area (the Women's Health Initiative trial, costing over 500 MILLION US dollars), is absolutely insane. To me, this one study ends the idea that the low fat diet has any benefits. Yet, the DGAC ignores it. Why? Probably because it didn't fit their idea of what the guidelines "should be" -- they already made their conclusions and just cite what they want to cite support those conclusions. It's time they start addressing the evidence that points the other way. And they haven't. Get rid of them and put someone there who will.
  14. Johan Wallström
    WHI didn't address saturated fat. It was a study of replacing a bit of fat with a bit of refined carbs for a few years.
    Reply: #16
  15. RobinEH
    Do you applaud the lies which the reply from the ~180 scientists points out? Because that's what this is about.
    Reply: #17
  16. BobM
    Ah, it did:

    "To address cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis, the most common causes of death, disability, and impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women. The three major components of the WHI are: a randomized controlled clinical trial of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), dietary modification (DM), and calcium/vitamin D supplementation (CaD); an observational study (OS); and a community prevention study (CPS). On October 1, 1997, administration of the WHI was transferred to the NHLBI where it is conducted as a consortium effort led by the NHLBI in cooperation with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the National Institute on Aging (NIA)."

    https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00000611

    "Of these, 19,541 were randomly assigned to follow a low-fat diet. Their goal was to lower their fat intake from almost 38% of calories to 20%. They were helped in this effort by a series of individual and group counseling sessions.Another 29,294 women were randomly assigned to continue their usual diets, and were given just generic diet-related educational materials.

    After eight years, the researchers looked at how many (and what percentage) of women in each group had developed breast cancer or colorectal cancer. They tallied up heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of heart disease. They also looked at things like weight gain or loss, cholesterol levels, and other measures of health.

    The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed no benefits for a low-fat diet. Women assigned to this eating strategy did not appear to gain protection against breast cancer,(1) colorectal cancer,(2) or cardiovascular disease.(3) And after eight years, their weights were generally the same as those of women following their usual diets.(4)"

    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/low-fat/

    Reply: #18
  17. BobM
    Robin, I've read Teicholz's complete analysis. I have yet to find a "lie".

    The problem is that the dietary guidelines should be based on evidence of the highest caliber. They simply should not be telling people what to eat unless that's true. Why can my daughter get chocolate, skim milk at school and not get full fat, white milk? Upon what evidence is this based? Basically, none.

    If they cannot find excellent support for their recommendations, they should not be making recommendations. That's not the way they work. The get the end result they want, then simply ignore all the evidence against it.

    Now, I'm not saying that low carb is the best diet for everyone (even if it has done wonders for me). But regardless of whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, paleo, low carb, etc. eater, the dietary guidelines should be 100% based on science. And they're not.

    Reply: #22
  18. Johan Wallström
    Not saturated fat. But anyway, like Robin said, that's not the issue in this thread so let's not derail the conversation.
  19. Murray
    Johan, I don't think calling the letter signatories dinosaurs is ad hominem. It is just a metaphor for their views on dietary fat. However, I wonder whether or not they are in fact dinosaurs on this issue. Does anyone know how many of those signers are pro low-carb? If genuinely pro low-carb scientists complained about Nina Teicholz's submission, then I would pay more attention to the charges.

    As to competing interests, does Teicholz hold shares in dairy stocks? Where is the conflict? Can anyone (untainted by confirmation bias) seriously argue that she made the BMJ submission to increase sales of her book or could reasonably expect that to happen? She is not selling any other product line or invested in one that benefits from the vindication of unprocessed dietary fat. Any conflict here is de minimis. Everyone who makes a serious effort in something has to monetize it in some way (unless they're independently wealthy) and thus has a conflict. I expect all of the 130 signatories have vested interests of some sort (career, reputation, paradigm favoured by their sources of grant funding, their own books, etc.) in whatever position they advocate.

    For me the most persuasive evidence of institutional rot is inductive. This is the same body that promoted trans fats, "disregarding" the strong and accurate protests of Dr. Fred Kummerow and Dr. Mary Enig (disregarding in the sense of failing to utilize submissions and research appropriately due to institutional bias, even though they were aware of it). This is the same body that demonized egg yolks. And the list goes on.

    As BobM observes, denying kids whole milk and forcing chocolate milk or skim milk in the face of evidence and common sense is a touchstone for institutional dysfunction. The only question at that point is, what makes it so dysfunctional? If Teicholz misses the mark, then perhaps the gang of 130 could explain the source of the rot.

  20. chris c
    So where have all these Experts hidden their low fat success stories? I can't see them in among all the fat people, diabetics, people with CVD and Alzheimers etc. - most of whom didn't exist in the past before Low Fat became the default.
  21. Soul
    The last time I visited the BMJ web sight a number of articles would pop up saying how eating fat will cause disease. That must have been 9 months ago or so. Nice to see, seems the BMJ has made a U turn in a short period of time since I last visited the sight.

    The tyranny of experts is what some have called it here in the US. Often time the phrase is meant for countries outside of the west where a large number of University graduates have been made, yet have little prospect for employment. It is written here at least that this can cause chaos in these countries. I get the opinion some experts feel the phrase can apply here in the west these days. Of course one of the games played in these things is criminalizing the other side that disagrees with your opinion. Having the government on ones side can simplify matters. Good luck with spreading the high fat, low carb message. If the opposition dinosaurs should win, and saying eating fat is healthy becomes criminalized, I remember reading in grade school about the great Viking navigators of the past. In that case, possibly a pirate ship broadcasting from the North Sea will be appropriate. : )

  22. RobinEH
    Yet to find a lie ha? Have you not read the response from the 183 scientists? I suggest reading that if you have not found any "lie" or, as I a bit nicer could state, misrepresentation of "facts". It's what we are discussing. You have the link here: http://cspinet.org/bmj-retraction-letter.html .
    Replies: #23, #25
  23. Murray
    There is a huge difference in law between a lie and a misrepresentation. Accusing someone of a lie is prima facie actionable for liable. A defence to the libel claim would require strict proof that the person making the misrepresentation both (1) knew it was a misrepresentation at the time it was made, and (2) intended to mislead someone.
  24. Ian
    The original quote is from Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I would add another step Marshall,
    5. They try to show they knew it all along, and they actually had they idea first.
  25. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Worth remembering: The response comes from scientists who are responsible for the current guidelines. During the time we have had these guidelines it has been an exponential growth of the metabolic syndrome.

    The question I would ask, Robin, is why is it so important for 183 experts to criticize one article from one journalist so emphatically ? My analyze of that is that If the science behind the guidelines would have been solid then the critic would have been unnecessary. I'm seeing forward to how Nina will respond to this.

    Yet to find a lie ha? Have you not read the response from the 183 scientists? I suggest reading that if you have not found any "lie" or, as I a bit nicer could state, misrepresentation of "facts". It's what we are discussing.

  26. Carson Aylay
    I completely agree with George's analysis. As a scientist heavily involved with research and publishing, it's been my experience that if those nitpicking points are the best they have, then they have very little -- these might be worthy of an errata or comment from the author, but it's almost comical that these folks would demand a retraction with so little behind them. The BMJ editor is in an uncomfortable position, but really should stand firm.

    It's clear that there are a number of conflicts of interest amongst the signatories. Even take the *first* person as an example: Steven Adams was a member of the Dietary Guidlines Advisory Committee (http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/01-DGAC-staff-membership.asp), so it's not surprising that he took issue with the paper :)

    I also agree with George that Teicholz's paper is incoherent in many parts and is certainly not perfect either. There are issues on both sides.

    Reply: #27
  27. bill
    Carson:

    George did not say Nina's letter is incoherent.
    Here is what George said:

    "Nina Teicholz' BMJ analysis of the guidelines report is long and **refers to** a very long and in too many places incoherent document."

    Nina's analysis is very clear.

  28. Apicius
    What if a group of 181 pro-LCHF doctors and scientists go through the BMJ articles of the past, and attack each one that is pro low fat diet or statins or calories in-calories out? There is power in numbers.
  29. Sam Pepys
    Let's try an analogy; it takes a long, long time for an ocean liner to slow down before it can even begin to turn around. The 'traditional' medical community has not even started to put on the brakes yet.
    My daughter signed up for a new healthcare provider last week and had to lie about her LCHF diet (low-fat foods were a positive factor) to get better cover at a lower price. It will still take years for change and even when all the rational arguments have accumulated in favour of fat, the emotions will be raw. But... the very fact that this 180 signature petition exists is a sign of panic.
  30. RT
    Have a look at what Carb(in)sanity is doing. Pathetic. https://www.change.org/p/fiona-godlee-bmj-editor-in-chief-rebecca-coo...
    Reply: #33
  31. George Henderson
    I know the views of all the New Zealand signatories to the letter, and every one of those takes the position that saturated fat needs to be restricted in the diet because LDL and/or calories. I think it's perfectly fair to assume that all the others do.
    A rewrite of the paper, while removing some small claims that perhaps did help to strengthen the case for a duplicitous DGAC, would now need to introduce other evidence such as that exposed by Georgia Ede and the question of the selective use of secondary endpoint evidence - it would not leave the reputation of the DGAC any better off at all - the request is merely a delaying tactic.
  32. Hazel
    Reply to Marshall:
    Last phase is "they claim your idea as their own."
  33. perle0
    Ha, that petition calling for the BMJ to retract Teicholz's article has 80 whole signatures out of its goal of 100, and it's been up for a whole month. Public opinion is apparently overwhelming.
    Reply: #34
  34. Stipetic
    This below is assertion 4 by CSPI and its Stegosauruses, which were famous for their enormous production of dung.

    4.) Teicholz states that “in the NEL systematic review on saturated fats from 2010…fewer than 12 small trials are cited, and none supports the hypothesis that saturated fats cause heart disease (see table B on thebmj.com).”

    Their response: It is incorrect to state that none of the trials cited in the 2010 NEL review supports the hypothesis that saturated fats cause heart disease. The 2010 NEL review found “strong evidence” that saturated fat intake increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

    So, Nina was 100% correct without having to delve too deeply into the rest of the nonsense as all studies relied on epidemiological evidence and everyone except William Willett knows this cannot demonstrate causation. :-)

  35. Stipetic
    Good guys: 5.) Teicholz states that “perhaps more important are the studies that have never been systematically reviewed by any of the dietary guideline committees. These include the large, government funded randomized controlled trials on saturated fats and heart disease from the 1960s and ’70s. Taken together, these trials followed more than 25 000 people, some for up to 12 years. They are some of the most ambitious, well controlled nutrition studies ever undertaken.”

    Stegosauruses: It is incorrect to state that these trials were not reviewed by the DGAC. The DGAC considered a 2012 Cochrane review that included 4 of the 6 trials cited by Teicholz and a 2010 meta-analysis that included 5 of the 6 trials cited by Teicholz. (The review and meta-analysis both concluded that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease.)

    I wonder what Richard Smith, chair of the Cochrane Library Oversight Committee, would say about the Cochrane review referred to by the Stegosauruses (see Richard's "Are some diets “mass murder”?" for a clue). But that's beside the point. The Stegosauruses point to two meta-analysis to refute Nina's claim. For those who don't know, meta-analysis is the new red in the field of statistics. It's also a way of getting published without having to conduct any studies yourself. Again, beside the point. Meta-analysis is great if you have some good and bad data, or controversial findings. What do you do? Well, you do a meta-analysis. You bunch up all this data into a nice little package, and voila, you no longer have bad or controversial data. Lumping a bad study into a meta-analysis is great at attenuating the data you want to hide. And lumping a great study into a meta-analysis is great at diluting results that are inconvenient. It is telling, to me, that the studies Nina pointed out were not reviewed independently (the studies are published independently), thus giving them the weight a meta-analysis cannot do, and rather, they were "looked at/glazed over" when lumped into a meta-analysis, which would, of course hide the strength of this data. It makes sense that the conclusions of committee do not aline with the strength of the evidence.

  36. Stipetic
    It is interesting that if you subtract the 9 graduate students from the list, and the 84 non-American signatories (with the plethora from Spain (33 signatories)--I think the entire student body from the University of Navarra (11 signatories) put their John Hancock to this letter), you are left short of the century mark. That would not be too impressive. I now understand why they padded the list. At least they have 74 low-fat dogmatists medical doctors and a science fiction/fantasy author writing his own reviews on Amazon going for them.
  37. RT
    As noted by perle0, Carbsane's petition has reached 80 signatures out of its goal of 100, within two months of being posted on Change.org.

    By comparison, the petition Dr. E has linked to (demanding that the US dietary guidelines be based on quality science) has received over 22,000 signatures towards its goal of 25,000, within one month of it being posted.

    Here are both links again:

    https://www.change.org/p/fiona-godlee-bmj-editor-in-chief-rebecca-coo...

    https://www.change.org/p/demand-that-quality-science-determine-the-20...

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