End of Corporate Personhood and Citizenship

Awkward! The idea of ‘corporate personhood’ relies on the same Amendment that gives birthright citizenship
by Mark Ames
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)

“[M]ost of the GOP candidates want to change the 14th Amendment to deny birthright citizenship to children born here to foreign parents…

“But beyond the twisted racist dementia fueling this, there’s another problem for these GOP candidates: Section One of the 14th Amendment, granting birthright citizenship to anyone born in the US, is also the same section of the same amendment interpreted by our courts to grant corporations “personhood”…

“So to repeat: GOP candidates from Trump and Bush down the line to Silicon Valley’s boy-disrupter Rand Paul want to revoke citizenship to living humans born in the US to foreign parents; but they support granting citizenship rights and guarantees to artificial persons –corporations – which are really legal fictions granted by the states, allowing a pool of investors legal liability and tax advantages in order to profit more than they otherwise would as mere living humans”…

“And here we are today—where we have an Amendment meant to protect vulnerable and abused minorities now under attack from Lincoln’s party, who at the same time want to use the same section in the same amendment to protect fictitious artificial persons and allow them greater rights and powers than even those of us born here to American parents.”

Now That We’re Talking About Citizenship, Let’s Revoke Corporate Personhood
by C. Robert Gibson
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 20 – 26)

“Thanks to Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings, to the point where the media is calculating the cost of these insane and unconstitutional proposals. If Trump wants to revoke the citizenship of people who are using up all of our resources and not paying taxes, and if the media really wants to have the conversation, let’s start with multinational corporations…

“A constitutional amendment that explicitly states that corporations aren’t people, and that money is not speech would do the trick. The organization Move to Amend is doing just that, and have roughly 535 resolutions that have either been passed at the local/state level or are currently in progress. State legislatures in Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, and West Virginia have already passed such resolutions.

“Donald Trump has been able to shift the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse far to the right in just a matter of weeks, to where the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings. The left must be just as willing to push the discussion toward revoking corporate citizenship due to the harm they’ve caused to our political process, as well as our public programs that have been slashed to the bone due to corporations avoiding billions in taxes.”

“…we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.”

James Bridle (from YouTube transcript):

But the other thing, the thing that really gets to me about this, is that I’m not sure we even really understand how we got to this point. We’ve taken all of this influence, all of these things, and munged them together in a way that no one really intended. And yet, this is also the way that we’re building the entire world.

We’re taking all of this data, a lot of it bad data, a lot of historical data full of prejudice, full of all of our worst impulses of history, and we’re building that into huge data sets and then we’re automating it. And we’re munging it together into things like credit reports, into insurance premiums, into things like predictive policing systems, into sentencing guidelines. This is the way we’re actually constructing the world today out of this data.

And I don’t know what’s worse, that we built a system that seems to be entirely optimized for the absolute worst aspects of human behavior, or that we seem to have done it by accident, without even realizing that we were doing it, because we didn’t really understand the systems that we were building, and we didn’t really understand how to do anything differently with it.

There’s a couple of things I think that really seem to be driving this most fully on YouTube, and the first of those is advertising, which is the monetization of attention without any real other variables at work, any care for the people who are actually developing this content, the centralization of the power, the separation of those things. And I think however you feel about the use of advertising to kind of support stuff, the sight of grown men in diapers rolling around in the sand in the hope that an algorithm that they don’t really understand will give them money for it suggests that this probably isn’t the thing that we should be basing our society and culture upon, and the way in which we should be funding it.

And the other thing that’s kind of the major driver of this is automation, which is the deployment of all of this technology as soon as it arrives, without any kind of oversight, and then once it’s out there, kind of throwing up our hands and going, “Hey, it’s not us, it’s the technology.” Like, “We’re not involved in it.” That’s not really good enough, because this stuff isn’t just algorithmically governed, it’s also algorithmically policed. When YouTube first started to pay attention to this, the first thing they said they’d do about it was that they’d deploy better machine learning algorithms to moderate the content.

Well, machine learning, as any expert in it will tell you, is basically what we’ve started to call software that we don’t really understand how it works. And I think we have enough of that already. We shouldn’t be leaving this stuff up to AI to decide what’s appropriate or not, because we know what happens. It’ll start censoring other things. It’ll start censoring queer content. It’ll start censoring legitimate public speech. What’s allowed in these discourses, it shouldn’t be something that’s left up to unaccountable systems. It’s part of a discussion all of us should be having.

But I’d leave a reminder that the alternative isn’t very pleasant, either. YouTube also announced recently that they’re going to release a version of their kids’ app that would be entirely moderated by humans. Facebook — Zuckerberg said much the same thing at Congress, when pressed about how they were going to moderate their stuff. He said they’d have humans doing it. And what that really means is, instead of having toddlers being the first person to see this stuff, you’re going to have underpaid, precarious contract workers without proper mental health support being damaged by it as well. And I think we can all do quite a lot better than that.

The thought, I think, that brings those two things together, really, for me, is agency. It’s like, how much do we really understand — by agency, I mean: how we know how to act in our own best interests. Which — it’s almost impossible to do in these systems that we don’t really fully understand. Inequality of power always leads to violence. And we can see inside these systems that inequality of understanding does the same thing. If there’s one thing that we can do to start to improve these systems, it’s to make them more legible to the people who use them, so that all of us have a common understanding of what’s actually going on here.

The thing, though, I think most about these systems is that this isn’t, as I hope I’ve explained, really about YouTube. It’s about everything. These issues of accountability and agency, of opacity and complexity, of the violence and exploitation that inherently results from the concentration of power in a few hands — these are much, much larger issues. And they’re issues not just of YouTube and not just of technology in general, and they’re not even new. They’ve been with us for ages.

But we finally built this system, this global system, the internet, that’s actually showing them to us in this extraordinary way, making them undeniable. Technology has this extraordinary capacity to both instantiate and continue all of our most extraordinary, often hidden desires and biases and encoding them into the world, but it also writes them down so that we can see them, so that we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.

We need to stop thinking about technology as a solution to all of our problems, but think of it as a guide to what those problems actually are, so we can start thinking about them properly and start to address them.

“Everything is Going According to Plan”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t know whose plan it is, and I think that it’s a really stupid plan, but everything is going according to it anyway.”
— Dmitry Orlov

GODS & RADICALS

“What If It’s Already Too Late”

I had a terrible thought recently …

“What if it’s already too late?”

Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.

In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization 350.org, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana.  The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.

What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we…

View original post 4,471 more words

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

This social order, this political system, this economy — it is the best we can hope for, some claim. The best of all possible worlds. Or else the best under present conditions. Good enough for the time being. Be grateful for what we have. It could be a lot worse. Accordingly, what we should accept: A little less suffering is good even if not confronting the cause for the time being, as pain management for the symptoms is better than nothing at all. Let’s moderate and reform a bad system, small steps toward small changes. We’ll deal with the real issues and hard problems later on… after the next election… after the next crisis…

Just don’t rock the boat or we might capsize. Radical ideals and revolutionary aspirations are dangerous. Let’s settle for compromise, no matter how imperfect, no matter how often it fails, no matter how bad it gets. We need to be reasonable and practical, to be patient and accept the lesser evil. After all, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Keep our dreams manageable. Because if you shoot for the stars, you might crash and burn. It’s better to stay safe and succeed at low standards. These are dangerous times and we are fighting a rearguard action. This is not time for big talk. The barbarians are at the gate. Let’s just hunker down and hope the storm passes.

And on and on.

Bullshit! That isn’t good enough, not for those suffering and oppressed. These are the excuses of fearful children cowering before abuse, of the comfortable classes trying to soothe their own guilty consciences while they look the other way.

On this day in 1936, David Lummis was born. And on the same date a little over a quarter century later in 1963, W.E.B. Dubois died. The former said that, “The spirit of democracy appears now and then in history, at those moments when people fight for it. If you try to achieve democracy by waiting for it, you will wait forever.” And the latter had similar sentiments: “Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.” (see REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)

Those are words not intended for the faint hearts of good liberals with their good intentions. These aren’t calm and compliant voices. Instead, the sentiment expressed is that of immediacy and urgency. There is no time like the present, and it will only get worse and harder as time goes on. This attitude of social responsibility and moral courage is nothing new. It’s what our country was founded upon, what the greatest of the revolutionaries hoped for us later generations — in the words of Thomas Paine, the most democratic of the founders, on more than one occasion:

“I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.” And: “If we fail to act, we’re self-deceiving cowards condemning our children to tyranny and cheating the world of a beacon of liberty.” And: “let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” And another:

“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”

Paine’s only child was lost earlier in his life when his wife died in childbirth. It didn’t stop him from caring about the children of others, from being willing to sacrifice his own personal benefit for the sake of future generations. He had many opportunities to have settled down and lived an easy life. Yet it wasn’t in him to remain silent before injustice and bow down before oppression. Yes, he was quite capable of being an asshole and a troublemaker but more important he did it with moral righteousness. Having watched The Young Karl Marx, I realized much of the same could describe Marx as well, someone who like Paine refused to back down from what he knew was right.

Without righteous assholes pushing for change, there would have been no revolutionary era, no progressive reform, no abolition of slavery, no labor movement, no universal suffrage, and no United States as a battleground for justice and fairness. Paine for certain was ahead of his time and, in many ways, he is ahead of our time as well (such as his having advocated for the equivalent of a basic income). What are we waiting for to finally live up to the vision and ideals our country was founded upon? If the time has never been quite right for fully functioning democracy in more than two centuries of American history, the time will never be right. Otherwise, we have to accept that the time is always right when what needs to be done is before us, a lesson hammered home by the fiery sermonizing of Martin Luther King, jr:

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

The thing is the American public knows this. They feel the urgency in the everyday experience of their lives, as the chasm of inequality grows. Americans feel stressed and anxious, often desperate in not knowing what is coming next. This isn’t a stable situation that will last much longer. Maintaining the status quo and seeking gradual reform is not an option at this point. Either we collectively make major changes that transform our society or revolution will follow, probably sooner than later.

None of this is a secret. The population is getting restless and, as long as freedom and justice is denied, we’ll keep getting demagogues like Donald Trump and eventually an authoritarian far more dangerous. Most Americans have lost faith in public institutions and, realizing how it is rigged by dark money and hidden influences, have stopped voting in most elections. This leaves the field open for the worst elements in our society. If the ruling elite keep this up, they might as well point a gun at their own heads because that is essentially what they’re doing. All of their power-mongering will harm themselves in the end.

The public has made clear what they are demanding. The problem is the public, short of revolution, has no power to enforce their demands. Still, the demands remain and the pressure continues to build, as the American public shifts further to the left of the political establishment… and in reaction, the political establishment pushes further right.

For example, the Clintons and Obama only came out in support of same sex marriage a few years ago, long after the majority of Americans had already declared being in favor. This same pattern is seen on numerous popular and important issues, from abortion rights to free college tuition. Also, consider the fact that most Americans have long wanted healthcare reform far to the left of anything Democratic politicians were willing to fight for and their corporate backers were willing to allow. Even now, the Washington cronies of the DNC won’t back the radical healthcare reform that the public is demanding, despite the majority of Republicans having joined the majority of Americans in supporting Medicare for all. The same is establishment failure is seen with net neutrality, as 83% of voters and three out of four Republicans are in support). And I could list many other examples.

The DNC follows, doesn’t lead.

Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and let that sink in. On issues like this that could decide elections, the DNC is to the right of the average Republican. That is mind blowing! Claims of lesser evil that again and again leads to ever greater evil? No thanks and fuck you! And Democratic ignoramuses pretend to act surprised by how Donald Trump, in having made promises reminiscent of the New Deal (e.g., infrastructure rebuilding), won the presidency. Maybe it has something to do with their own candidates being neck-deep in corruption and cronyism, not to mention their pockets overflowing with dirty money. The American public isn’t so stupid as to not realize that the Clintons are full of shit and a danger to our society. There was no lesser evil but instead two greater evils, one a blunt force trauma to the skull that was an immediate shock to the body politic and the other a putrid gangrenous rot that will kill more slowly.

The polarization isn’t between conservative and liberals but between the powerful and disfranchised, the rich and the poor, the comfortable and desperate, those against self-governance and those for it (this has been true for centuries, going back to the American Revolution: “we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”). A century ago, popular conservative politicians made powerful conservative arguments for economic populism and corporate regulation: “The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth,” as it was put by Theodore Roosevelt (New Nationalism speech), a born plutocrat who was no friend of left-wingers but smart enough to know the only sustainable path into the future was social democracy. Here we are after generations of hard fighting and what do we have? Supposed ‘liberals’ like the Clinton Democrats are in the back pocket of big money (of big tech, big banks, etc) with their backroom deals, closed door talks, and games of pay-to-play. This has given covering fire for Republicans to go far right-wing and so given a platform for the most radical of reactionaries.

The ruling elite keeps talking about moderation and centrism. But we the American public don’t want moderation toward the center of the ruling elite. What we want is fairness and justice, pure and simple. If democracy is allowed, most Americans would love to have it. Failing that, there are darker paths we could go down. That would be a sad fate for a country that began with so much promise. We shouldn’t allow that to happen, not without a fight. Instead, let us choose democracy and commit to it with every fiber of our being. No matter how dark it gets, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Now is the time.

“…just order themselves.”

“Walking through the Montreal airport, my 10-year-old observes: “It’s interesting how people, without any signs or directions, just order themselves. It’s almost like they mindlessly work together.”” That was shared by Corey Robin, on Twitter (ignore the fact that airports do have signs and directions, the point being that people who regularly take flights at a particular airport don’t consciously need to pay attention to the signs and directions, as a driver on familiar roads can get to their destination on mental automatic mode). To which David Crespo responded that it “reminds me of what Herbert Simon said about complex behavior coming more from the complexity of the environment than the complexity of the agent.”

Crespo then points to a passage (from The Sciences of the Artificial), ending with this conclusion: “We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach. He moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dune let, detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a compatriot. […] It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments — not quite a random walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal. […] He has a general sense of where home lies, but he cannot foresee all the obstacles between. He must adapt his course repeatedly to the difficulties he encounters and often detour uncrossable barriers. His horizons are very close, so that he deals with each obstacle as he comes to it; he probes for ways around or over it, without much thought for future obstacles. It is easy to trap him into deep detours. Viewed as a geometric figure, the ant’s path is irregular, complex, hard to describe. But its complexity is really a complexity in the surface of the beach, not a complexity in the ant.” That is to say behavior exists within environmental constraints. A simple but profound observation. And often forgotten.

Let me put it into a different context. The ego-mind with its thick isolating boundaries of hyper-individualism, the post-bicameral Jaynesian consciousness of self-authorization (“…just order themselves,” as Robin’s kid observed) — this has never fully taken hold. It’s more of a story we tell ourselves than anything else, not to dismiss the power of stories in constructing social reality nor to dismiss the potent realism of its all too real consequences.

The closest we have to self-aware willpower might be Benjamin Libet’s veto power, that is the inhibition of volition. Not free will but free won’t. Still, that doesn’t tell us the source of inhibition, even as an action being vetoed elicits what is subjectively experienced as consciousness. A point not to ignore is that consciousness doesn’t seem to emerge until that moment of volitionary crisis, when two aspects of self come into conflict. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. We simply go along, following our routines and scripts, automatons of learned behavior and heuristics.

It’s easy to miss the significance of this. We have no way of pulling back the curtain of our own mind to see what, if anything, is acting behind the scenes. Even probing into the brain can’t pull us up by the bootstraps into this aspirational ideal of self-understanding. Libet simply points to the moment of consciousness as it emerges, in medias res. If nothing else, this demonstrates what we are not, whatever it may or may not say about what we are. The mystery remains (see Conal Boyce, “Recovering from Libet’s Left Turn into Veto-as-Volition“).

We are in the territory of embodied mind and extended mind, of situated cognition. We live in a world of hyper-objects that are cast as shadows by collective hyper-subjectivity, a reminder of other modes of being (such as what Timothy Morton calls entangledness: “Knowing more about hyperobjects is knowing more about how we are hopelessly fastened to them.”), modes of being that if not acknowledged become demonic as forces of nature (e.g., climate change). We are immersed, not standing outside peering in. Some of this is discussed by Patrick Grim in his lecture “Thinking Body and Extended Mind”, as part of The Great Courses’ Mind-Body Series:

“The core of [J.J.] Gibson’s theory of perception is that we don’t perceive objects and don’t operate cognitively in terms of representations. What we perceive, what any animal perceives, are what Gibson terms affordances.

“Squirrels don’t see trees, represent them internally, and calculate how to climb them. What they see is something more immediate and more action-oriented than that. They see a way up. That way up, the thing Gibson says they really see, isn’t an object, but an affordance.

“We don’t see a door hinge to the right, a knob, and calculate that we can get out of the room by turning the knob. We see something much more immediate and much more action-oriented than that. We see a way out. That way out isn’t an object, but an affordance. For Gibson, a mind in the world operates in terms of those performances…”

Ah, a way out. That is a funny phrase, one that caught my attention in a book by Anke Snoek, Agamben’s Joyful Kafka. Although already familiar with Franz Kafka’s fiction, Snoek gave me new perspective (Kindle Locations 358-375):

“Kafka’s ideas on imprisonment, catastrophe, freedom and ways out are not as simple as they might seem on the first reading of, for example, The Trial . The short story ‘A Report to an Academy’ provides further insight into the type of freedom that Kafka had in mind. The hunting expedition of the Hagenbeck Company captured an ape. To train him, they put him in a very small cage on the company’s steamboat, a cage that was too low for him to stand up and too small for him to sit down. At the same time the sailors tormented him. The ape realizes that if he wants to live he has to find a way out. But he does not contrast his distressing situation with freedom: ‘No, it was not freedom I wanted. Just a way out; to the right, to the left, wherever ; I made no other demands ’. 24 The way out is not directed so much to a specific goal, i.e. freedom or return, but is simply a way out.”

This relates to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of ‘gesture’. A gesture is not freedom but a confounding of systems of power and oppression. It’s important to be reminded that, according to Julian Jaynes, post-bicameral consciousness is not only the ground of individualism but authoritarianism as well. Once humans were shook loose from the bicameral mind, new systems of control came to the fore, both in controlling others and controlling the self.

This brings us back to what is doing the controlling. I’d suggest that the divine voices that once directed Bronze Age humans still direct us. The difference is that we internalized them and, in the fashion of Stockholm Syndrome, came to identify with one of our captors, a singular and monolithic egoic tyrant who rules the seat of our soul — that is to say we have been possessed and enthralled ever since. We aren’t free and can’t hope to be free, at least not on the terms of the demiurgic ego-mind. The best we can do is offer a gesture or rather become a gesture, the closest approximation to Libet’s veto power.

Maybe the only way to become truly aware of the self is by becoming aware of the world that surrounds us. The kind of culture and language, social order and environmental conditions, lifeworld and mazeway, reality tunnel and ideology —- however you wish to describe the world we are thrown into by circumstances of inheritance and birth — shapes who we are and how we think, what choices we perceive and how we act. As with the ant, we live moment to moment, not seeing the trajectory of our path from where we came from to where we are going. We are like the river defined by the contours of the land, meandering this way and that, damned up here and flowing over that way, but always heading in a particular direction.

Rather than simplifying down the human to the manageable size of ant-like, maybe this viewpoint has ended up revealing how complex we are in our immensity — far beyond isolated bodies and individual egos. The negative space between confining boundaries is not who we are. Instead, as water is shaped by what contains and directs it, we are the world around us; and as the water seeps into the earth, we are intimately a part of it and embedded within it. This doesn’t make us lesser but greater. The functioning of an airport is no less impressive than the building of a pyramid. Be amazed that we make it seem so simple in our mindlessly working together, somehow getting to where we are going.

* * *

Related Posts:

“Beyond that, there is only awe.”
Edge of the Depths
On Being Strange
Dark Matter of the Mind
Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature
Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond
The Psychology and Anthropology of Consciousness
Reading Voices Into Our Minds
Lock Without a Key
“How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.”
Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation
Making Gods, Making Individuals
Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral
Music and Dance on the Mind
The Group Conformity of Hyper-Individualism
Delirium of Hyper-Individualism
Individualism and Isolation
Incentives of Individualism

Health From Generation To Generation

Traveling around the world, Weston A. Price visited numerous traditional communities. Some of them hunter-gatherers and others agricultural, including some rural communities in Europe. This was earlier last century when industrialization had yet to take hold in most places, a very different time in terms of diet, even in the Western world.

What he found was how healthy these people were, whether they consumed more or less meat, dairy or not — although none were vegetarian (the typical pre-agricultural diet was about 1/3 to 2/3 animal products, often a large part of it saturated fat). The commonality is that they ate nutrient-dense foods, much of it raw, fermented, or prepared traditionally (the singlemost nutrient-dense food is organ meats). As a dentist, the first thing Price looked for was dental health. A common feature of these traditional societies was well-developed jaws and bone structure, straight uncrowded teeth, few cavities facial symmetry, etc. These people never saw a dentist or orthodontist, didn’t brush or floss, and yet their teeth were in excellent condition into old age.

This obviously was not the case with Price’s own American patients that didn’t follow a traditional diet and lifestyle. And when he visited prisons, he found that bone development and dental health was far worse, as indicators of worse general health and by implication worse neurocognitive health (on a related note, testing has shown that prisoners have higher rates of lead toxicity, which harms health in diverse ways). Between malnutrition and toxicity, it is unsurprising that there are so many mentally ill people housed in prisons, especially after psychiatric institutions were closed down.

Another early figure in researching diet and health was Francis M. Pottenger Jr, an American doctor. While working as a full-time assistant at a sanatorium, he did a study on cats. He fed some cats a raw food diet, some a cooked food diet, and another group got some of both. He also observed that the cooked food diet caused developmental problems of bone and dental structure. The results were worse than that, though. For the cats fed cooked food, the health of the next generation declined even further. By the third generation, they didn’t reach adulthood. There was no generation after that.

I was reading about this at work. In my normal excitement about learning something new, I shared this info with a coworker, a guy who has some interest in health but is a conventional thinker. He immediately looked for reasons for why it couldn’t be true, such as claiming that the generations of cats kept as pets disproves Pottenger’s observations. Otherwise, so the argument goes, domestic cats would presumably have gone extinct by now.

That was easy to counter, considering most pets are born strays who ate raw food or born to parents who were strays. As for purebred cats, I’m sure breeders have already figured out that a certain amount of raw food (or supplementation of enzymes, microbes, etc that normally would be found in raw food) is necessary for long term feline health. Like processed human food, processed pet food is heavily fortified with added nutrients, which likely counteracts some of the negative consequences to a cooked food diet. Pottenger’s cats weren’t eating fortified cooked food, but neither were the cats fed raw food getting any extra nutrients.

The thing is that prior to industrialization food was never fortified. All the nutrients humans (and cats) needed to not only survive but thrive was available in a traditional/natural diet. The fact that we have to fortify foods and take multivitamins is evidence of something severely wrong with the modern, industrialized food system. But that only lessens the health problems slightly. As with Pottenger’s cats, even the cats on a cooked food diet who had some raw food added didn’t avoid severely decreased health. Considering the emerging health crisis, the same appears to be true of humans.

The danger we face is that the effects are cumulative across the generations, the further we get from a traditional diet. We are only now a few generations into the modern Western diet. Most humans were still consuming raw milk and other traditional foods not that long ago. Earlier last century, the majority of Americans were rural and had access to fresh organic food from gardens and farms, including raw milk from pastured cows and fertile eggs from pastured chickens (pastured meaning high in omega-3s).

Even living in a large city, one of my grandfathers kept rabbits and chickens for much of his life and kept a garden into his old age. That means my mother was raised with quite a bit of healthy food, as was my father living in a small town surrounded by farms. My brothers and I are the first generation in our family to eat a fully modern industrialized diet from childhood. And indeed, we have more mental/neurocognitive health problems than the generations before. I had a debilitating learning disorder diagnosed in elementary school and severe depression clearly showing in 7th grade, one brother had stuttering and anxiety attacks early on, and my oldest brother had severe allergies in childhood that went untreated for years and since then has had a host of ailments (also, at least one of my brothers and I have suspected undiagnosed Asperger’s or something like that, but such conditions weren’t being diagnosed when we were in school). One thing to keep in mind is that my brothers and I are members of the generation that received one of the highest dosages of lead toxicity in childhood, prior to environmental regulations limiting lead pollution; and research has directly and strongly correlated that to higher rates of criminality, suicide, homicide, aggressive behavior, impulse control problems, lowered IQ, and stunted neurocognitive development (also many physical health conditions).

The trend of decline seems to be continuing. My nieces and nephews eat almost nothing but heavily processed foods, way more than my brothers and I had in our own childhoods, and the produce they do eat is mostly from nutrient-depleted soil, along with being filled with farm chemicals and hormones — all of this having continuously worsened these past decades. They are constantly sick (often every few weeks) and, even though still in grade school, all have multiple conditions such as: Asperger’s, learning disorder, obsessive-compulsion, failure to thrive, asthma, joint pain, etc.

If sugar was heroin, my nephew could be fairly called a junky (regularly devouring bags of candy and on more than one occasion eating a plain bowl of sugar; one step short of snorting powdered sugar and mainlining high fructose corn syrup). And in making these observations, I speak from decades of experience as a junkfood junky, most of all a sugar addict, though never quite to the same extreme. My nieces too have a tremendous intake of sugar and simple carbs, as their families’ vegetarianism doesn’t emphasize vegetables (since going on the paleo diet, I’ve been eating more organic nutrient-dense vegetables and other wholesome foods than my brothers and their families combined) — yet their diet fits well into the Standard American Diet (SAD) and, as the USDA suggests, they get plenty of grains. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them already has pre-diabetes and likely will get diabetes before long, as is becoming common in their generation. The body simply can only take so much harm. I know the damage done to my own body and mind from growing up in this sick society and I hate to see even worse happening to the generations following.

To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.

A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.

It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).

It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.

The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.

We can’t rely upon the established authority figures in seeking better health for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We know what we need to do. It might not be easy to make such massive changes when everything in society is going against you. And no doubt it is more expensive to eat healthy when the unhealthiest foods (e.g., high fructose corn syrup) are being subsidized by the government. It’s no accident that buying off the dollar menu at a fast food is cheaper than cooking a healthy meal at home. Still, if you are willing to go to the effort (and it is worth the effort), a far healthier diet is possible for many within a limited budget. That is assuming you don’t live in a food desert. But even in that case, there is a movement to create community gardens in poor neighborhoods, people providing for themselves what neither the government nor economy will provide.

Revolutions always begin from the bottom up. Or failing that, the foundations of our society will crumble, as the health of our citizenry declines. It’s a decision we must make, individually and collectively. A choice between two divergent paths leading to separate possible futures. As we have so far chosen suicidal self-destruction, we remain free to choose the other option. As Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

* * *

Primal Nutrition
by Ron Schmid, N.D.
pp. 99-100

Parallels Between Pottenger’s and Price’s Work

While the experiments of McCarrison and Pottenger show the value of raw foods in keeping animals remarkably healthy, one might wonder about the relevance to human needs. Cats are carnivores, humans omnivores, and while the animals’ natural diet is raw, humans have cooked some foods for hundreds of thousands of years. But humans, cats, and guinea pigs are all mammals. And while the human diet is omnivorous, foods of animal origin (some customarily eaten raw) have always formed a substantial and essential part of it.

Problems in cats eating cooked foods provided parallels with the human populations Weston Price studied; the cats developed the same diseases as humans eating refined foods. The deficient generation of cats developed the same dental malformations that children of people eating modernized foods developed, including narrowing of dental arches with attendant crowding of teeth, underbites and overbites, and protruding and crooked teeth. The shape of the cat’s skull and even the entire skeleton became abnormal in severe cases, with concomitant marked behavioral changes.

Price observed these same physical and behavioral changes in both native and modern cultures eating refined foods. These changes accompanied the adoption by a culture of refined foods. In native cultures eating entirely according to traditional wisdom resulted in strength of character and relative freedom from the moral problems of modern cultures. In modern cultures, studies of populations of prisons, reformatories, and homes for the mentally delayed revealed that a large majority of individuals residing there (often approaching 100 percent) had marked abnormalities of the dental arch, often with accompanying changes in the shape of the skull.

This was not coincidence; thinking is a biological process, and abnormal changes in the shape of the skull from one generation to the next can contribute to changes in brain functions and thus in behavior. The behavioral changes in deficient cats were due to changes in nutrition. This was the only variable in Pottenger’s carefully controlled experiments. As with physical degenerative changes, parallels with human populations cannot help but suggest themselves, although the specific nature of the relationship is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Human beings do not have the same nutritional requirements as cats, but whatever else each needs, there is strong empirical evidence that both need a significant amount of certain high-quality raw foods to reproduce and function efficiently.

pp. 390-393

Certain groups of these cats were fed quality, fresh, undenatured food and others were fed varying degrees of denatured and processed food, then the effects were observed over several generations. The results from the inferior diets were not so startling for the first-generation animals but markedly and progressively so in subsequent generations. From the second generation on, the cats that were fed processed and denatured diets showed increasing levels of structural deformities, birth defects, stress-driven behaviors, vulnerability to illness, allergies, reduced learning ability, and, finally, major reproductive problems. When Pottenger attempted to reverse the effects in the genetically weakened and vulnerable later-generation animals with greatly improved diet, he found it took fully four generations for the cats to return to normal.

The reflections that Pottenger’s work casts on the health issues and dietary habits of modern-day society are glaring and inescapable. […]

Pottenger’s work has shown us that progressive generations with poor dietary habits result in increasingly more vulnerable progeny and that each subsequent generation with unhealthy dietary habits results in impaired resistance to disease, increasingly poor health and vitality, impaired mental and cognitive health, and impaired capacity to reproduce. It is all part of what we are seeing in our epidemic levels of poor health and the overwhelming rates of autism, violence, attentional disorders, childhood (and adult) behavioral problems, mental illness, fertility issues, and birth defects.

Deep Nutrition, Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food
by Catherine Shanahan, M.D.
pp. 117-123

The Omega Generation

When I was living and working in Hawaii, four generations sometimes came in to my clinic for an office visit all at once, giving me a front-row view of the impact of modern food. Quite often, this is what I saw: great-grandma, born on her family’s farm and well into her eighties, still had clear vision and her own set of teeth. Her weathered skin sat atop features that looked as though they were chiseled from granite. More often than not, she was the healthiest of the bunch and had a thin medical chart to prove it. The youngest child, on the other hand, often presented symptoms of the whole set of modern diseases: attention deficit, asthma, skin disorders, and recurrent ear infections. Like many of today’s generation, one or more of his organs wasn’t put together quite right. Maybe there was a hole in his heart, or maybe he needed surgery to reposition the muscles around an eye. While the exact effects may be hard to predict, what is predictable, given the dwindling dietary nutrients and proliferation of toxic materials, is some kind of physiologic decline.

Within a given family, the earlier the abandonment of traditional foods for a diet of convenience, the more easily perceptible the decline. I’m thinking of one little boy in particular, the great-grandchild of one of Hawaii’s many wealthy missionary families who developed an ear infection during his visit to Kauai from another island. This little boy bore none of his great-grandmother’s striking facial geometry. His jaw was narrow, his nose blunted and thin, his eyes set too close, and his cheekbones were withdrawn behind plateaus of body fat. The lack of supporting bone under his eyes made his skin sag into bags, giving him a weary look. His ears were twisted, tilted, and protruded, and his ear canals were abnormally curved, predisposing him to recurring external ear infections.

Narrow face, thin bones, flattened features—sound familiar? This is a dynamic symmetry shift. The nature and degree was something I’d expect to see if he were child number three or four of siblings born in quick succession. But the young man sitting on my exam table was only the couple’s second child, and though mom had given herself a full four years between the two, it hadn’t protected his health. He was the fourth-generation product of a century of nutritional neglect and the consequential epigenetic damage. The last century has derailed our entire culture from the traditions that sustained us, so he is far from alone in enduring visible epigenetic damage. And the consequences impact more than a child’s skeletal system; his entire genome is at risk. I believe this is why, according to a landmark 2003 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, this child, like all others born in 2000, had a one-in-three chance of developing diabetes, a condition that reduces life expectancy by between ten and twenty years. 179 What is going unreported is the fact that it isn’t just diabetes on the warpath. Every year, growing battalions of familiar diseases are cutting a wider and wider swath of destruction through the normal experiences of childhood. 180

Whereas in previous centuries part of a parent’s responsibility was to work hard to prevent their children from getting sick, today so many of us are sick ourselves that we’ve grown to accept disease as one of life’s inevitables—even for our children. Today’s kids aren’t healthy. But rather than make such a sweeping and terrifying declaration, we avert our eyes from the growing mound of evidence, fill the next set of prescriptions, and expand our definition of normal childhood health to encompass all manner of medical intervention. This latest generation of children has accumulated the epigenetic damage of at least the three previous generations due to lack of adequate nutrition along with the overconsumption of sugar and new artificial fats found in vegetable oils. The family genome has been getting battered relentlessly for almost a century—even during key, delicate periods of replication. The physiologic result of these accumulated genetic insults? Distorted cartilage, bone, brain, and other organ growth. Many physicians have noted an apparent increase in young couples complaining of problems with fertility which, given the implications of epigenetic science, should come as no surprise. Children born today, I’m afraid, may be so genomically compromised that, for many, reproduction will not be possible even with the benefit of high-tech medical prodding. This is why I call these children the Omega generation, referring to the last letter in the Greek alphabet.

Born by cesarean section (often necessitated by maternal pelvic bone abnormalities), briefly breast-fed (if at all), weaned on foods with extended shelf lives—the human equivalent of pet foods—these Omega generation children see the doctor often and, whether first-born or not, will likely suffer from both biradial and dynamic symmetry shifts. In the same way we talk about bracing for the aging baby boomers’ medical needs, we had better reinforce the levees of our medical system for the next rising tide: medicine-dependent youth. These children will age faster, suffer emotional problems, and develop never-before-seen diseases. In my experience as a doctor, parents have an intuitive sense that their children are already dealing with more health problems than they ever did, and they worry about their future, for good reason. But no parent is helpless. If you have children, or are planning to, I can think of at least one child who can do something to avoid all this illness and start getting healthy—yours.

Restoring Your Family’s Genetic Wealth

If having an Omega generation baby sounds terrifying, you can do something about it. You can get off the sugar and vegetable oils that would block your child’s genetic potential. That means cutting out processed food, fast food, junk food, and soda. And you should give yourself at least three, preferably four, years between pregnancies and make every effort to fortify your body with vitamin-rich foods (or if you can’t, at least use prenatal vitamins) before conception. Those who want to do everything possible to have a healthy baby will find additional instruction throughout this book. But this discussion opens up a new question: If I do everything right, how beautiful and healthy can I expect my child to be?

My first answer to that question is that, of course, all children are beautiful. But if you’re asking if your child will have extraordinary health, excel scholastically and in sports, and be so physically striking as to elicit the envy of peers, then the answer is, It depends. It depends on how much genetic wealth you gave him. Which, in turn, depends on what you inherited from your parents.

Genetics is all about information. Your genetic wealth is a function of how much of the information in your genes has been damaged or remains intact, and how well the supportive epigenetic machinery is able to express the surviving data contained in your genetic code. To gauge the present condition of your genetic data, you can begin by asking your parents and grandparents what they ate when they were little. Find out if you were breastfed. Were they? Learn whatever you can about who was born when (including birth spacing). Dig up as many family pictures as you can find to look for the telltale signs of Second Sibling Syndrome. The more you know about your family history, and the more objectively you measure your health and appearance along with that of your partner, the more clues you will have to assess your genetic, and epigenetic, health.

Let’s give it a try. Let’s attempt to gauge a person’s genetic momentum using Claudia Schiffer as our case subject. Though both her parents were tall and reasonably attractive, you wouldn’t guess they could produce the superstar beauty they did. Their genetic equation was complicated by the fact that her father and mother were born during the Depression and raised under the conditions of post-war food shortages. Claudia’s secret weapon of genetic wealth may be that her great-great-grandmother grew up in the most wholesome and remote of farming communities in Austria, a town near Elbigenalp, which changed very little in the thousands of years before Claudia’s grandmother’s birth. 193

This close relation to someone living in a successful, stable, indigenous society is truly a rare gift. Adding to this, Claudia’s father’s family was affluent, meaning that (during their formative years) he and his parents presumably had access to the best foods of the early twentieth century. Put the two together, and keep the good food coming, and— voilà —a genome operating under moderate duress for a spell is effectively rehabilitated.

Let’s look at a broader example of genetic rehabilitation, this time dealing with height. Height is one of the most desirable proportions for a man. Aside from the obvious social and mating advantages, the professional advantages gained with every additional inch of height are well documented. Studies show that tall men take home higher salaries, obtain leadership positions more often, and have more sex. 194

Hawaiian archeological evidence shows that for hundreds of years a man’s stature helped to secure him a better official position in the class hierarchy. Our language—”big shoes to fill,” “big man on campus,” “someone you can look up to”—reflects society’s universal preference for the tall. The positive perception of the taller among us often extends to women, as well. I am not suggesting that taller people are better, only that height affords certain physical and social advantages. With that in mind, can relatively diminutive parents who want those advantages for their children have a baby who might someday walk tall and rise above the fray to stand head and shoulders above the rest?

Absolutely! This potential is encoded in our genetic memory. We’ve all heard that we used to be a lot shorter, how few of us could fit into one of those little suits of armor worn by medieval knights. But around the world, accumulating evidence suggests that thousands of years prior, our Paleolithic predecessors were at least as tall, if not taller, than most of us are today. 195 Even in the early Middle Ages, 1,000 years ago, European men were nearly as tall as they are now. What caused the temporary skeletal shrinkage? As the population grew, crowding reduced access to nutrients until stature reached an all-time low in the early 1700s. 196 Improvements in agricultural technology, most notably the series of inventions attributed to lawyer-turned-farmer Jethro Tull, revolutionized the process of tilling soil, vastly increasing productivity. 197 By the late 1700s, having recovered some of its former nutritional inputs, the European genome rebounded—and with it the average European’s height. But it would probably have dipped again, so that a tall man today might measure just over five feet, were it not for the early twentieth-century invention of refrigeration. The ability to freeze food meant that fishermen could travel as far as they needed and fill their hulls to brimming. Refrigeration also meant that even during winter, wealthy countries could reach down to the tropics for summer fruits and vegetables, making it profitable for millions of acres of rain forests around the globe to be converted over to crop production. For the past 100 years, industrialized nations have had consistent access to enough nutrition to achieve our Paleolithically pre-programmed height. Of course, height doesn’t equal health. But generally speaking, when a genome has access to a surplus of complex nutrition, it is far better positioned—and may be said to have a built-in preference—for the production of offspring with more robust, larger frames.

179. Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States, Venkat Narayan, KM, JAMA, 2003, 290:1884-1890.
180. America’s children in brief: key national indicators of well-being, 2008, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.
[…]
193. Anna Stainer-Knittel: portrait of a femme vitale, Kain E, Women’s Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 13-71.
194. Mirror, Mirror … The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life, Hatfield E, SUNY Press, 1986.
195. Stature of early Europeans, Hormones, Hermanussen M, Athens, July-September 2003, 2(3):175-8.
196. New light on the “dark ages”: the remarkably tall stature of Northern European men during the Medieval era, Steckel RH, Social Science History, 2004, 28(2), pp. 211–229.
197. The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied

There were yet more outraged upper middle class people at work last night. It’s not an isolated incident, working as I have in a parking ramp for the past two decades. I see all types and it’s not as if working class and minority people never get upset, but never quite so often or to the same degree.

This particular couple was so angry that, if it were a cartoon, steam would have been blowing out their ears. They were screaming and honking their horn. They got out of their car a couple of times. I was starting to fear violence and made sure the doors were locked to my booth. It goes without saying that I don’t normally fear for my life while cashiering.

Fortunately, several large muscular police (all of them white) showed up and set these people straight. It’s nice when the police have your back, as a fellow city government employee. It might help that I’m a white guy and so, even as working class, I get some amount of privilege. I’d probably be more worried if I wasn’t white, as there is a history of systemic racism in this town (one of the highest racial disparities of drug arrests in the country; not to mention the last time a well off white guy started a fight with a poor black guy, it was the poor black guy defending himself that the police shot — see below*).

This couple was yelling at me not just because of some abstract notion of privilege, as so much about our society promotes that sense of privilege with concrete results. No doubt they are used to telling people what to do and getting their way. It’s at such times that I’m glad I’m unionized because I have no doubt they will contact my boss and try to get me fired (this is why every worker should be a union member and every workplace should be unionized). What they don’t understand, in their privilege, is that I don’t back down from rich assholes. Then again, neither do I treat anyone differently no matter their socioeconomic class. If someone is nice to me, I’ll do my best to be nice to them. I didn’t care that they have privilege in our society, not in and of itself or not anymore than privilege in general bothers me, but I do care that they flaunted their privilege in trying to intimidate me into submission.

After the incident, I was thinking about why they were so angry. I hadn’t seen anyone that angry in a long time. Even most upper middle class white people are perfectly fine. I rarely have trouble with any customers. Still, why is it that when there is conflict it disproportionately involves those with privilege? What does privilege mean in a high inequality society such as the United States? People like this are among the few who are socially, economically, and politically secure in American society. They have few worries. Paying the 23 bucks for a lost ticket is nothing to them (filling the gas tank of their SUV would cost far more than that). But being treated like a normal person felt like a threat to their entire sense of reality. And indeed it was a threat because without entitlement their identity of superiority can’t be maintained. Probably at stake, in their minds, was the very social order and their place within it.

Few poor minorities would dare to escalate a situation to that level. That is because they have proper respect for the police showing up. This couple, however, had no concept that any and all authority figures wouldn’t automatically take their side no matter what. And they knew that no matter how much trouble they caused the police were unlikely to shoot them or arrest them, as they might do to a poor minority. I intellectually understand that. Yet what really is at the bottom of that fuming outrage? It’s such a strange thing to observe. And I don’t even take it personally. From my view, they really are no different than any other customer. As a unionized government employee, I take it all in stride because I’ve seen it all before. It’s just another day on the job.

I considered the possibility that they had a really bad day for a thousand different possible reasons. Or maybe they had been drinking. But that doesn’t really explain anything. Unhappy drunks and unhappy people in general are as common as they come. Most people, no matter what is going on in their life and no matter their state of mind, don’t have public tantrums that lead to altercations with the police. It was plain weird. I could sense how shocked, flabbergasted they were that they couldn’t get me to do what they told me to do. I do what my employer tells me to do, not what a rich asshole tells me to do. That is how capitalism works. Now if my employer were a rich asshole, that would be a different situation.

This reminds me of Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder. He explains how high inequality stresses out everyone, including the rich. It creates a social condition of pervasive anxiety, divisiveness, conflict, aggressiveness, short-term thinking, etc. That last one applies here, since it wasn’t only anger but an inability to think of consequences. That couple was completely lost in the all-consuming moment of blind rage to the point of an apoplectic fit. I’d argue that their behavior was morally wrong, at least according to standards of basic humanity, but more than anything their behavior was supremely stupid. That is a point Payne makes, how as inequality worsens so does decision-making ability.

What stands out is that such relatively wealthy people would argue over such a small sum of money, as if they were poor people and I was trying to take away their last dollar. Payne explains this, in demonstrating how people feel poor and act poorly in a high inequality society, even when no poor person is involved in any given situation. The sense of class conflict and status insecurity is a shadow that looms over the lives of us all, rich and poor alike.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to inequality or rather not only to socioeconomic inequality, as there are many forms of disparity between individuals and groups. Any stressor will have similar consequences, but few stressors are likely to have much impact without one kind of inequality or another already being present. It is the differences and divides of inequality that transforms an individual stressor into large-scale and pervasive social stress. This among much else, as Payne explains, leads to the clinging of social identity — from race to politics, but often class. And that is how we come to see our neighbors and fellow citizens as potential threats, as enemy others to be fought and defeated or to go down trying.

In such a state of anxiety and fear, every incident can become a perceived existential threat. But the seeming point of contention focused upon, whether a ramp charge or a political argument, is rarely if ever the real issue. What matters most is how this cuts to the heart of identity and, in these reactionary times, turns the mind toward the reactionary — it not being all that relevant what is being reacted to. Lots of heat, little light.

* * *

The Broken Ladder
by Keith Payne
pp. 2-4 (see earlier post)

As they discovered, the odds of an air rage incident were almost four times higher in the coach section of a plane with a first-class cabin than in a plane that did not have one. Other factors mattered, too, like flight delays. But the presence of a first-class section raised the chances of a disturbance by the same amount as a nine-and-a-half-hour delay.

To test the idea another way, the researchers looked at how the boarding process highlights status differences. Most planes with a first-class cabin board at the front, which forces the coach passengers to trudge down the aisle, dragging their baggage past the well-heeled and the already comfortably seated. But about 15 percent of flights board in the middle or at the back of the plane, which spares the coach passengers this gauntlet. As predicted, air rage was about twice as likely on flights that boarded at the front, raising the chances of an incident by the same amount as waiting out a six-hour delay.

This air rage study is revealing, but not just because it illustrates how inequality drives wedges between the haves and the have-nots. What makes it fascinating to me is that incidents of rage take place even when there are no true have-nots on a flightSince an average economy-class ticket costs several hundred dollars, few genuinely poor people can afford to travel on a modern commercial airplane. Yet even relative differences among the respectable middle-class people flying coach can create conflict and chaos. In fact, the chaos is not limited to coach: First-class flyers in the study were several times more likely to erupt in air rage when they were brought up close and personal with the rabble on front-loading planes. As Ivana Trump’s behavior can attest, when the level of inequality becomes too large to ignore, everyone starts acting strange.

But they do not act strange in just any old way. Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again. It makes us shortsighted and prone to risky behavior, willing to sacrifice a secure future for immediate gratification. It makes us more inclined to make self-defeating decisions. It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is. Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.

Picture a neighborhood full of people like the ones I’ve described above: shortsighted, irresponsible people making bad choices; mistrustful people segregated by race and by ideology; superstitious people who won’t listen to reason; people who turn to self-destructive habits as they cope with the stress and anxieties of their daily lives. These are the classic tropes of poverty and could serve as a stereotypical description of the population of any poor inner-city neighborhood or depressed rural trailer park. But as we will see in the chapters ahead, inequality can produce these tendencies even among the middle class and wealthy individuals.

What is also notable about the air rage study is that it illustrates that inequality is not the same as poverty, although it can feel an awful lot like it. That phenomenon is the subject of this book. Inequality makes people feel poor and act poor, even when they’re not. Inequality so mimics poverty in our minds that the United States of America, the richest and most unequal of countries, has a lot of features that better resemble a developing nation than a superpower.

* * *

*Let me note one thing, for sake of fairness.

Even with the proven history of racial bias around here, I have to admit that in my personal experience the Iowa City Police are quite professional. Blacks living here very well might have different experience than my own, of course. All I can say is that I’ve observed no police bias, racial or class, in my years as a city employee. Maybe the police are more careful these days about biases, as it does seem they’ve sought to increase diversity of officers.

They dealt with this white upper middle class couple with a calm but firm authority, effectively de-escalating the situation. But I’ve seen them do the exact same thing with a black guy in my cashier lane some years ago. In neither case, did they threaten the customer nor did they have to resort to arresting them. The police here don’t seem to look for trouble, even when the problematic individual is looking for trouble.

I wanted to give credit where it is due. The police handled the situation well. Of the times police have showed up when I was dealing with a customer, I can only think of one time where the officer in question was less than helpful. It’s nice to be able to expect a professional response from the police, considering that evidence implies that isn’t always the case with police departments in some other cities.

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care.

Reactionary Neo-Imperialism

Neoliberals want a strong oppressive state to keep the masses controlled as cheap labor and consumers, not to mention as submissive imperial subjects that are occasionally useful as cannon fodder. But they more importantly want a hidden form of international neo-imperialism that controls nation-states like puppets on a string. This allows the capitalist class full freedom to do what they want by disallowing anyone else to have enough freedom to conflict with or challenge their interests.

The plutocracy have dual citizenships with bank accounts, real estate, factories, investments, etc in numerous countries. They can move about as they wish. They evade taxes and put their money in offshore accounts. And they move their business dealings wherever it is convenient at the moment with no sense of loyalty and patriotism, duty and pride, responsibility and prudence. But the average worker and middle class professional remains trapped within restrictive laws, regulations, and certifications. The unrestrained flow of the neoliberal market only applies to the filthy rich who do as they please.

This isn’t a new phenomenon exactly. Those in power have always sought freedom for themselves, including the freedom to deny the freedom of others. The only difference is that the corporation and its related institutional forms (lobbyist organizations, think tanks, corporatist trade organizations, along with various nefarious shadowy groups) operate as a new form of government that pretends it isn’t a government. Power in the past never had to remain hidden in this way. This indicates the fundamental weakness and instability of neoliberalism — the neoliberals like to play this off as a dynamic system, since they don’t care about foreboding collapse as long as they have an escape route and a well-stocked bunker.

Interestingly, even the neoliberal attempt to silence economic debate is nothing new. What made the Enlightenment so shocking, specifically during the revolutionary era, was that economic debate became mainstream. Before that, economics was privately dealt with in closed rooms and wasn’t a topic of politics and public debate. As such, neoliberalism is just another reactionary form longing to rebuild a rigid hierarchy like the ancien regime, not exactly the same for it needs to be improved to stop another revolutionary era from ever happening again.

This is why the godfather of neoliberalism, Friedrich Hayek, would defend the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. As with many others, fascism specifically and authoritarianism in general was seen as useful, despite it contradicting everything that neoliberals claimed to believe. Neoliberalism is another one of those non-ideological ideologies, which is to say the true ideology is kept obscure, the Achilles’ Heel of the precarious social order (protected by symbolic conflation). The trick is to force this out into the open. Neoliberalism has no defense against the transparency and scrutiny of democracy, the reason that democracy is always the first target of neoliberal schemes.

As a concluding note, this is what makes the Democratic establishment so dangerous in its offering cover for the neoliberal attack on democracy (e.g., the pay-to-play of the Clinton Foundation) — this is made clear in Paul Krugman’s defense of the greatness of American Imperialism against the threat of President Trump’s undermining of neoliberal hegemony (see Liberalism and Empire by Nathan J. Robonson). The pseudo-liberal reactionaries of the liberal class are the useful idiots who take their marching orders from the corporatocratic party bosses and the corporatist media oligopoly. There would be no neoliberal order without them.

* * *

Neoliberalism’s World Order
by Adam Tooze

Faced with this shocking transformation, neoliberals set out not to demolish the state but to create an international order strong enough to contain the dangerous forces of democracy and encase the private economy in its own autonomous sphere. Before they gathered at Mont Pèlerin, von Mises hosted the original meetings of the neoliberals in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, where he and his colleagues called for the rolling back of Austrian socialism. They did not think that fascism offered a long-term solution, but, given the threat of revolution, they welcomed Mussolini and the Blackshirts. As von Mises remarked in 1927, fascism “has, for the moment, saved European civilization.” Even in the late 1930s, Wilhelm Röpke, another leading neoliberal, would unabashedly declare that his desire for a strong state made him more “fascist” than many of his readers understood. We should not take this as a light-hearted quip.

The neoliberals were lobbyists for capital. But they were never only that. Working alongside von Mises, the young Friedrich Hayek and Gottfried Haberler were employed in empirical economic research. And it was the networks of interwar business-cycle research that drew key figures from Vienna to Geneva, then home to the League of Nations. The Swiss idyll is the site for much of the rest of Slobodian’s narrative, giving its name to the brand of globalist neoliberalism he labels the “Geneva school.” In the 1930s the League of Nations was a gathering place for economic expertise from across the world. But as Slobodian shows, what marked the Geneva school of neoliberalism was a collective intellectual crisis. In the face of the Great Depression, they not only came to doubt the predictive power of business-cycle research, they came to see the very act of enumerating and counting “the economy” as itself a threat to the order of private property. It was when you conceived of the economy as an object, whether for purposes of scientific investigation or policy intervention, that you opened the door to redistributive, democratic economic policy. Following their own edicts, after crushing the labor movement, the next line of defense of private property was therefore to declare the economy unknowable. For the Austrian neoliberals, this called for reinvention. They stopped doing economics and remade themselves as theorists of law and society. […]

It was in the 1980s that the neoliberals’ long march through the institutions of global economic governance finally carried the day. In this Slobodian agrees with the more familiar narrative. But rather than concentrating on national programs of monetarism, privatization, and union-busting, Slobodian focuses on the transnational dimension: the EU and the WTO. The protagonists of his story are people you have never heard of, second-generation students of the original Austro-German founders, trained as lawyers, not economists—men like Ernst-Joachim Mestmäker and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, who shaped the agenda in Brussels and helped to steer global trade policy.

It is a measure of the success of this fascinating, innovative history that it forces the question: after Slobodian’s reinterpretation, where does the critique of neoliberalism stand?

First and foremost, Slobodian has underlined the profound conservatism of the first generation of neoliberals and their fundamental hostility to democracy. What he has exposed, furthermore, is their deep commitment to empire as a restraint on the nation state. Notably, in the case of Wilhelm Röpke, this was reinforced by deep-seated anti-black racism. Throughout the 1960s Röpke was active on behalf of South Africa and Rhodesia in defense of what he saw as the last bastions of white civilization in the developing world. As late as the 1980s, members of the Mont Pèlerin Society argued that the white minority in South Africa could best be defended by weighting the voting system by the proportion of taxes paid. If this was liberalism it was not so much neo- as paleo-.

If racial hierarchy was one of the foundations of neoliberalism’s imagined global order, the other key constraint on the nation-state was the free flow of the factors of production. This is what made the restoration of capital mobility in the 1980s such a triumph. Following in the footsteps of the legal scholar and historian Samuel Moyn, one might remark that it was not by accident that the advent of radical capital mobility coincided with the advent of universal human rights. Both curtailed the sovereignty of nation states. Slobodian traces that intellectual and political association back to the 1940s, when Geneva school economists formulated the argument that an essential pillar of liberal freedom was the right of the wealthy to move their money across borders unimpeded by national government regulation. What they demanded, Slobodian quips, was the human right to capital flight. […]

The overwhelming stress on the priority of “the economy” and its imperatives leads many on the left to adopt a position that mirrors Hayek’s. Following thinkers like Karl Polanyi, they criticize the way that “the economy” has assumed an almost godlike authority. Nor is it by accident that the libertarian left shares Hayek’s distaste for top-down economic policy, what the political scientist James Scott has dubbed “seeing like a state.” As the neoliberals realized in the 1930s, the nation-state and the national economy are twins. If this remains somewhat veiled in the histories of countries like France and the United Kingdom, the conjoined emergence of state power and the developmental imperative was stamped on the face of the postcolonial world.

Such critiques can be radically illuminating by exposing the foundations of key concepts of modernity. But where do they lead? For Hayek this was not a question. The entire point was to silence policy debate. By focusing on broad questions of the economic constitution, rather than the details of economic processes, neoliberals sought to outlaw prying questions about how things actually worked. It was when you started asking for statistics and assembling spreadsheets that you took the first dangerous step toward politicizing “the economy.” In its critique of neoliberalism, the left has challenged this depoliticization. But by failing to enquire into the actual workings of the system, the left has accepted Hayek’s injunction that economic policy debate confine itself to the most abstract and general level. Indeed, the intellectual preoccupation with the critique of neoliberalism is itself symptomatic. We concentrate on elucidating the intellectual logic and history of ideologies and modes of government, rather than investigating processes of accumulation, production, and distribution. We are thus playing the neoliberals at their own game.

The Creed of Ancel Keys

“From the very beginning, we had the statistical means to understand why things did not add up; we had a boatload of Cassandras, a chorus of warnings; but they were ignored, castigated, suppressed. We had our big fat villain, and we still do.”
~ Trevor Butterworth, The Wall Street Journal

“The paradox is that medicine is supposedly more enlightened, but it has never been more tyrannical, hierarchical, controlled, intolerant, and dogmatic. Working doctors who dissent are cowed because failure to comply with the medical orthodoxy threatens livelihood and registration. Much of modern medicine is an intellectual void.”
~ Dr Des Spence, Scottish GP

“The suppression of inconvenient evidence is an old trick in our profession. The subterfuge may be due to love of a beautiful hypothesis, but often enough it is due to a subconscious desire to simplify a confusing subject. It is not many years ago that the senior physician of a famous hospital was distinctly heard to remark, sotto voce, “medicine is getting so confusing nowadays, what with insulin and things.” It is a sentiment with which almost everybody who qualified more than a quarter of a century ago is likely to sympathize…. But ignoring difficulties is a poor way of solving them.”
~ Raymond Greene, in a letter to The Lancet, 1953

A popular documentary out right now is The Magic Pill. It’s about the Paleo diet with some emphasis on ketosis (low-carb consumption causing fat to be primary energy for cellular metabolism). There are several varieties of the Paleo diet, as there was much diversity in ancient dietary patterns, but there are some key commonalities.

Earlier humans ate little if any grains or beans, often even well into the agricultural period (hunting and gathering remained a mainstay of the American diet for many up into the early-to-mid 20th century, such as my mother’s family when she was growing up). In the distant past and continuing into about a century ago, it was typical to eat lots of raw, fermented, and cultured foods — including meats.

And of course, animal fats with plenty of saturated fats have always been a major food component until the past few generations. It turns out some of the healthiest populations on the planet, including the Mediterranean people, traditionally ate high levels of saturated fats. The Masai, for example, are about as carnivorous as a population can be with heavy emphasis on saturated fats and their health is amazing:

“The Masai are almost pure carnivores, eating mostly milk, blood, and meat. A Masai man drinks up to a gallon of whole milk daily, and on top of that he might also eat a lot of meat containing still more saturated fat and cholesterol. Mann expected the Masai to have high blood cholesterol but was surprised to find it was among the lowest ever measured, about 50 percent lower than that of the average American.”
(Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 61)

Interestingly, Americans too used to load up on animal-related foods and saturated fats, also with a ton of raw whole milk, cheese, and butter. It was only after decades of decline in this earlier diet that Americans began having high rates of all the major diseases that now plague us: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

This leads us to Ancel Keys, the many who promoted much of the present mainstream dietary myths. More than a half century ago, he did some research comparing diets in different regions of the world, but he did so by cherry-picking what fit his preconceptions and ignoring all else (great analysis can be found in numerous videos, articles, and books by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig and at the Weston A. Price Foundation). In Nourishing Diets, Morell writes that (pp. 124-5),

“Critics have pointed out that Keys omitted from his study many areas of the world where consumption of animal foods is high and deaths from heart attack are low, including France — the so-called French paradox. But there is also a Japanese paradox. In 1989, Japanese scientists returned to the same two districts that Keys had studied. In an article titled “lessons fro Science from the Seven Countries Study,” they noted that per capita consumption of rice had declined, while consumption of fats, oils, meats, poultry, dairy products and fruit had all increased. […]

“During the postwar period of increased animal consumption, the Japanese average height increased three inches and the age-adjusted death rate from all causes declined from 17.6 to 7.4 per 1,000 per year. Although the rates of hypertension increased, stroke mortality declined markedly. Deaths from cancer also went down in spite of the consumption of animal foods.

“The researchers also noted — and here is the paradox — that the rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and sudden death did not change during this period, in spite of the fact that the Japanese weighed more, had higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels, and ate more fat, beef and dairy foods.”

About the Mediterranean diet, Morell considers the historical context to Keys’ study:

“The question that the believers haven’t asked themselves is this: was the lean, so-called Mediterranean diet they observed after World War II the true Mediterranean diet? Or were they observing the tail end of deprivation engendered by half a decade of conflict? Were the inhabitants of Crevalcore and Montegiorgio abandoning the traditional diet, or were they taking it up again? And did Keys miss the sight of Italians enjoying rich food in the early 1950s because Italians had never done such a shameful thing, or was the visiting professor too poor at the time to afford anything more than plain pizza in a sidewalk cafe?” (pp. 157-8)

Morell then goes on to look at numerous historical texts, including early cookbooks, from the region. All the evidence points to the traditional Mediterranean diet consisting largely of whole fat dairy products, meat products (lots of sausage), oils and animal fats, and eggs. As emphasized in the paleo diet,

“Italians love their vegetables for sure, and that’s because they know how to make them taste good. They know that salads taste better with a good dressing of aged vinegar and olive oil; and cooked vegetables blossom when anointed with butter, lard or cream” (p. 160).

Keys didn’t really understand the societies he was studying, much less the societies he chose to ignore. Yet he was charismatic and, though other contemporary research contradicted his data, he was able to promote his views such that they became adopted as mainstream ideology. This new belief system was enforced by the US government and by corporations, often in heavy-handed ways. Adelle Davis was a biochemist and nutritionist who was inspired by Weston A. Price’s research on traditional diets. In response, as described Joann Grohman, “The FDA raided health food stores and seized her books under a false labeling law because they were displayed next to vitamin bottles” (Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 30). “I find it dismaying that,” Planck says in another section (p. 201),

“the dangers of trans fats were known for sixty years. Weston Price cited 1943 research that butter was better than hydrogenated cottonseed oil. In the 1950s, researchers guessed that hydrogenated vegetable oil led to heart disease. Ancel Keys, the proponent of monounsaturated fat, showed in 1961 that hydrogenated corn oil raised trigydcerides more than butter. Year after year, the bad news piled up. [So, even Keys ultimately knew that saturated fat wasn’t the real culprit.]

“One dogged researcher, Mary Enig, helped get the word out. The author of Know Your Fats, Enig waged an often lonely battle. I’m afraid her efforts were not always welcomed with bouquets of roses. In 1978, Enig wrote a scientific paper challenging a government report blaming saturated fat for cancer, in which she pointed out that the data actually showed a link with trans fats. Not long after, “two guys from the Instituted of Shortening and Edible Oil — the trans fat lobby, basically — visited me, and oh boy, were they angry,” Enig told Gourmet magazine. “They said they’d been keeping a careful watch to prevent articles like mine from coming out and didn’t know how this horse had gotten out of the barn.”

“The stakes were high. “We spent lots of time, and lots of money and energy, refuting this work,” said Dr. Lars Wiederman, who once worked for the American Soybean Association. “Protecting trans fats from the taint of negative scientific findings was our charge.””

That sounds a lot like the corporatist defense of profits as happened with the decades of lies, spin, and obfuscation pushed by the tobacco and oil companies. Another more recent example is given in The Magic Pill documentary. In South Africa, the government put a doctor on trial for daring to give dietary advice that was in line with millennia-old traditions of human eating habits — fortunately, the doctor won his case but only after the government spent immense amount of taxpayer money trying to destroy him.

Dominant paradigms die hard and only after an immense fight, backed by the full power of the government and millions of corporate dollars. But that is only one part of what slows down change. Ideologies as worldviews hold on so long because they become entrenched in our minds and cultures. As often is noted, old scientists (along with old doctors, professors, bureaucrats, etc) don’t change their minds but eventually die and are replaced by a new generation with new ideas.

This was demonstrated with Michael Pollan’s latest documentary, In Defense of Food (transcript). In it, the professor of nutrition Marion Nestle adds a note of caution: “And it should be written on every single epidemiological study, ‘Red flag, association does not necessarily mean causation.’” Does that stop Pollan from basing conclusions on Keys problematic research? Nope. Instead, he promotes the belief that Keys’ conclusions are still valid: “But based on the strong association Keys saw in his data between heart disease and saturated fat, he advised people to eat less of it.” Not a single mention of any doubt or criticism.

It might be noted that Pollan was born in 1955. That was right in the middle of this now dominant ideology coming into ascendance. He reached adulthood as Keys’ ideology was being promoted by the USDA and as it became the new creed in mainstream thought. Now in his sixties, he is one of the older generation still clinging to what they were taught growing up. Yet, as a Boomer, his influence is still at its peak. Despite all the Western ailments, conventional medicine has allowed people to live longer and that means ideologies will remain entrenched for longer.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for younger generations to challenge the status quo. But the shift is already happening. From a personal perspective, this time lag of common knowledge creates a sense of disorientation, as it will take at least decades for official advice and public opinion to catch up with the research that has been accumulating over this past century.

This point was emphasized for me in reading a book published two decades ago in 1998, The Fats of Life by Caroline M. Pond — the author, a mainstream academic and researcher, notes that, “Heart attacks are thus seen as arising from a deficiency of polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than from an excess of saturates of cholesterol” (p. 293). This is far from being new knowledge. Pond doesn’t mention Weston A. Price, but she does discuss “the Oxford physician and biochemist, Hugh Sinclair (1910-1990), who studied the diet and habits of the Eskimos in northern Canada in 1944. Sinclair noted that Eskimos rarely suffered from the heart disease or strokes in spite of a very high-fat diet that included reindeer meat.” She goes onto say that, “The Masai people of Kenya eat large quantities of ruminant milk and meat, and Jamaicans eat saturated fats in coconut oil, but few of them die from heart attacks.”

In The Magic Pill, it is pointed out that Americans have been following the USDA Food Pyramid in eating less red meat and saturated fats while eating more grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. More Americans have been eating as they were told. What has resulted of this drastic dietary change? All the diseases this diet is supposed to prevent have gotten worse. This stark reality has yet to sink in because it would require thousands of officials and authority figures to not only admit they were wrong but that they caused immense harm to so many.

But why do others continue on with the sham? We’ve known much of this info for a long time now. Why are we still debating it as if the conventional view still has any relevance?

* * *

About silencing the critics:

Good Calories, Bad Calories
by Gary Taubes
pp. 191-194

This is where the story now takes some peculiar turns. One immediate effect of the revelation about HDL, paradoxically, was to direct attention away from triglycerides, and with them the conspicuous link, until then, to the carbohydrate hypothesis. Gordon and his colleagues had demonstrated that when both HDL and triglycerides were incorporated into the risk equations of heart disease, or when obesity and the prediabetic condition of glucose intolerance were included in the equations along with triglycerides, the apparent effect of triglycerides diminished considerably. This result wasn’t surprising, considering that low HDL, high triglycerides, obesity, and glucose intolerance all seemed to be related, but that wasn’t the point. The relevant question for physicians was whether high triglycerides by themselves caused heart disease. If so, then patients should be advised to lower their triglycerides, however that might be accomplished, just as they were being told already to lower cholesterol. These risk-factor equations (known as multivariate equations ) suggested that triglycerides were not particularly important when these other factors were taken into account, and this was how they would be perceived for another decade. Not until the late 1980s would the intimate association of low HDL, high triglycerides, obesity, and diabetes be considered significant—in the context of Gerald Reaven’s Syndrome X hypothesis—but by then the heart-disease researchers would be committed to the recommendations of a national low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

Heart-disease researchers would also avoid the most obvious implication of the two analyses—that raising HDL offers considerably more promise to prevent heart disease than lowering either LDL or total cholesterol—on the basis that this hadn’t been tested in clinical trials. Here the immediate obstacle, once again, was the institutional investment in Keys’s hypothesis. The National Institutes of Health had committed its heart-disease research budget to two ongoing studies, MRFIT and the Lipid Research Clinics Trial, which together would cost over $250 million. These studies were dedicated solely to the proposition that lowering total cholesterol would prevent heart disease. There was little money or interest in testing an alternative approach. Gordon later recalled that, when he presented the HDL evidence to the team of investigators overseeing MRFIT, “it was greeted with a silence that was very, how should I say it, expressive. One of them spoke up indicating he suspected this was a bunch of shit. They didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Indeed, the timing of the HDL revelations could not have been less convenient. The results were first revealed to the public in an American Heart Association seminar in New York on January 17, 1977. This was just three days after George McGovern had announced the publication of the Dietary Goals for the United States, advocating low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets for all Americans, based exclusively on Keys’s hypothesis that coronary heart disease was caused by the effect of saturated fat on total cholesterol. If the New York Times account of the proceedings is accurate, the AHA and the assembled investigators went out of their way to ensure that the new evidence would not cast doubt on Keys’s hypothesis or the new dietary goals. Rather than challenge the theory that excess cholesterol can cause heart disease, the Times reported, “the findings re-emphasize the importance of a fatty diet in precipitating life-threatening hardening of the arteries in most Americans,” which is precisely what they did not do. According to the Times, saturated fat was now indicted not just for increasing LDL cholesterol, which it does, but for elevating VLDL triglycerides and lowering HDL, which it does not, and certainly not compared with the carbohydrates that McGovern’s Dietary Goals were recommending all Americans eat instead.

In a more rational world, which means a research establishment not already committed to Keys’s hypothesis and not wholly reliant on funding from the institutions that had embraced the theory, the results would have immediately prompted small clinical trials of the hypothesis that raising HDL prevented heart disease, just like those small trials that had begun in the 1950s to test Keys’s hypothesis. If those confirmed the hypothesis, then longer, larger trials would be needed to establish whether the short-term benefits translated to a longer, healthier life. But the NIH administrators decided that HDL studies would have to wait. Once the Lipid Research Clinics Trial results were published in 1984, they were presented to the world as proof that lowering cholesterol by eating less fat and more carbohydrates was the dietary answer to heart disease. There was simply no room now in the dogma for a hypothesis that suggested that raising HDL (and lowering triglycerides) by eating more fat and less carbohydrates might be the correct approach. No clinical trials of the HDL hypothesis would begin in the U.S. until 1991, when the Veterans Administration funded a twenty-center drug trial. The results, published in 1999, supported the hypothesis that heart disease could be prevented by raising HDL. The drug used in the study, gemfibrozil, also lowered triglyceride levels and VLDL, suggesting that a diet that did the same by restricting carbohydrates might have a similarly beneficial effect. As of 2006, no such dietary trials had been funded. Through the 1980s and 1990s, as our belief in the low-fat heart-healthy diet solidified, the official reports on nutrition and health would inevitably discuss the apparent benefits of raising HDL—the “good cholesterol”—and would then observe correctly that no studies existed to demonstrate this would prevent heart disease and lengthen life. By 2000, well over $1 billion had been spent on trials of cholesterol-lowering, and a tiny fraction of that amount on testing the benefits of raising HDL. Thus, any discussions about the relative significance of raising HDL versus lowering total cholesterol would always be filtered through this enormous imbalance in the research efforts. Lowering LDL cholesterol would always have the appearance of being more important.

pp. 212-214

Reaven’s 1988 Banting Lecture is credited as the turning point in the effort to convince diabetologists of the critical importance of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, but those investigators concerned with the genesis of heart disease paid little attention, considering anything having to do with insulin to be relevant only to diabetes. This was a natural consequence of the specialization of scientific research. Through the mid-1980s, Reaven’s research had focused on diabetes and insulin, and so his publications appeared almost exclusively in journals of diabetes, endocrinology, and metabolism. Not until 1996 did Reaven publish an article on Syndrome X in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the primary journal for research in heart disease. Meanwhile, his work had no influence on public-health policy or the public’s dietary consciousness. Neither the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health nor the National Academy of Sciences’s 1989 Diet and Health mentioned insulin resistance or hyperinsulinemia in any context other than Reaven’s cautions that high-carbohydrate diets might not be ideal for Type 2 diabetics. Both reports ardently recommended low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets for the prevention of heart disease.

Even the diabetes community found it easier to accept Reaven’s science than its dietary implications. Reaven’s observations and data “speak for themselves,” as Robert Silverman of the NIH suggested at a 1986 consensus conference on diabetes prevention and treatment. But they placed nutritionists in an awkward position. “High protein levels can be bad for the kidneys,” said Silverman. “High fat is bad for your heart. Now Reaven is saying not to eat high carbohydrates. We have to eat something.” “Sometimes we wish it would go away,” Silverman added, “because nobody knows how to deal with it.”

This is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, or the tension that results from trying to hold two incompatible beliefs simultaneously. When the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn discussed cognitive dissonance in scientific research—“the awareness of an anomaly in the fit between theory and nature”—he suggested that scientists will typically do what they have invariably done in the past in such cases: “They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict.” And that’s exactly what happened with metabolic syndrome and its dietary implications. The syndrome itself was accepted as real and important; the idea that it was caused or exacerbated by the excessive consumption of carbohydrates simply vanished.

Among the few clinical investigators working on heart disease who paid attention to Reaven’s research in the late 1980s was Ron Krauss. In 1993, Krauss and Reaven together reported that small, dense LDL was another of the metabolic abnormalities commonly found in Reaven’s Syndrome X. Small, dense LDL, they noted, was associated with insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, high blood sugar, hypertension, and low HDL as well. They also reported that the two best predictors of the presence of insulin resistance and the dominance of small, dense LDL are triglycerides and HDL cholesterol—the higher the triglycerides and the lower the HDL, the more likely it is that both insulin resistance and small, dense LDL are present. This offers yet another reason to believe the carbohydrate hypothesis of heart disease, since metabolic syndrome is now considered perhaps the dominant heart-disease risk factor—a “coequal partner to cigarette smoking as contributors to premature [coronary heart disease],” as the National Cholesterol Education Program describes it—and both triglycerides and HDL cholesterol are influenced by carbohydrate consumption far more than by any fat.

Nonetheless, when small, dense LDL and metabolic syndrome officially entered the orthodox wisdom as risk factors for heart disease in 2002, the cognitive dissonance was clearly present. First the National Cholesterol Education Program published its revised guidelines for cholesterol testing and treatment. This was followed in 2004 by two conference reports: one describing the conclusions of a joint NIH-AHA meeting on scientific issues related to metabolic syndrome, and the other, in which the American Diabetes Association joined in as well, describing joint treatment guidelines. Scott Grundy of the University of Texas was the primary author of all three documents. When I interviewed Grundy in May 2004, he acknowledged that metabolic syndrome was the cause of most heart disease in America, and that this syndrome is probably caused by the excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates. Yet his three reports—representing the official NIH, AHA, and ADA positions—all remained firmly wedded to the fat-cholesterol dogma. They acknowledge metabolic syndrome as an emerging risk factor for heart disease, but identify LDL cholesterol as “the primary driving force for coronary atherogenesis.” Thus, heart disease in America, as the National Cholesterol Education Program report put it, was still officially caused by “mass elevations of serum LDL cholesterol result[ing] from the habitual diet in the United States, particularly diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol.”

There was no mention that carbohydrates might be responsible for causing or exacerbating either metabolic syndrome or the combination of low HDL, high triglycerides, and small, dense LDL, which is described as occurring “commonly in persons with premature [coronary heart disease]. *53 In the now established version of the alternative hypothesis—that metabolic syndrome leads to heart disease—the carbohydrates that had always been considered the causative agent had been officially rendered harmless. They had been removed from the equation of nutrition and chronic disease, despite the decades of research and observations suggesting the critical causal role they played.

The Big Fat Surprise
by Nina Teicholz
pp. 57-58

It’s not that no one questioned Keys along the way, of course. There were plenty of skeptics, including esteemed, influential scientists. Remember that Swedish egg-eating doctor, Uffe Ravnskov? On my own travels through the world of nutrition as I researched this book, he was the first “skeptic” I met. Whereas once a large and prominent group of scientists had opposed Keys and his hypothesis, the great majority of them had disappeared by the late 1980s. Ravnskov picked up their torch later, with the publication of a book called Cholesterol Myths in 2000.

At a conference that we were both attending near Copenhagen in 2005, he stood out in the crowd simply because he was willing to confront this gathering of top nutrition experts by asking questions that were considered long since settled.

“The whole pathway, from cholesterol in the diet, to cholesterol in the blood, to heart disease—has this pathway really been proven?” he stood up and asked, rightly though rhetorically, after a presentation one day.
“Tsh! Tsh! Tsh!” A hundred-plus scientists wagged their heads in unison.
“Next question?” asked an irritated moderator.

The incident illustrated, for me, the most remarkable aspect of the nutrition research community, namely its surprising lack of oxygen for alternative viewpoints. When I started out my research, I expected to find a community of scientists in decorous debate. Instead, I found researchers like Ravnskov, who, by his own admission, was a cautionary tale for independently minded scientists seeking to challenge the conventional wisdom. His predecessors from the 1960s onward hadn’t been convinced by the orthodoxy on cholesterol; they’d just been silenced, worn out, or had come to the end of their careers. As Keys’s ideas spread and became adopted by powerful institutions, those who challenged him faced a difficult—some might say impossible—battle. Being on the losing side of such a high-stakes debate had caused their professional lives to suffer. Many of them had lost jobs, research funding, speaking engagements, and all the many other perks of prestige. Although these diet-heart opponents included a number of researchers who were at the top of their fields, including, notably, an editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association , they were not invited to conferences and were unable to get prestigious journals to publish their work. XIV Experiments that had dissenting results, they found, were not debated and discussed but instead dismissed or ignored altogether. Even being subject to slander and personal ridicule were surprisingly not unusual experiences for these opponents of the diet-heart hypothesis. In short, they found themselves unable to continue contributing to their fields, which of course is the very essence of every scientist’s hopes and ambitions.

To a surprising degree, in fact, the story of nutritional science is not, as we would expect, one of sober-minded researchers moving with measured, judicious steps. It falls, instead, under the “Great Man” theory of history, whereby strong personalities steer events using their own personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or wits. In the history of nutrition, Ancel Keys was, by far, the Greatest Man.

pp. 106-108

On the whole, said Manning Feinleib, an associate director at the NHLBI who attended the meetings as a rapporteur, the committee seemed to consider the downside of cancer to be less important than the upside of reducing heart disease. I spoke to him in 2009, and he was clearly dismayed that the issue of low cholesterol and cancer had still not been settled. “Oh boy, it’s been more than twenty-five years, and they have still not shed more light on what’s going on, and why not? That’s even more puzzling.”

In 1990, the NHLBI held yet another meeting on the problem of “significantly increased” death rates from cancer and other noncardiovascular causes for people with low cholesterol. The lower the cholesterol, the worse it looked for cancer deaths, and damningly, it looked especially bad for healthy men who were actively trying to reduce their cholesterol through diet or drugs. But there was no follow-up to these meetings, and the results did not change the enthusiasm for the “prudent diet.” The effects of low cholesterol are still not well understood.

When I mentioned all this to Stamler, he didn’t remember any part of this cancer-cholesterol debate. In this way, he is a microcosm of a larger phenomenon that allowed the diet-heart hypothesis to move forward: inconvenient results were consistently ignored; here again, “selection bias” was at work.

An Extreme Case of Selection Bias

There has been a lot of selective reporting and ignoring of the methodological problems over the years. But probably the most astonishing example of selection bias was the near-complete suppression of the Minnesota Coronary Survey, which was an outgrowth of the National Diet Heart Study. Also funded by NIH, the Minnesota Coronary Survey is the largest-ever clinical trial of the diet-heart hypothesis and therefore certainly belongs on the list along with Oslo, the Finnish Mental Hospital Study, and the LA Veterans Trial, but it is rarely included, undoubtedly because it didn’t turn out the way nutrition experts had hoped.

Starting in 1968, the biochemist Ivan Frantz fed nine thousand men and women in six Minnesota state mental hospitals and one nursing home either “traditional American foods,” with 18 percent saturated fat, or a diet containing soft margarine, a whole-egg substitute, low-fat beef, and dairy products “filled” with vegetable oil. This diet cut the amount of saturated fat in half. (Both diets had a total of 38 percent fat overall.) Researchers reported “nearly 100% participation,” and since the population was hospitalized, it was more controlled than most—although, like the Finnish hospital study, there was a good deal of turnover in the hospital (the average length of stay was only about a year).

After four-and-a-half years, however, the researchers were unable to find any differences between the treatment and control groups for cardiovascular events, cardiovascular deaths, or total mortality. Cancer was higher in the low-saturated-fat group, although the report does not say if that difference was statistically significant. The diet low in saturated fat had failed to show any advantage at all. Frantz, who worked in Keys’s university department, did not publish the study for sixteen years, until after he retired, and then he placed his results in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology , which is unlikely to be read by anyone outside the field of cardiology. When asked why he did not publish the results earlier, Frantz replied that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong in the study. “We were just disappointed in the way it came out,” he said. In other words, the study was selectively ignored by its own director. It was another inconvenient data point that needed to be dismissed.

pp. 114-

In the United States, Pete Ahrens, who was still the prudent diet’s most prominent critic, continued to publish his central point of caution: the diet-heart hypothesis “is still a hypothesis . . . I sincerely believe we should not . . . make broadscale recommendations on diets and drugs to the general public now.” XVIII

By the late 1970s, however, the number of scientific studies had grown to such “unmanageable proportions,” as one Columbia University pathologist put it, that it was overwhelming. Depending on how one interpreted the data and how one weighed all the caveats, the dots could be connected to point in different directions. The ambiguities inherent to nutrition studies opened the door for their interpretation to be influenced by bias—which hardened into a kind of faith. There were simply “believers” and “nonbelievers,” according to cholesterol expert Daniel Steinberg. A number of interpretations of the data were possible and equally compelling from a scientific perspective, but there was only one for “believers,” while “disbelievers” became heretics outside the establishment.

Thus, the normal defenses of modern science had been flattened by a perfect storm of forces gathered in postwar America. In its impressionable infancy and compelled by an urgent drive to cure heart disease, nutrition science had bowed to charismatic leaders. A hypothesis had taken center stage; money poured in to test it, and the nutrition community embraced the idea. Soon there was very little room for debate. The United States had embarked upon a giant nutritional experiment to cut out meat, dairy, and dietary fat altogether, shifting calorie-consumption over to grains, fruits, and vegetables. Saturated animal fats would be replaced by polyunsaturated vegetable oils. It was a new, untested diet—just an idea, presented to Americans as the truth. Many years later, science started to show that this diet was not very healthy after all, but it was too late by then, since it had been national policy for decades already.

pp. 142-145

The Consensus Conference

If a large portion of middle-aged American adults are now cutting back on meat and taking statin pills, it is due almost entirely to the step that the NHLBI took next. Dispensing drugs and dietary advice to the entire US population is a huge responsibility, and the NHLBI decided it needed to create a scientific consensus, or at least the appearance of one, before moving forward. Also, the agency needed to define the exact cholesterol thresholds above which it could tell doctors to prescribe a low-fat diet or a statin. So once again, in 1984, NHLBI convened an expert group in Washington, DC, with a public meeting component attended by more than six hundred doctors and researchers. Their job—in an unrealistic two-and-a-half days—was to grapple with and debate the entire, massive stack of scientific literature on diet and disease, and then to come to a consensus about the recommended cholesterol targets for men and women of all ages.

The conference was described by various attendees as having preordained results from the start, and it’s hard not to conclude otherwise. The sheer number of people testifying in favor of cholesterol lowering was larger than the number of spaces allotted to challengers, and powerful diet-heart supporters controlled all the key posts: Basil Rifkind chaired the planning committee, Daniel Steinberg chaired the conference itself, and both men testified.

The conference “consensus” statement, which Steinberg read out on the last morning of the event, was not a measured assessment of the complicated role that diet might play in a little-understood disease. Instead, there was “no doubt,” he stated, that reducing cholesterol through a low-fat, low-saturated-fat diet would “afford significant protection against coronary heart disease” for every American over the age of two. Heart disease would now be the most important factor driving dietary choices for the entire nation. After the conference, in March 1984, Time magazine ran an illustration on its cover of a face on a dinner plate, comprised of two fried-egg eyes over a bacon-strip frown. “Hold the Eggs and Butter!” stated the headline, and the story began: “Cholesterol is proved deadly, and our diet may never be the same.”

As we’ve seen, LRC had nothing to say about diet, and even its conclusions on cholesterol were only weakly supported by the data, but Rifkind had already demonstrated that he believed this extrapolation was fair. He told Time that the results “strongly indicate that the more you lower cholesterol and fat in your diet, the more you reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Gina Kolata, then a reporter for Science magazine, wrote a skeptical piece about the quality of the evidence supporting the conference’s conclusions. The studies “do not show that lowering cholesterol makes a difference,” she wrote, and she quoted a broad range of critics who worried that the data were not nearly strong enough to recommend a low-fat diet for all men, women, and children. Steinberg attempted to dismiss the criticisms by calling her article a case of the media’s appetite for “dissent [which] is always more newsworthy than consensus,” but the Time cover story in support of Steinberg’s stated conclusions was clearly an example of the opposite, and on the whole, the media supported the new cholesterol guidelines.

The consensus conference spawned an entirely new administration at the NIH, called the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), whose job it remains to advise doctors about how to define and treat their “at-risk” patients, as well as to educate Americans themselves about the apparent advantages of lowering their cholesterol. In the following years, the NCEP’s expert panels became infiltrated by researchers supported by pharmaceutical money, and cholesterol targets were ratcheted ever lower, thereby bringing greater and greater numbers of Americans into the category that qualified for statins. And the low-fat diet, even though it had never been properly tested in a clinical trial to ascertain whether it could prevent heart disease, became the standard, recommended diet of the land.

For longtime critics of the diet-heart hypothesis such as Pete Ahrens, the consensus conference was also significant because it marked the last time they could speak openly. After this conference, Ahrens and his colleagues were forced to fold their case. Although members of the nutrition elite had, over the previous two decades, been allowed to be part of the debate, in the years following the consensus conference, this was no longer true. To be a member of the elite now meant, ipso facto, supporting the low-fat diet. So effectively did the NHLBI-AHA alliance silence its antagonists, in fact, that among the tens of thousands of researchers in the worlds of medicine and nutrition over the next fifteen years, only a few dozen would publish research even gingerly challenging the diet-heart hypothesis. And even then, they worried about putting their careers on the line. They saw Ahrens, who had risen to the very top of his field and yet found himself having a hard time getting grants, because there was “a price to pay for going up against the establishment, and he was well aware of that,” as one of his former students told me.

No doubt this is why Ahrens, in looking back on the conference, which came to be his swan song, spoke with an uncharacteristic lack of reserve. “I think the public is being hosed by the NIH and the American Heart Association,” he declared. “They desire to do something good. They’re hoping to God that this is the right thing to do. But they are not acting on the basis of scientific evidence, but on the basis of a plausible but untested idea.” Plausible or even probable, however, that untested idea had now been launched.

pp. 319-328

These pioneering researchers of the Atkins diet continued to expand their work throughout the 2000s, conducting trials on a range of subjects: men and women, athletes, and those suffering from obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. XV XVI And while the gains have varied, they have consistently pointed in the right direction. One of the more extraordinary experiments involved 146 men suffering from high blood pressure who went on the Atkins diet for almost a year. The group saw their blood pressure drop significantly more than did a group of low-fat dieters—who were also taking a blood-pressure medication.

In most of these experiments, the diet with the best results contained more than 60 percent of calories as fat. XVII This proportion of fat was similar to what the Inuit and the Masai ate but was startlingly high compared to the official recommendations of 30 percent or less. Yet no other well-controlled trials of any other diet had ever shown such clear-cut advantages in the fight against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and for so many different kinds of populations.

Despite the consistency of these results, Westman and his colleagues have remained outsiders in the world of nutrition. Their work has perhaps predictably been met with silence, scorn, or both. Getting their research published in prestigious journals has been difficult, and invitations to major conferences are rare. Volek says that even when he’s been invited to present his findings at meetings, displaying research that confronts the very foundation of the conventional wisdom on diet, the reception is incurious: “people are just quiet.” And despite the substantial body of evidence now supporting the high-fat, low-carbohydrate regime as the healthiest option, his colleagues still routinely refer to the diet as “quackery” and a “fad.” Persevering in this field can be dispiriting, Volek told me. “You do deal with bias. . . . It’s very difficult to find grant money or journals that want to publish our studies.”

Westman has written poignantly about the predicament of working toward paradigm change when the existing bias is so strong: “When an unscientific fear of dietary fat pervades the culture so much that researchers who are on study sections that provide funding will not allow research into high-fat diets for fear of ‘harming people,’ ” as we’ve seen at the NIH and AHA, “this situation will not allow science to ‘self-correct.’ A sort of scientific taboo is created because of the low likelihood of funding, and the funding agencies are off the hook because they say that researchers are not submitting requests for grants.” […]

Gary Taubes and “The Big Fat Lie”

While these researchers have been ignored by most mainstream medical and nutrition communities, the one person who has successfully redirected the nutrition conversation over the past decade toward the idea that carbohydrates, not fat, are the drivers of obesity and other chronic diseases is the science journalist Gary Taubes. In 2001, he wrote a critical history of the diet-heart hypothesis for Science magazine, which was the first time a major scientific journal had published a thorough analysis of the low-fat dogma’s scientific weaknesses—at least since Pete Ahrens had ceded the battle against Ancel Keys in the mid-1980s. Taubes also reviewed all the science, from those prewar German and Austrian obesity researchers on through Pennington, and concluded that obesity was indeed a hormonal defect and not the result of gluttony and sloth. In his Science piece, Taubes described how the hormone causing obesity is most likely insulin, which spikes when one eats carbohydrates. One of his primary conclusions, in fact, was that dietary fat itself is the nutrient least likely to make you fat, because it’s the one macronutrient that doesn’t stimulate the production of insulin.

Other researchers and scientists had published critiques of the diet-heart hypothesis, but Taubes was the first to put together all the various ideas on the topic into one comprehensive narrative. And Taubes could reach a national audience. He followed up with a second foray in the New York Times Magazine , under the headline, “ What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” In 2007, he published a book on the subject, Good Calories, Bad Calories , a densely annotated and meticulously researched work that made a comprehensive and original case for an “alternative” hypothesis on obesity and chronic disease. It argued that the refined carbohydrates and sugars in our diet are what cause obesity, diabetes, and related diseases, and not the dietary fat or the “excess calories” that are thought to come from eating more than we should.

Taubes has been the most influential recent challenger to the diet-heart hypothesis. Even Michael Pollan, the popular food writer who says we should eat “mostly plants,” praised Taubes for exposing the pseudoscience in the low-fat dogma and dubbed him the Alexander Solzhenitsyn of the nutrition world.

Taubes’s work shattered dogma to such an extent that most nutrition experts have been unable to respond except by simply dismissing him, as the field has managed to do with challengers so many times before. When Taubes’s book came out, Gina Kolata, medical writer for the New York Times , called Taubes “a brave and bold science journalist” but ended her review with an airy, “I’m sorry, I’m not convinced.” XXIII The chill in the nutrition community toward Taubes was so palpable in the mid-2000s, when I started my own research for this book, that although many diet-and-heart experts had apparently read Taubes, I found that no one was willing to talk about him. Taubes’s work as a science journalist had won him many awards, including three science-in-society awards from the National Association of Science Writers, the most that the group allows for any single science reporter. Yet roughly two thirds of my interviews with nutrition experts began with something like: “If you are taking the Gary Taubes line, then I’d rather not talk to you.”

Taubes, in turn, was a provocative critic of nutrition science and its practitioners. After one talk at a research institute, a senior faculty member asked, “Mr. Taubes, is it fair to say that one subtext of your talk is that you think we’re all idiots?” “A surprisingly good question,” Taubes wrote later on his blog. He explained that generations of researchers weren’t unintelligent; they had simply been educated into a biased way of thinking. Yet if the pursuit of science is about getting the right answer, wrote Taubes, then “getting the wrong answer on such a huge and tragic scale borders on inexcusable.” In the last line of his 2002 New York Times Magazine article, he quotes a researcher asking the not-so-rhetorical question: “Can we get the low-fat proponents to apologize?”

Despite the no-love-lost nature of the relationship between Taubes and mainstream nutrition experts, much of what he wrote seemed so eminently believable that it was almost immediately adopted. Of course sugar and white flour were bad! Nutrition experts spoke as if this had always been known. A 2010 headline in the Los Angeles Times declared, “Fat Was Once the Devil. Now More Nutritionists Are Pointing Accusingly at Sugar and Refined Grains.” Researchers around the country who had read and digested Taubes’s work were suddenly studying sucrose, fructose, and glucose, comparing them to each other and looking at their insulin effects. Some investigators have made the case recently that the fructose found in fruits, honey, table sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup may be worse than glucose in provoking the inflammation markers linked to heart disease. XXIV The glucose found in sugar and starchy vegetables, meanwhile, seems to work more closely with insulin to cause obesity. The science on these different types of refined carbohydrates is still in its infancy, so we don’t really know if all carbohydrates play a role in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, or if some types are worse than others.

The one statement that seems safe to make is that the refined carbohydrates and sugars that we were recommended to eat by the AHA as part of a healthy, fat-avoiding diet, are not merely indifferent, “empty calories,” as we’ve long been told, but are actively bad for health in a variety of ways. XXV Moreover, the clinical trials in recent years imply that any kind of carbohydrate, including those in whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables, are also unhealthy in large amounts. Remember that the Shai study in Israel found that the Mediterranean diet group, eating a high proportion of calories as these “complex” carbohydrates, turned out to be less healthy and fatter than the group on the Atkins-style diet, although they were healthier than the low-fat alternative. The Women’s Health Initiative, too, in which some 49,000 women were tested on a diet high in complex carbohydrates for nearly a decade, showed only marginal reductions in disease risk or weight. This big-picture message about how even too many unrefined carbohydrates might be bad for health is alienating for Americans, however, since we are now used to viewing these foods as healthy. And no doubt it would be difficult for nutrition experts to contradict their own half-century’s worth of high-carbohydrate advice.

Even so, whatever scientific progress has been made toward our greater understanding of carbohydrates generally in recent years has clearly been due to Taubes’s work. “This has been his most important contribution to the field,” said Ronald M. Krauss, an influential nutrition expert and the director of research at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. For a journalist, it was an astonishing coup in the world of science. In 2013, Taubes became one of the rare journalists to write a peer-reviewed article for the highly respected scientific publication, the British Medical Journal . Yet given the stranglehold that Keys’s ideas have held on nutrition researchers for so many decades, it is perhaps inevitable that an alternative hypothesis had to come from an outsider.

Lore of Nutrition
by Tim Noakes & Marika Sboros
pp. 27-31
Preface by Marika Sboros

He explained that there was nothing new to what he was saying, that the evidence had been there for years, and that those in positions of power and influence over public nutrition advice had either ignored or suppressed this evidence. He directed me to scientific people, papers and places I didn’t even know existed.

I ended the conversation feeling unsettled. Noakes sounded eminently rational, reasonable and robustly scientific. I started reading all the references he gave me. I read the work of US physician-professors Stephen Phinney and Eric Westman, and Professor Jeff Volek. I read Eades; US science journalist Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat (and most recently The Case Against Suga r ); and one of British obesity researcher Dr Zoë Harcombe’s many books, The Obesity Epidemic . I also read The Big Fat Surprise by US investigative journalist Nina Teicholz. That book thoroughly rocked my scientific worldview, as it has done for countless others.

The Wall Street Journal said of Teicholz’s book: ‘From the very beginning, we had the statistical means to understand why things did not add up; we had a boatload of Cassandras, a chorus of warnings; but they were ignored, castigated, suppressed. We had our big fat villain, and we still do.’ Former editor of the British Medical Journal Dr Richard Smith wrote about The Big Fat Surprise in a feature for the journal in 2014, titled ‘Are some diets “mass murder”?’ LCHF critics have suggested that prescribing a diet restricted in carbohydrates to the public is ‘the equivalent of mass murder’. Smith gained a very different impression after ploughing through five books on diet and some of the key studies to write his feature. The same accusation of ‘mass murder’ can be directed at ‘many players in the great diet game’, Smith said. In short, he said, experts have based bold policies on fragile science and the long-term results ‘may be terrible’. 3

For her book, Teicholz researched the influential US dietary guidelines, which were introduced in 1977 and which most English-speaking countries, including South Africa, subsequently adopted. She discovered that there was no evidence to support the guidelines’ low-fat, high-carb recommendations when they were first introduced, and that any evidence to the contrary was ignored or suppressed for decades.

My research into LCHF left me uneasy. As a journalist, I’m a messenger. I began to wonder whether I had been giving the wrong messages to my readers for decades. Had I unwittingly promoted advice that harmed people suffering from obesity, diabetes and heart disease? Among those was my father, Demetrius Sboros, who suffered from heart disease for many years before his death in 2002. Had I given him advice and information that shortened his life?

I put those worries aside and wrote up my interview with Noakes. The backlash was instant. On Twitter, total strangers called me irresponsible, unscientific, unethical and biased. Astonishingly, some were medical doctors, mostly former students of Noakes. They said that I was Noakes’s ‘cheerleader’, and even accused me of having a ‘crush’ on him. Some said that Noakes must have been paying me handsomely to say nice things about him. (For the record, he has never paid me anything, nor would he think to offer to pay me or I to accept.) Others said I was a ‘closet Banter’, as if that was the worst possible insult.

At first I was irritated. After all, I had quoted Noakes accurately. I had reflected what critics said about him, to ensure that I gave both sides. And anyway, I readily confess to bias, but only in favour of good science. I’ve always said that if anyone can show me robust evidence that Noakes is wrong about LCHF, I will publish it. Knowing him as I do, so will he.

Most of all, though, I was shocked at the venom behind the attacks on Noakes. He had simply done what any good scientist does when faced with compelling evidence that contradicts a belief: he had changed his mind. I’ve never seen much sense in having a mind if you can’t change it.

The attacks against him grew more gratuitously vicious and libellous. Then, in July 2014, researchers at UCT and the University of Stellenbosch published a study in PLoS One that became known as the Naudé review. 4

In August 2014, four of Noakes’s UCT colleagues published a letter in the Cape Times . Dubbed the UCT professors’ letter, it accused him of ‘making outrageous unproven claims about disease prevention’ and of ‘not conforming to the tenets of good and responsible science’. […]

As I continued my research, it became apparent why so many doctors, dietitians, and food and drug industries want to silence Noakes. He threatens their businesses, reputations, careers, funding and sponsors. And cardiologists and endocrinologists are not the only ones at risk of class-action lawsuits if, or more likely when, LCHF diets become mainstream, especially to treat health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. All doctors and dietitians may be at risk if it is shown that they knew about LCHF but deliberately chose not to offer it as an option to their patients.

When the HPCSA eventually charged Noakes in late 2014 with allegedly giving unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother on Twitter, I began to prepare to report on the hearing. The deeper I dug, the more unpleasant the experience became. In 2015, for example, I was having what I thought was a relatively civil phone call with Johannesburg cardiologist Dr Anthony Dalby. I asked for comment on research suggesting that the diet-heart hypothesis was unproven. ‘If you believe that, then I leave it to you,’ he said, and hung up on me. Other doctors, academics and dietitians followed suit, avoiding my emails, or slamming the phone down if I ever managed to get past their gatekeepers.

Teicholz told me of similar experiences while doing research for The Big Fat Surpris e . In response to a question on fat, an interviewee suddenly said, ‘I can’t talk about that,’ and hung up. Teicholz was shaken. ‘It felt as if I had been investigating organised crime,’ she said. The analogy was apt for her then. It became apt for me too.

The wall of silence I came up against while reporting on the HPCSA hearing should not have surprised me. I had a good working relationship with Claire Julsing Strydom, the dietitian who laid the initial complaint against Noakes – that is, until I started writing about her role in the whole affair. Strydom was president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa when she lodged the complaint. Once I began asking uncomfortable questions, she stopped talking to me. ADSA executives and academics have followed suit, clearly acting on legal advice.

Like many, I enjoy a good conspiracy theory. However, at the first abortive attempt at a hearing session in June 2015, I wasn’t convinced of an organised campaign to discredit Noakes. By the trial’s end, I was.

Strydom and ADSA deny a vendetta against Noakes. Yet the signs were always there. Another ADSA executive member, Catherine ‘Katie’ Pereira, lodged a complaint with the HPCSA against Noakes in 2014 that was even more frivolous than Strydom’s. During an interview for a newspaper, Noakes had said that he didn’t know of any dietitian who told poor people not to drink Coca-Cola and eat potato crisps. (Most orthodox dietitians I know tell people that it’s fine to eat and drink these products as long as they do so ‘in moderation’.) The journalist made that comment a focus of the published interview. Pereira was offended on behalf of the entire dietetic profession. The HPCSA initially – and sensibly, to my mind – declined to prosecute. Strydom then intervened and pleaded with the HPCSA to charge Noakes. That case is still pending.

Nevertheless, to me, Strydom and ADSA have always looked more like patsies – proxies for Big Food and other vested interests opposed to Noakes. And this book turned into not so much a ‘whodunnit’ than a ‘why they dunnit?’.

pp. 32-34
Introduction by Marika Sboros

This is the story of a remarkable scientific journey. Just as remarkable is the genesis of that journey: a single, innocuous tweet.

In February 2014 , a Twitter user asked a distinguished and world-renowned scientist a simple question: ‘Is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies??’

Always willing to engage with an inquiring mind, Professor Tim Noakes tweeted back: ‘Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween [ si c ] baby onto LCHF.’

With those few words, Noakes set off a chain of events that would eventually see him charged with unprofessional conduct, caught up in a case that would drag on for more than three years and cost many millions of rands. More difficult, if not impossible, to quantify is the devastating emotional toll that the whole ordeal has taken on him and his family, as critics attacked his character and scientific reputation at every turn.

At the time, it was open season on Tim Noakes. Doctors, dietitians and assorted academics from South Africa’s top universities had been hard at work for years trying to discredit him. They did not like his scientific views on low-carbohydrate, high-fat foods, which he had been promoting since 2011 . His opinions contrasted sharply with conventional, orthodox dietary ‘wisdom’, and the tweet provided the perfect pretext to amp up their attacks and hopefully silence him once and for all.

Within 24 hours of his tweet, a dietitian had reported him to the Health Professions Council of South Africa for giving what she considered ‘incorrect’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘potentially life-threatening’ advice. To Noakes’s surprise, the HPCSA took her complaint seriously.

Noakes is one of the few scientists in the world with an A 1 rating from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) for both sports science and nutrition. In his home country, he has no equal in terms of expertise in and research into LCHF. Few can match his large academic footprint – quantified by an H-index of over 70 . The H- or Hirsch index is a measure of the impact of a scientist’s work. Noakes’s impact is significant. He has published more than 500 scientific papers, many of them in peer-reviewed journals, and over 40 of which deal exclusively with nutrition. He has been cited more than 17 000 times in the scientific literature.

Yet, remarkably, the HPCSA chose to back the opinion of a dietitian in private practice over an internationally renowned nutrition research scientist. They charged him with ‘unprofessional conduct’ for providing ‘unconventional advice on breastfeeding babies on social networks’ and hauled him through the humiliating process of a disciplinary hearing.

The public quickly dubbed it ‘the Nutrition Trial of the 21 st Century’. I’ve called it Kafkaesque. The HPCSA insisted that it was a hearing, not a trial, but the statutory body’s own conduct belied the claim.

At the time of Noakes’s tweet, I wanted to give up journalism. After more than 30 years of researching and writing about medicine and nutrition science, I was frustrated and bored. People were growing fatter and sicker, and the medical and dietetic specialists I wrote about weren’t making much difference to patients’ lives. Neither was my reporting.

Then I started investigating and writing about the HPCSA’s case against Noakes. The more questions I asked, the more walls of silence came up around me, and from the most unexpected sources. There’s an old saying that silence isn’t empty, it is full of answers. I found that the silence was loudest from those with the most to hide. I could not have foreseen the labyrinthine extent of vested inter ests ranged against Noakes, or the role played by shadowy proxy organisations for multinational sugar and soft-drink companies in suppressing and discrediting nutrition evidence.

It took a US investigative journalist to join many of the dots I had identified. Russ Greene’s research led to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a Coca-Cola front organisation. In an explosive exposé in January 2017 , Greene showed how the ILSI has worked to support the nutrition status quo in South Africa, as well as the health professionals and food and drug industries that benefit from it. It has opened a branch in South Africa and has funded nutrition congresses throughout the country. It has also paid for dietitians and academics opposed to Noakes and LCHF to address conferences abroad . *

Of course, it might be coincidence that so many doctors, dietitians and academics with links to the ILSI became involved, directly and indirectly, in the HPCSA’s prosecution of Noakes. Then again, maybe not.

The HPCSA’s conduct throughout the hearing and since its conclusion has been revelatory. To a large extent, it confirms the premise of this book: that those in positions of power and influence in medicine and academia were using the case to pursue a vendetta against Noakes. The trial highlighted the inherent perils facing those brave enough to go against orthodoxy. It is in Noakes’s DNA as a scientist to seek truth and challenge dogma. He has done it many times before and has been proved right every time. I have no doubt that this time will be no different. On this latest journey, he has demonstrated the unflinching courage, integrity and dignity that are his hallmarks as one of the most eminent scientists of his time.

pp. 112-113

In retrospect, I could not then appreciate the extent to which the Centenary Debate was the opening salvo of what I believe to have been a much wider campaign, the ultimate goal of which was to silence me through public humiliation. It is a well-known technique called refutation by denigration. My perception is that if the actions of my colleagues meant that my status as an A1-rated scientist, who had contributed greatly to the scientific and financial efforts of UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences over 35 years, was destroyed, well, in their opinion, that was just too bad. According to their worldview, I was the architect of my own downfall.

Only later, when I read Alice Dreger’s Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice , did I begin to appreciate what I was really up against. Dreger’s book explores the unrelenting battle between scholars who put the pursuit of hard truths ahead of personal comfort and the social activists determined to silence them. She uses the voice of the social activist to explain what drives activists in their battles with empirical science and scientists:

We have to use our privilege to advance the rights of the marginalized. We can’t let [scientists] say what is true about the world. We have to give voice and power to the oppressed and let them say what is true about the world. Science is as biased as all human endeavors, and so we have to empower the disempowered, and speak always with them. 64

The difference, of course, is that the activists I was facing, in my view, were not motivated to advance the voices of the oppressed and disempowered, but, either wittingly or by proxy, rather the opposite.

In the face of this, what is the responsibility of those scientists who see their role as the pursuit of ‘truth’? Dreger’s answer is this:

To scholars I want to say more: Our fellow human beings can’t afford to have us act like cattle in an industrial farming system. If we take seriously the importance of truth to justice and recognize the many factors now acting against the pursuit of knowledge – if we really get why our role in democracy is like no other – then we really ought to feel that we must do more to protect each other and the public from misinformation and disinformation … 65

We scholars had to put the search for evidence before everything else, even when the evidence pointed to facts we did not want to see. The world needed that of us, to maintain – by our example, by our very existence – a world that would keep learning and questioning, that would remain free in thought, inquiry, and word. 66

In the end, she concludes: ‘Justice cannot be determined merely by social position. Justice cannot be advanced by letting “truth” be determined by political goals.’ 67 Nor, I might add, can commercial interests be allowed to determine what is the ‘truth’.

Dreger’s final message is this: ‘Evidence really is an ethical issue, the most important ethical issue in a modern democracy. If you want justice, you must work for truth. And if you want to work for truth, you must do a little more than wish for justice.’ 68

As the media onslaught began, I did not understand that these academic activists seemingly did not care about the science. Neither did the tabloid journalists or Twitter trolls, including some medical colleagues, who at about the same time began to target me on social media. Were they also willing co-conspirators in the rush to silence my voice?

pp. 123-129

At the time, I was en route to the Western Cape nature reserve Bartholomeus Klip, near the village of Hermon. Early the next morning, I opened my email and read the attached letter with growing incredulity. It carried the names (but not signatures) of four UCT academics, as well as – importantly – the logos of UCT and the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences. It therefore, in effect, signalled my ultimate academic rejection by all members of the university, and especially the medical faculty that I had served with distinction for 35 years. Only the deaths of my parents, Bob Woolmer and a few other close friends surpassed the emotional devastation this email caused me. […]

What struck me most about the letter was its cruelty and inhumanity, and that the authors showed not the slightest hint of conscience in publicly shaming me. Medicine is meant to be a caring profession in which we are concerned with the emotional health and needs of not just our patients, but also our colleagues and students. De Villiers appears to understand this. When he was eventually appointed rector and vice chancellor of the University of Stellenbosch in December 2014, his university profile stated: ‘He believes the University should offer an experience that is pleasant, welcoming and hospitable – in an inclusive environment.’ 7 Those admirable sentiments were remarkable for their absence from the Cape Times professors’ letter.

Instead, the letter is a textbook example of academic bullying, a topic recently reviewed by Dr Fleur Howells, senior lecturer in psychiatry at UCT. Howells writes that there are three forms of academic bullying. The third, ‘social bullying, also known as relational aggression, is the deliberate or active exclusion or damage to the social standing of the victim through, for example, publicly undermining a junior academic’s viewpoint’. 8 The four key components of bullying are intent to harm, experience of harm, exploitation of power and aggression. The professors’ letter thus neatly fulfils all the diagnostic criteria for academic bullying.

Jacqui Hoepner is currently completing her PhD thesis at the Australian National University, studying the use of these bullying tactics to suppress or silence dissenting scientific opinions. 9 In a discussion with Daryl Ilbury, author of Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maveric k , Hoepner disclosed her original assumption that most cases of academic suppression or silencing arise from outside academic circles. To her surprise, she discovered the opposite – ‘the bulk of suppression or silencing came from within academia, from colleagues and competitors’, she told Ilbury. ‘This suggests that the assumed model of respect and disagreement between academics is inaccurate.’

Hoepner was astonished to uncover 43 different ‘silencing behaviours’ that fly in the face of the concept of academic freedom: ‘Every policy and university guideline I looked at suggested that academic freedom was absolutely central to what academics do and their place in society … [But] there’s a real disconnect between what academics think they are guaranteed under academic freedom and what the reality is for the life of an academic.’

She also discovered that the nature of these silencing attacks was ‘more of a personal gut response: that someone has crossed a boundary and we need to punish them. The exact motivation differed from case to case, but it seemed very much a visceral response.’

Typically, attacks are ad hominem, with accusations of conflicts of interest ‘to undermine credibility … without any attempt by the claimant of the accusations to provide any evidence’; and with allegations such as ‘You’re doing real harm’, ‘You’re causing confusion’ or you’re undermining the public’s faith in science; and ending with summons that the researcher be ‘fired or disciplined in some way’.

Perhaps with direct relevance to my experience, Hoepner said: ‘If a scientist discovers evidence that contradicts decades of public health messaging and says that data doesn’t support the messaging, and that person is attacked, and publicly … that’s insane!’

Returning to the professors’ letter, it is also blatantly defamatory because it implies that I, as a medical practitioner: promote a diet that may cause harm (‘heart disease, diabetes mellitus, kidney problems … certain cancers’); make ‘outrageous unproven claims’; malign the integrity and credibility of peers who disagree with me; and undertake research that is not ‘socially responsible’ in the judgement of UCT.

The letter also breaches the HPCSA’s own ethical guidelines. Professor Bongani Mayosi, another signatory to the letter, was involved at that time in a review of the HPCSA management and functioning, and therefore should have been well versed in the ethical guidelines of the organisation he was investigating.

pp. 145-146

I presented De Villiers and Mayosi with copies of Nina Teicholz’s book, The Big Fat Surprise , and an editorial published the previous week in the British Medical Journal ( BMJ ). The editorial was a review of Teicholz’s book written by a former BMJ editor, Dr Richard Smith. 26 In it, he wrote the following:

By far the best of the books I’ve read to write this article is Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise , whose subtitle is ‘Why butter, meat, and cheese belong in a healthy diet.’ The title, the subtitle, and the cover of the book are all demeaning, but the forensic demotion of the hypothesis that saturated fat is the cause of cardiovascular disease is impressive. Indeed, the book is deeply disturbing in showing how overenthusiastic scientists, poor science, massive conflicts of interest, and politically driven policy makers can make deeply damaging mistakes. Over 40 years I’ve come to recognize what I might have known from the beginning that science is a human activity with the error, self deception, grandiosity, bias, self interest, cruelty, fraud and theft that is inherent in all human activities (together with some saintliness), but this book shook me.

After describing the bad science underlying all aspects of Ancel Keys’s diet-heart hypothesis, Smith concluded:

Reading these books and consulting some of the original studies has been a sobering experience. The successful attempt to reduce fat in the diet of Americans and others around the world has been a global, uncontrolled experiment, which like all experiments may well have led to bad outcomes. What’s more, it has initiated a further set of uncontrolled global experiments that are continuing. Teicholz has done a remarkable job in analyzing how weak science, strong personalities, vested interests, and political expediency have initiated this series of experiments. She quotes Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and one of the founders of Oldways, as saying, ‘The food world is particularly prey to consumption, because so much money is made on food and so much depends on talk and especially the opinions of experts.’ It’s surely time for better science and for humility among experts.

In 2017, the other great British medical journal,

The Lancet , published a similar review, concluding: ‘This is a disquieting book about scientific incompetence, evangelical ambition, and ruthless silencing of dissent that shaped our lives for decades … Researchers, clinicians, and health policy advisers should read this provocative book that reminds us about the importance of good science and the need to challenge dogma.’ 27