Eliminating Dietary Dissent

There was a hit piece in the Daily Mail that targeted three experts in the field, all doctors who are involved in research. It’s not exactly a respectable publication, but it does have a large mainstream readership and so its influence is immense, at least within the UK (even as an American, I occasionally come across Daily Mail articles). Here is the response by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s (Scottish). And by Dr. Zoe Harcombe’s (Welsh). Both responses were sent to the Daily Mail. The hit piece was published in timing with her planned speech before the UK Parliament, an attempt to discredit her and to distract from debate of the evidence. The third target of attack, Dr Aseem Malhotra (British) who also spoke to the UK Parliament (and the European Parliament as well), chose not to respond as he concluded it would be futile and it appears he was correct, in that the Daily Mail chose not to alter its message in the least because of what Kendrick and Harcombe wrote.

This is the same basic battle that I’ve mentioned previously, the conflict between two prestigious British medical journals, the BMJ and the Lancet. It has developed into full ideological warfare. But those defending the status quo are being forced to acknowledge their detractors, which is an improvement over silencing.

In the failed attacks on Robert Atkins (American), Annika Dahlqvist (Swedish), Gary Taubes (American), Tim Noakes (South African), Gary Fettke (Australian), Peter C.Gøtzsche (Danish), Maryanne Demasi (Australia) over similar disputes, and among others who have felt the politically correct wrath of conventional and corporatist authority (Uffe Ravnskov, Nina Teicholz, etc; and, as I’ve discussed before, Adelle Davis, Carlton Fredericks, Gayelord Hauser, and Herman Taller), we see how the powers that be use mainstream institutions (private and public) as weapons. But that isn’t to ignore that there are also some successful examples of silencing such as John Yudkins (British), Jen Elliott (Australian), etc. In The Big Fat Lie that is soon to be a documentary, Nina Teicholz discusses other major figures in the healthcare field and research community that were effectively silenced in being discredited and excluded, in that they couldn’t get funding and were no longer invited to speak at scientific conferences; and Gary Taubes earlier discussed the same territory in Good Calories, Bad Calories; but if you prefer a detailed personal account of how a systematic attack is done, read Tim Noakes’ Lore of Nutrition. Anyways, failed or successful, these attacks are cautionary tales in setting examples of what the authorities can and will do to you if you step out of line. It creates a stultifying atmosphere and a sense of wariness among researchers, healthcare professionals, science writers, journalists, and public intellectuals — hence encouraging people to censor themselves.

In a similar area of dispute, there is another ongoing fight where an individual, Diana Rodgers (American), like the others has been targeted. Attacking individuals in trying to destroy their careers or authority seems to be the standard tactic. Fortunately, social media sheds light on this dark practice and brings out the support for these doctors, dieticians, researchers, etc who in the past would’ve felt isolated. It’s one of the positives of the internet.

Yet again, here is an example of conventional idiocy in its attempt to use a mainstream platform to spread disinfo and enforce conformity. Consider Newsweek that, like the Daily Mail, is a low quality but widely read mainstream publication. They decided to do a piece critical of the carnivore diet. And the writer they assigned to do it normally writes about video games and pop culture. Unsurprisingly, written by someone with no knowledge or expertise, the article was predictably misinformed. Every single comment in the comments section was critical (nearly the same in the comments of Nina Teicholz’s tweet), including comments by doctors and other experts. It’s less to do with a specific diet. This same kind of backlash is seen toward every variety of low-carb diet, whether plant-based paleo or plant-free carnivore, whether high-(healthy)fat or moderate, whether ketogenic or not. The reason is that there is no way to have a low-carb diet while maintaining large profits for the present model of the big biz food system of heavily-subsidized, chemical-drenched, and genetically-modified surplus grains as used to produce shelf-stable processed foods.

And it is far from limited to trashy popular media, as the same kinds of dismissive articles are found in higher quality publications like the Guardian, along with major medical organizations such as Harvard and the Mayo Clinic (although there is increasing positive press as the scientific research and popular support becomes overwhelming). Harvard, for example, is closely tied to the EAT-Lancet agenda (by way of Walter Willett, the ideological heir of Ancel Keys and, as I recall, involved in the leak of Robert Atkins’ medical records in a failed attempt to smear his reputation after his death) and the corporations behind it (Harvard, like other universities, have become heavily funded by corporations, as government funding has dried up; the Koch brothers have been key figures in the corporate takeover of universities with influence over hiring and firing of faculty and, by the way, the Koch brothers are heavily invested in big ag which is to say they are financially connected to the government-subsidized “green revolution” and the processed food industry).

Yet a growing movement is emerging from below, not only seen in comments sections and social media, but also in forming new organizations to demand accountability; for example, Gary Taubes’ Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) that is promoting much needed research. In reaction, the self-proclaimed authority figures in the mainstream are trying to enforce dietary conformity. I suspect the fact that so many people are questioning, doubting, and experimenting is precisely the reason elites all of a sudden are pushing even harder for basically the old views they’ve been pushing for decades. They sense the respect for their position is slipping and are in damage control mode. This isn’t only about statins, LCHF diet, or whatever else. It indicates a deeper shift going on (with low-carb diets on the rise) and those who are resisting it because of vested interests. What’s at stake is a paradigm change and the consequences of the status quo remaining in place are dire for public health.

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On a related note, there is also a dark side to how the internet has been wielded as propaganda network. We know how effectively social media can be used to spread disinfo — yes, by whackos and controlled opposition like Alex Jones but even more powerfully by governments and corporations, think tanks and lobbyist groups, astroturf operations and paid trolls.

Wikipedia and Rational Wikipedia seem to have been taken over by defenders of the establishment, a sad fate for both of them. Many Wikipedia pages related to low-carb diets and alternative health (including tame criticism of statins by world reknown scientists) have been heavily slanted or deleted on Wikipedia. This agenda of censorship goes straight to the top — Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has called all critics of conventional medicine “lunatic charlatans” and demands that they be eliminated from Wikipedia, as if they never existed. This is a major change from earlier Wikipedia policy that promoted articles showing multiple viewpoints, but the reason for the change is that Wikipedia is being pressured to be an authoritative source as with traditional encyclopedias since Wikipedia is now used by services like Apple’s Siri.

Rational Wikipedia labels as “statin denier” anyone who is skeptical of highly profitable and corporate-promoted overprescription of statins, including critics who are practicing doctors and peer-reviewed researchers (the same false accusation is made by other pseudo-skeptical organizations such as CSICOP) — according to this logic, one of the most well-respected medical journals in the world, the BMJ, are “statin denialists” for being skeptical of the overuse of statins that the scientific research shows can cause much harm. Meanwhile, Rational Wikipedia rationalizes away this concerted effort of propaganda, probably because it’s the same people behind both operations, by way of hard-to-track sock puppets (I know from personal experience and research how deep the hole can go in trying to track down the identity of a disinfo agent, be they paid troll or merely the mentally disturbed). Pseudo-skepticism has come to rule the internet —- some of it as mentally disturbed true-believers but it also includes organizations that are astroturf. And so be skeptical most of all of anyone who poses as a skeptic.

Fortunately, alternatives are emerging such as Infogalactic as a non-censored, balanced, and independent version of Wikipedia. Unlike Wikipedia, an editor or group of editors can’t monopolize or delete a page simply because they ideologically disagree with it. And unlike Rational Wikpedia, there is no narrow institutional ideology informing what is allowable.

This is partly why it is so hard for the average person to find good info. Not only are we being lied to by big gov and big biz by way of big media for the same powerful interests are co-opting the new media as well. The purge and demonetizing of alternative voices, left and right, on YouTube was a great example of this. A similar purge has happened on Pinterest, generally censoring alternative health views and specifically targeting low-carb diets using centralized propaganda as the justification: “Keto doesn’t conform to CDC dietary guidelines” — despite the fact that ketogenic diets are among the most widely and longest researched with massive amount of data supporting numerous areas of benefit: longevity, cancer, epilepsy, autism, insulin resistance, autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer’s, etc. If the CDC is anti-science when particular science opposes highly profitable corporate interests, that is a major problem — but it shouldn’t be surprising that Pinterest, a highly profitable corporation (likely owned by a parent company that also owns other companies involved in agriculture, food production, pharmaceuticals, etc), defends the interests of big biz in collusion with big gov.

There is a struggle by the powerful to regain control of all potential avenues of propaganda and perception management. In terms of public debate, it’s always a matter of the perception of who wins. This is why propagandists, as with advertisers, have long understood that repetition of claims or ideas will make them so familiar as to feel true — what is called cognitive ease. That is why it is so important to silence opponents and make them invisible. Repetition requires total control, as the other side will also attempt to repeat their views. But it doesn’t matter how often alternative views are repeated if they are effectively erased from public view and from public forums. Look widely for info and scrutinize everything carefully. Find the few experts that are genuine honest actors and follow what they put out.

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The Dark Side of Wikipedia
from Full Measure

Astroturfing Revealed–the Ruining of Wikipedia
by Angela A. Stanton

Wikipedia Declares War on Low Carb Diet Experts
by Aarn

Jimmy Wales Admits Free Access To Health Knowledge Has Strict Limits On Wikipedia
by Paul Anthony Taylor

Wikipedia: Cementing The Power Of The Status Quo
from Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Let me tell you a little bit about how the @Wikipedia farce works from someone who spent a lot of time battling there as an editor.
by Mike Carrato

Wikipedia Captured by Skeptics
from Skeptics about Skeptics

The Philip Cross Affair
by Craig Murray

Wikipedia censorship of natural, non-drug therapies
from Alliance for Natural Health

Kendrick, Wikipedia and ‘Dark Forces’ Waging War on Science
by Marika Sboros

Dr Malcolm Kendrick – deletion from Wikipedia
by Malcolm Kendrick

Wikipedia a parable for our times
by Malcolm Kendrick

Who Deserves to be a Wikipedia Article?: The Deletion of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick
by Anthony Pearson

‘Fat Head’ Targeted For Deletion By The Weenie At Wikipedia
by Tom Naughton

Follow-Up On The Weenie Wiki Editor
by Tom Naughton

BEWARE: New Plan to Censor Health Websites
by Joseph Mercola

Reddit discussions:
Doctors who are against statin are being removed from Wikipedia
Fat Head movie Wikipedia article up for deletion next !
Malcolm Kendrick and other low-carb and keto advocates are being attacked at Rationalwiki as pseudoscientists

Cold War Silencing of Science

In the early Cold War, the United States government at times was amazingly heavy-handed in its use of domestic power.

There was plenty of surveillance, of course. But there was also blatant propaganda with professors, journalists, and artists on the payroll of intelligence agencies, not to mention funding going to writing programs, American studies, etc. Worse still, there were such things as COINTELPRO, including truly effed up shit like the attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King, jr. into committing suicide. There is another angle to this. Along with putting out propaganda, they would do the opposite by trying to silence alternative voices and enforce conformity. They did that with the McCarthyist attacks on anyone perceived or falsely portrayed as deviant or as a fellow traveler of deviants. This destroyed careers and did successfully lead to some suicides of those devastated. But there was another kind of shutting down that I find sad as someone who affirms a free society as, among else, the free flow of information.

When Nikola Tesla died, the FBI swooped in and stole his research with no justification, as Tesla was a US citizen and such actions are both illegal and unconstitutional. They didn’t release his papers until 73 years later and no one knows if they released everything, as there is no transparency or accountability. One of the most famous examples is much more heinous. Wilhelm Reich was targeted by the American Medical Association, FDA, and FBI. The government arrested him and sentenced him to prison where he died. All of his journals and books were incinerated. In the end, the FDA had spent $2 million investigating and prosecuting Reich, simply because they didn’t like his research and of course his promoting sexual deviancy through free love.

These were not minor figures either. Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientists in the world and most definitely the greatest inventor in American history. And Wilhelm Reich was a famous doctor and psychoanalyst, an associate of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and a well known writer. Their otherwise respectable positions didn’t protect them. Imagine what the government could get away with when they targeted average Americans with no one to protest and come to their defense. This same abuse of power was seen in related fields. A major focus of Reich’s work was health and, of course, he shared that area of concern with the FDA who saw it as their personal territory to rule as they wished. The FDA went after many with alternative health views that gained enough public attention and they could always find a reason to justify persecution.

I’ve come across examples in diet and nutrition, such as last year when I read Nina Planck’s Real Food where she writes about Adelle Davis, a biochemist and nutritionist who became a popular writer and gained celebrity as a public intellectual. Since she advocated a healthy diet of traditional foods, this put her in the cross-hairs of the powerful that sought to defend the standard American diet (SAD):

“My mother’s other nutritional hero was Adelle Davis, the best-selling writer who recommended whole foods and lots of protein. […] Davis had a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California Medical School, but she wrote about nutrition in a friendly, common-sense style. In the 1950s and ’60s, titles like Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let’s Get Well became bestsellers. […] Like Price, Davis was controversial. “She so infuriated the medical profession and the orthodox nutrition community that they would stop at nothing to discredit her,” recalls my friend Joann Grohman, a dairy farmer and nutrition writer who says Adelle Davis restored her own health and that of her five young children. “The FDA raided health food stores and seized her books under a false labeling law because they were displayed next to vitamin bottles.” ”

In the same period during the 1950s and 1960s, the FDA went after Carlton Fredericks in an extended battle. He had a master’s degree and a doctorate in public health education and was a former associate professor. What was his horrific crime? He suggested that the modern food supply had become deficient in nutrients because of industrial processing and so that supplementation was necessary for health. It didn’t matter this was factually true. Fredericks’ mistake was stating such obvious truths openly on his radio show and in his written material. The FDA seized copies of Eat, Live and Be Merry (1961) for allegedly recommending the treatment of ailments “with vitamin and mineral supplements, which products are not effective in treating such conditions” (Congress 1965) which were “not effective”. They declared this as “false labeling”, despite it never contradicting any known science at the time or since. Then a few years later, the Federal Trade Commission brought a similar charge of false advertising in the selling of his tape-recorded programs and writing, but the allegations didn’t stick and the case was dropped.

A brief perusal of web search results brought up a similar case. Gayelord Hauser was a nutritionist with degrees in naturopathy and chiropractic who, like the others, became a popular writer — with multiple books translated into 12 languages and a regular column in Hearst newspapers read nationwide. What brought official ire down upon him was that he became so famous as to be befriended by numerous Hollywood actors, which elevated his popularity even further. Authority figures in the government and experts within the medical field saw him as a ‘quack’ and ‘food faddist’, which is to say as an ideological competitor who needed to be eliminated. His views worthy of being silenced included that American should eat more foods rich in B vitamins and to avoid sugar and white flour. As you can see, he was a monster and a public menace. This brought on the righteous wrath of the American Medical Association along with the flour and sugar lobbies. So, this led to an initial charge of practicing medicine without a license with products seized and destroyed. Later on, in recommending black-strap molasses as a nutrient-dense food which it is, the FDA made the standard accusation of product endorsement and false claims, and this was followed by the standard action of confiscating his 1950 best-selling book on healthy diet, Look Younger, Live Longer. Now Hauser is remembered by many as a pioneer in his field and as founder of the natural food movement.

Let me end with one last example of Cold War suppression. In reading Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise, I noticed a brief reference to Herman Taller, a New York obstetrician and gynecologist. He too was an advocate of natural health. His book Calories Don’t Count got him into trouble for the same predictable reasons with claims of “false and misleading” labeling. He also sold supplements, but nothing bizarre — from bran fiber to safflower oil capsules, the latter being brought up in the legal case. His argument was that, since fish oil was healthy, other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) would likewise be beneficial. It turns out he was wrong about safflower oil, but his scientific reasoning was sound for what was known at the time. His broader advocacy of a high fat diet with a focus on healthy fats has become mainstream since. Certain PUFAs, the omega-3 fats, are absolutely necessary for basic physiological functioning and indeed most people in the modern world do not get enough of them.

Anyway, it was never about fair-minded scientific inquiry and debate. So $30,000 worth of safflower‐oiI capsules and 1,600 copies of his book were taken from several warehouses. To justify this action, FDA Commissioner George P. Larrick stated that, “The book is full of false ideas, as many competent medical and nutritional writers have pointed out. Contrary to the book’s basic premise, weight reduction requires the reduction of caloric intake. There is no easy, simple substitute. Unfortunately, calories do count.” He decreed this from on high as the ultimate truth — the government would not tolerate anyone challenging this official ideology and yet scientists continue to debate the issue with recent research siding with Taller’s conclusion. According to the best science presently available, it is easy to argue that calories don’t count or, to put it another way, calorie-counting diets have proven a failure in study after study — a fact so well known that mainstream doctors and medical experts admit to its sad truth, even as they go on advising people to follow it and then blaming them for its failure.

If you’ve ever wondered how Ancel Keys’ weak evidence and bad science came to dominate as official dietary recommendations pushed by medical institutions, the federal government and the food industry, the above will give you some sense of the raw force of government authority that was used to achieve this end. It wasn’t only voices of popular writers and celebrity figures that were silenced, eliminated, and discredited. Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz discuss how a related persecution happened within academia where independent researchers lost funding and no longer were invited to speak at conferences. For a half century, it was impossible to seriously challenge this behemoth of the dietary-industrial complex. And during this era, scientific research was stunted. This Cold War era oppression is only now beginning to thaw.

Clearing Away the Rubbish

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue”
~Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor”
~Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of NEJM

Back in September, there was a scientific paper published in Clinical Cardiology, a peer reviewed medical journal that is “an official journal of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology” (Wikipedia). It got a ton of attention from news media, social media, and the blogosphere. The reason for all the attention is that, in the conclusion, the authors claimed that low-carb diets had proven the least healthy over a year period:

“One-year lowered-carbohydrate diet significantly increases cardiovascular risks, while a low-to-moderate-fat diet significantly reduces cardiovascular risk factors. Vegan diets were intermediate. Lowered-carbohydrate dieters were least inclined to continue dieting after conclusion of the study. Reductions in coronary blood flow reversed with appropriate dietary intervention. The major dietary effect on atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is inflammation and not weight loss.”

It has recently been retracted and it has come out that the lead author, Richard M. Fleming, has a long history of fraud going back to 2002 with two FBI convictions of fraud in 2009, following his self-confession. He has also since been debarred by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (But his closest brush with fame or infamy was his leaking the medical records of Dr. Robert Atkins, a leak that was behind a smear campaign.) As for his co-authors: “Three of the authors work at Fleming’s medical imaging company in California, one is a deceased psychologist from Iowa, another is a pediatric nutritionist from New York and one is a Kellogg’s employee from Illinois. How this group was able to run a 12-month diet trial in 120 subjects is something of a mystery” (George Henderson). Even before the retraction, many wondered how it ever passed peer-review considering the low quality of the study: “This study has so many methodological holes in it that it has no real value.” (Low Carb Studies BLOG).

But of course, none of that has been reported as widely as the paper originally was. So, most people who read about it still assume it is valid evidence. This is related to the replication crisis, as even researchers are often unaware of retractions, that is when journals will allow retractions to be published at all, something they are reluctant to do because it delegitimizes their authority. So, a lot of low quality or in some cases deceptive research goes unchallenged and unverified, neither confirmed nor disconfirmed. It’s rare when any study falls under the scrutiny of replication. If not for the lead author’s criminal background in the Fleming case, this probably would have been another paper that could have slipped past and been forgotten or else, without replication, repeatedly cited in future research. As such, bad research builds on bad research, creating the appearance of mounting evidence, but in reality it is a house of cards (consider the takedown of Ancel Keys and gang in the work by numerous authors: Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories; Nina Tiecholz’s The Big Fat Surprise; Sally Fallon Morrell’s Nourishing Diets; et cetera).

This is why the systemic problem and failure is referred to as a crisis. Fairly or unfairly, the legitimacy of entire fields of science are being questioned. Even scientists no longer are certain which research is valid or not. The few attempts at determining the seriousness of the situation by replicating studies has found a surprisingly low replication rate. And this problem is worse in the medical field than in many other fields, partly because of the kind of funding involved and more importantly because of how few doctors are educated in statistics or trained in research methodology. It is even worse with nutrition, as the average doctor gets about half the questions wrong when asked about this topic, and keep in mind that so much of the nutritional research is done by doctors. An example of problematic dietary study is that of Dr. Fleming himself. We’d be better off letting physicists and geologists do nutritional research.

There is more than a half century of research that conventional medical and dietary opinions are based upon. In some major cases, re-analysis of data has shown completely opposite conclusions. For example, the most famous study by Ancel Keys blamed saturated fat for heart disease, while recent reappraisal has shown the data actually shows a stronger link to sugar as the culprit. Meanwhile, no study has ever directly linked saturated fat to heart disease. The confusion has come because, in the Standard American Diet (SAD), saturated fat and sugar have been conflated in the population under study. Yet, even in cases like that of Keys when we now know what the data shows, Keys’ original misleading conclusions are still referenced as authoritative.

The only time this crisis comes to attention is when the researcher gets attention. If Keys wasn’t famous and Fleming wasn’t criminal, no one would have bothered with their research. Lots of research gets continually cited without much thought, as the authority of research accumulates over time by being cited which encourages further citation. It’s similar to how legal precedents can get set, even when the initial precedent was intentionally misinterpreted for that very purpose.

To dig through the original data, assuming it is available and one knows where to find it, is more work than most are willing to do. There is no glory or praise to be gained in doing it, nor will it promote one’s career or profit one’s bank account. If anything, there are plenty of disincentives in place, as academic careers in science are dependent on original research. Furthermore, private researchers working in corporations, for obvious reasons, tend to be even less open about their data and that makes scrutiny even more difficult. If a company found their own research didn’t replicate, they would be the last in line to announce it to the world and instead would likely bury it where it never would be found.

There is no system put into place to guard against the flaws of the system itself. And the news media is in an almost continual state of failure when it comes to scientific reporting. The crisis has been stewing for decades, occasionally being mentioned, but mostly suppressed, until now when it has gotten so bad as to be undeniable. The internet has created alternative flows of information and so much of the scrutiny, delayed for too long, is now coming from below. If this had happened at an earlier time, Fleming might have gotten away with it. But times have changed. And in crisis, there is opportunity or at very least there is hope for open debate. So bring on the debate, just as soon as we clear away some of the rubbish.

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Retracted: Long‐term health effects of the three major diets under self‐management with advice, yields high adherence and equal weight loss, but very different long‐term cardiovascular health effects as measured by myocardial perfusion imaging and specific markers of inflammatory coronary artery disease

The above article, published online on 27 September 2018 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been withdrawn by agreement between the journal Editor in Chief, A. John Camm and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The article has been withdrawn due to concerns with data integrity and an undisclosed conflict of interest by the lead author.

A convicted felon writes a paper on hotly debated diets. What could go wrong?
by Ivan Oransky, Retraction Watch

Pro-tip for journals and publishers: When you decide to publish a paper about a subject — say, diets — that you know will draw a great deal of scrutiny from vocal proponents of alternatives, make sure it’s as close to airtight as possible.

And in the event that the paper turns out not to be so airtight, write a retraction notice that’s not vague and useless.

Oh, and make sure the lead author of said study isn’t a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud.

“If only we were describing a hypothetical.

On second thought: A man of many talents — with a spotty scientific record
by Adam Marcus, Boston Globe

Richard M. Fleming may be a man of many talents, but his record as a scientist has been spotty. Fleming, who bills himself on Twitter as “PhD, MD, JD AND NOW Actor-Singer!!!”, was a co-author of short-lived paper in the journal Clinical Cardiology purporting to find health benefits from a diet with low or modest amounts of fat. The paper came out in late September — just a day before the Food and Drug Administration banned Fleming from participating in any drug studies. Why? Two prior convictions for fraud in 2009.

It didn’t take long for others to begin poking holes in the new article. One researcher found multiple errors in the data and noted that the study evidently had been completed in 2002. The journal ultimately retracted the article, citing “concerns with data integrity and an undisclosed conflict of interest by the lead author.” But Fleming, who objected to the retraction, persevered. On Nov. 5, he republished the study in another journal — proving that grit, determination, and a receptive publisher are more important than a spotless resume.

Scientific Failure and Self Experimentation

In 2005, John P. A. Ioannidis wrote “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” that was published in PloS journal. It is the most cited paper in that journal’s history and it has led to much discussion in the media. That paper was a theoretical model but has since been well supported — as Ioannidis explained in an interview with Julia Belluz:

“There are now tons of empirical studies on this. One field that probably attracted a lot of attention is preclinical research on drug targets, for example, research done in academic labs on cell cultures, trying to propose a mechanism of action for drugs that can be developed. There are papers showing that, if you look at a large number of these studies, only about 10 to 25 percent of them could be reproduced by other investigators. Animal research has also attracted a lot of attention and has had a number of empirical evaluations, many of them showing that almost everything that gets published is claimed to be “significant”. Nevertheless, there are big problems in the designs of these studies, and there’s very little reproducibility of results. Most of these studies don’t pan out when you try to move forward to human experimentation.

“Even for randomized controlled trials [considered the gold standard of evidence in medicine and beyond] we have empirical evidence about their modest replication. We have data suggesting only about half of the trials registered [on public databases so people know they were done] are published in journals. Among those published, only about half of the outcomes the researchers set out to study are actually reported. Then half — or more — of the results that are published are interpreted inappropriately, with spin favoring preconceptions of sponsors’ agendas. If you multiply these levels of loss or distortion, even for randomized trials, it’s only a modest fraction of the evidence that is going to be credible.”

This is part of the replication crisis that has been known about for decades, although rarely acknowledged or taken seriously. And it is a crisis that isn’t limited to single studies —- Ioannidis wrote that, “Possibly, the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, and/or conflicted” (from a paper reported in the Pacific Standard). The crisis cuts across numerous fields, from economics and genetics to neuroscience and psychology. But to my mind, medical research stands out. Evidence-based medicine is only as good as the available evidence — it has been “hijacked to serve agendas different from what it originally aimed for,” as stated by Ioannidis. (A great book on this topic, by the way, is Richard Harris’ Rigor Mortis.) Studies done by or funded by drug companies, for example, are more likely to come to positive results for efficacy and negative results for side effects. And because the government has severely decreased public funding since the Reagan administration, so much of research is now linked to big pharma. From a Retraction Watch interview, Ioannidis says:

“Since clinical research that can generate useful clinical evidence has fallen off the radar screen of many/most public funders, it is largely left up to the industry to support it. The sales and marketing departments in most companies are more powerful than their R&D departments. Hence, the design, conduct, reporting, and dissemination of this clinical evidence becomes an advertisement tool. As for “basic” research, as I explain in the paper, the current system favors PIs who make a primary focus of their career how to absorb more money. Success in obtaining (more) funding in a fiercely competitive world is what counts the most. Given that much “basic” research is justifiably unpredictable in terms of its yield, we are encouraging aggressive gamblers. Unfortunately, it is not gambling for getting major, high-risk discoveries (which would have been nice), it is gambling for simply getting more money.”

I’ve become familiar with this collective failure through reading on diet and nutrition. Some of the key figures in that field, specifically Ancel Keys, were either intentionally fraudulent or really bad at science. Yet the basic paradigm of dietary recommendations that was instituted by Keys remains in place. The fact that Keys was so influential demonstrates the sad state of affairs. Ioannidis has also covered this area and come to similar dire conclusions. Along with Jonathan Schoenfeld, he considered the question “Is everything we eat associated with cancer?”

“After choosing fifty common ingredients out of a cookbook, they set out to find studies linking them to cancer rates – and found 216 studies on forty different ingredients. Of course, most of the studies disagreed with each other. Most ingredients had multiple studies claiming they increased and decreased the risk of getting cancer. Most of the statistical evidence was weak, and meta-analyses usually showed much smaller effects on cancer rates than the original studies.”
(Alex Reinhart, What have we wrought?)

That is a serious and rather personal issue, not an academic exercise. There is so much bad research out there or else confused and conflicting. It’s about impossible for the average person to wade through it all and come to a certain conclusion. Researchers and doctors are as mired in it as the rest of us. Doctors, in particular, are busy people and don’t typically read anything beyond short articles and literature reviews, and even those they likely only skim in spare moments. Besides, most doctors aren’t trained in research and statistics, anyhow. Even if they were better educated and informed, the science itself is in a far from optimal state and one can find all kinds of conclusions. Take the conflict between two prestigious British journals, the Lancet and the BMJ, the former arguing for statin use and the latter more circumspect. In the context of efficacy and side effects, the disagreement is over diverse issues and confounders of cholesterol, inflammation, artherosclerosis, heart disease, etc — all overlapping.

Recently, my dad went to his doctor who said that research in respectable journals strongly supported statin use. Sure, that is true. But the opposite is equally true, in that there are also respectable journals that don’t support wide use of statins. It depends on which journals one chooses to read. My dad’s doctor didn’t have the time to discuss the issue, as that is the nature of the US medical system. So, probably in not wanting to get caught up in fruitless debate, the doctor agreed to my dad stopping statins and seeing what happens. With failure among researchers to come to consensus, it leaves the patient to be a guinea pig in his own personal experiment. Because of the lack of good data, self-experimentation has become a central practice in diet and nutrition. There are so many opinions out there that, if one cares about one’s health, one is forced to try different approaches and find out what seems to work, even as this methodology is open to many pitfalls and hardy guarantees success. But the individual person dealing with a major health concern often has no other choice, at least not until the science improves.

This isn’t necessarily a reason for despair. At least, a public debate is now happening. Ioannidis, among others, sees the solution as not difficult (psychology, despite its own failings, might end up being key in improving research standards; and also organizations are being set up to promote better standards, including The Nutrition Science Initiative started by the science journalist Gary Taubes, someone often cited by those interested in alternative health views). We simply need to require greater transparency and accountability in the scientific process. That is to say science should be democratic. The failure of science is directly related to the failure seen in politics and economics, related to powerful forces of big money and other systemic biases. It is not so much a failure as it is a success toward ulterior motives. That needs to change.

* * *

Many scientific “truths” are, in fact, false
by Olivia Goldhill

Are most published research findings false?
by Erica Seigneur

The Decline Effect – Why Most Published Research Findings are False
by Paul Crichton

Beware those scientific studies—most are wrong, researcher warns
by Ivan Couronne

The Truthiness Of Scientific Research
by Judith Rich Harris

Is most published research really wrong?
by Geoffrey P Webb

Are Scientists Doing Too Much Research?
by Peter Bruce

No One Knows

Here is a thought experiment. What if almost everything you think you know is wrong? It isn’t just a thought experiment. In all likelihood, it is true.

Almost everything people thought they knew in the past has turned out to be wrong, partly or entirely. There is no reason to think the same isn’t still the case. We are constantly learning new things that add to or alter prior fields of knowledge.

We live in a scientific age. Even so, there are more things we don’t know than we do know. Our scientific knowledge remains narrow and shallow. The universe is vast. Even the earth is vast. Heck, human nature is vast, in its myriad expressions and potentials.

In some ways, science gives a false sense of how much we know. We end up taking many things as scientific that aren’t actually so. Take the examples of consciousness and free will, both areas about which we have little scientific knowledge.

We have no more reason to believe consciousness is limited to the brain than to believe that consciousness is inherent to matter. We have no more reason to believe that free will exists than to believe it doesn’t. These are non-falsifiable hypotheses, which is to say we don’t know how to test them in order to prove them one way or another.

Yet we go about our lives as if these are decided facts, that we are conscious free agents in a mostly non-conscious world. This is what we believe based on our cultural biases. Past societies had different beliefs about consciousness and agency. Future societies likely will have different beliefs than our own and they will look at us as oddly as we look at ancient people. Our present hyper-individualism may one day seem as bizarre as the ancient bicameral mind.

We forget how primitive our society still is. In many ways, not much has changed over the past centuries or even across the recent millennia. Humans still live their lives basically the same. For as long as civilization has existed, people live in houses and ride on wheeled vehicles. When we have health conditions, invasively cutting into people is still often standard procedure, just as people have been doing for a long long time. Political and military power hasn’t really changed either, except in scale. The most fundamental aspects of our lives are remarkably unchanged.

At the same time, we are on the edge of vast changes. Just in my life, technology has leapt ahead far beyond the imaginings of most people in the generations before mine. Our knowledge of genetics, climate change, and even biblical studies has been irrevocably altered—throwing on its head, much of the earlier consensus.

We can’t comprehend what any of it means or where it is heading. All that we can be certain is that paradigms are going to be shattered over this next century. What will replace them no one knows.

Of Mice and Men and Environments

Here is one of the most important issues we face. It effects a wide array of scientific research. But it also has vast implications for our lives and our entire society. It is about the power of environments, including even the slightest of differences.

A mouse’s house may ruin experiments
Environmental factors lie behind many irreproducible rodent experiments.
by Sara Reardon, Nature Journal

It’s no secret that therapies that look promising in mice rarely work in people. But too often, experimental treatments that succeed in one mouse population do not even work in other mice, suggesting that many rodent studies may be flawed from the start.

“We say mice are simpler, but I think the problem is deeper than that,” says Caroline Zeiss, a veterinary neuropathologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Researchers rarely report on subtle environmental factors such as their mice’s food, bedding or exposure to light; as a result, conditions vary widely across labs despite an enormous body of research showing that these factors can significantly affect the animals’ biology.

“It’s sort of surprising how many people are surprised by the extent of the variation” between mice that receive different care, says Cory Brayton, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. At a meeting on mouse models at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, UK, on 9–11 February, she and others explored the many biological factors that prevent mouse studies from being reproduced.

I came across this issue in a book by David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us. The book is about genetics and IQ. But he brings up many other issues, such as the difficulties and problems of research.

He discusses a mouse study that demonstrates the power of environmental factors. It is far worse than the above article indicates. Even when all known factors are carefully controlled, the results can still be far different, to the point of being divergent in particular areas.

Below is the passage from Shenk’s book (Kindle Locations 1624-1657). I’ve shared before, but it bears repeating.

To say that there is much we don’t control in our lives is a dramatic understatement, roughly on the order of saying that the universe is a somewhat large place. To begin with, there are many influences we can’t even detect. In 1999 , Oregon neuroscientist John C . Crabbe led a study on how mice reacted to alcohol and cocaine. Crabbe was already an expert on the subject and had run many similar studies, but this one had a special twist: he conducted the exact same study at the same time in three different locations (Portland , Oregon; Albany, New York; and Edmonton, Alberta) in order to gauge the reliability of the results. The researchers went to “extraordinary lengths” to standardize equipment, methods, and lab environment: identical genetic mouse strains, identical food, identical bedding, identical cages, identical light schedule, etc. They did virtually everything they could think of to make the environments of the mice the same in all three labs.

Somehow, though, invisible influences intervened. With the scientists controlling for nearly everything they could control, mice with the exact same genes behaved differently depending on where they lived. And even more surprising: the differences were not consistent, but zigged and zagged across different genetic strains and different locations. In Portland, one strain was especially sensitive to cocaine and one especially insensitive , compared to the same strains in other cities. In Albany, one particular strain— just the one— was especially lazy. In Edmonton , the genetically altered mice tended to be just as active as the wild mice, whereas they were more active than the wild mice in Portland and less active than the wild mice in Albany. It was a major hodgepodge.

There were also predictable results. Crabbe did see many expected similarities across each genetic strain and consistent differences between the strains. These were, after all, perfect genetic copies being raised in painstakingly identical environments. But it was the unpredicted differences that caught everyone’s attention. “Despite our efforts to equate laboratory environments, significant and, in some cases, large effects of site were found for nearly all variables,” Crabbe concluded. “Furthermore, the pattern of strain differences varied substantially among the sites for several tests.”

Wow. This was unforeseen, and it turned heads . Modern science is built on standardization; new experiments change one tiny variable from a previous study or a control group, and any changes in outcome point crisply to cause and effect. The notion of hidden, undetectable differences throws all of that into disarray. How many assumptions of environmental sameness have been built right into conclusions over the decades?

What if there really is no such thing? What if the environment turns out to be less like a snowball that one can examine all around and more like the tip of an iceberg with lurking unknowables? How does that alter the way we think about biological causes and effects?

Something else stood out in Crabbe’s three-city experiment : gene-environment interplay . It wasn’t just that hidden environmental differences had significantly affected the results. It was also clear that these hidden environments had affected different mouse strains in different ways— clear evidence of genes interacting dynamically with environmental forces.

But the biggest lesson of all was how much complexity emerged from such a simple model. These were genetically pure mice in standard lab cages. Only a handful of known variables existed between groups. Imagine the implications for vastly more complex animals— animals with highly developed reasoning capability, complex syntax, elaborate tools, living in vastly intricate and starkly distinct cultures and jumbled genetically into billions of unique identities. You’d have a degree of GxE volatility that would boggle any scientific mind— a world where, from the very first hours of life, young ones experienced so many hidden and unpredictable influences from genes, environment, and culture that there’d be simply no telling what they would turn out like.

Such is our world. Each human child is his/ her own unique genetic entity conceived in his/ her own distinctive environment , immediately spinning out his/ her own unique interactions and behaviors. Who among these children born today will become great pianists, novelists, botanists , or marathoners? Who will live a life of utter mediocrity? Who will struggle to get by? We do not know.

More Words

I’ve written so often about knowledge and ignorance, truth and denialism. My mind ever returns to the topic, because it is impossible to ignore in this media-saturated modern world. There are worthy things to debate and criticize, but it is rare to come across much of worth amidst all the noise, all the opinionating and outrage.

I don’t want to just dismiss it all. I don’t want to ignore it and live blissfully in my own private reality or my own narrow media bubble. I feel compelled to understand the world around me. I actually do care about what makes people tick, not just to better persuade them to my own view, but more importantly to understand humanity itself.

Still, noble aspirations aside, it can be frustrating and I often let it show. Why do we make everything so hard? Why do we fight tooth and nail against being forced to face reality? Humans are strange creatures.

At some point, yet more argument seems pointless. No amount of data and evidence will change anything. We can’t deal with even relatively minor problems. Hope seems like an act of desperation in face of the more immense global challenges. Humanity will change when we are forced to change, when maintaining the status quo becomes impossible.

It is irrational to expect most humans to be rational about almost anything of significance. But that doesn’t mean speaking out doesn’t matter.

I considered offering some detailed thoughts and observations, but I already expressed my self a bit in another post. Instead, I’ll just point to a somewhat random selection of what others have already written, a few books and articles I’ve come across recently—my main focus has been climate change:

Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?
By Madhusree Mukerjee

It’s the End of the World as We Know It . . . and He Feels Fine
By Daniel Smith

Learning to Die in the Antrhopocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
By Roy Scranton

Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – And What it Means for Our Future
By Dale Jamieson

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
By Timothy Morton

Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
By Rob Nixon

The Culture of Make Believe
By Derrick Jensen

The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life
By Eviatar Zerubavel

States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering
By Stanley Cohen

Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life
By Kari Marie Norgaard

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
By George Marshall

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action
by Per EspenStoknes

How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
By Andrew Hoffman

The Republican War on Science
By Chris Mooney

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future
By Donald R. Prothero

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand
By Haydn Washington

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming
By James Hoggan

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
By Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

The man who studies the spread of ignorance
By Georgina Kenyon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
By Naomi Klein

Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations: Process of Creative Self-Destruction
By Christopher Wright & Daniel Nyberg

Exxon: The Road Not Taken
By Neela Banerjee

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA
By E.G. Vallianatos

Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
By Timothy Mitchell

Democracy Inc.: How Members Of Congress Have Cashed In On Their Jobs
By The Washington Post, David S. Fallis, Scott Higham (Author), Dan Keating, & Kimberly Kindy

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
By Sheldon S. Wolin

Founding Science

“The terms “science,”“technology,” and “scientist,” as we understand them today, were not in use in the Founders’ era. There was no distinction between science and technology, the latter being considered as the more practical, usually mechanical product resulting from scientific inquiry. The title “scientist” did not exist prior to 1833, when British scientist and historian William Whewell coined it. Before then, newspapers, magazines, books, and speeches either referred to a specific field of study by name, such as astronomy, or in the aggregate plural as “the sciences,” a label that encompassed a wide variety of fields including rhetoric and political science. Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1755 identified the “curious of nature” as “inquisitive, attentive, diligent, accurate, careful not to mistake, exact, nice, subtle, artful, rigorous.” Such men (and a few women) expressed their “genius” by engaging in “speculation”— making educated guesses about natural phenomena. “Natural philosophy” and “natural history,” the terms regularly used to denote science in the writings of the Founding Fathers and in the contemporary Philosophical Transactions of the London-based Royal Society, seem to us interchangeable. But natural philosophy then referred to what we might term the hard sciences, the mathematically based disciplines of physics, astronomy , chemistry, optics, and hydraulics. Natural history encompassed the soft sciences of botany, anthropology, anatomy, and , to a lesser extent, biology— what Foucault has called “the science of the characters that articulate the continuity and the tangle of nature.” 7”

Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries:
The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment

by Tom Shachtman
Kindle Locations 85-97

On Reasoning: Science and Experimentation

At the most basic level, what did the Enlightenment thinkers mean by reason and the sciences? In practice, what is rationality, critical thinking, and experimentation? What does it mean to seek truth, knowledge, and understanding?  What changes in thought were happening that led up to the American Revolution?

“Franklin also learned as a youth that minds untrained in science could also experiment. He later recalled for Swedish botanist Peter Kalm an experiment done by his father, Josiah: noticing that herring would spawn in one particular stream that led to Massachusetts Bay but not in another , Josiah had guessed that the activity had to do with the geographic location where the fish had been hatched. To test the theory, one year at spawning time he transported fish to the second stream, where they spawned and died; the following year, as Josiah had predicted, their offspring returned to the second stream.”
~ Tom Shachtman *

That offers an insight into the early scientific mind. That is the scientific method in essence. Josiah Franklin made some observations, analyzed those observations, formulated a falsifiable hypothesis, and then tested it with an experiment. He even used controls with the same species of spawning fish in two separate streams.

What is the ability demonstrated with that simple hands-on experiment? Is it reason? Is it science? What processes of cognition and perception were involved? What conditions and factors of influence make that possible?

This was not anything new. I’m sure people were doing all kinds of basic experiments long before the Enlightenment Age. This is an inherent human capacity, involving curiosity and problem-solving. Many other species especially higher primates similarly experiment, although less systematically. Such behaviors obviously have practical advantages for species survival. The Enlightenment Age just gave new emphasis, incentives, and articulation to this kind of activity. Science then formalized and regimented it.

But what is reason, whether pure or applied? Are humans ever fully rational and genuinely free of cognitive biases? Is the human intellect more than being a clever monkey pushed to the extreme?

——-

* Source:
Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries:
The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment

by Tom Shachtman
Chapter 2: “Variola” in Boston, 1721-1722
Kindle Locations 598-602

The Science of Politics

Many have noted the odd relationship American conservatives have to science. It isn’t just anti-intellectualism. Nor is it even necessarily a broad attack against all science. It is highly selective and not consistent whatsoever. It is a reactionary attitude and so must be understood in that light.

I regularly interact with a number of conservatives. It gives me a personal sense of what it might mean.

There is a sense behind it that scientists are mere technocrats, puppets of political power. This mindset doesn’t separate science from politics. There is no appreciation that most scientists probably think little about politics while they are focused on the practical issues of doing research and writing papers. Most scientists aren’t trying to make a political argument or to change anything within or through politics. Scientists just have their small corner of expertise that they obsess over.

There is a paranoia in this mindset, typically unacknowledged. There is a suspicion that scientists somehow are an organized political elite conspiring to force their will on the public. In reality, scientists are constantly arguing and fighting with one another. The main politics most scientists are worried about is most often the politics of academia, nothing so grand as control of the government. Science involves more disagreement than anything else.

Getting all scientists to cooperate on some grand conspiracy isn’t likely to ever happen, especially as scientists work within diverse institutions and organizations, public and private, across many countries. They don’t even share a single funding source. Scientists get funding from various government agencies, from various non-profit organizations, and increasingly from corporations. All these different funding sources have different agendas and create different incentives. For example, a lot of climatology research gets funded by big oil because climatology predictions are important in working with big oil rigs out in the ocean.

There is also another even stranger aspect. I get this feeling that some conservatives consider science to almost be unAmerican. I had a conservative tell me that science should have no influence over politics whatsoever. That politics should be about a competition of ideas. a marketplace of ideas if you will, and may the best idea win or profit, as the case may be. That reality is too complex for scientists too understand and so we shouldn’t try to understand that complexity. So, trying to understand is more dangerous than simply embracing our ignorance.

This goes so far as to create its own vision of history. Many conservatives believe that the founders were a wise elite who simply knew the answers. They may have taken up science as a hobby, but it had absolutely nothing to do with their politics. The founders were smart, unlike today’s intellectual liberal elite and scientific technocrats. The founders understood that science had nothing to offer other than the development of technology for the marketplace. That is the only use science has, as a tool of capitalism.

This is a bizarre mentality. It is also historically ungrounded. The founders didn’t separate their interest in science from their interest in politics. They saw both science and politics as the sphere of ideas and experimentation. They didn’t just take someone’s word for something. If they had a question or a debate, it wasn’t unusual for them to test it out and find what would happen. They were very hands-on people. For many of them, politics was just another scientific experiment. The new American system was a hypothesis to be tested, not simply a belief system to be declared and enforced.

This view of science is widespread. This isn’t just an issue of cynical reactionaries, ignorant right-wingers, and scientifically clueless fundies. This worldview also includes middle and upper class conservatives with college education, some even in academia itself. Many of these people are intelligent and informed. Very few of them are overt conspiracy theorists and denialists. Much of what I’ve said here they would dismiss as an outlandish caricature. They are rational and they know they are rational. Their skepticism of science is perfectly sound and based on valid concerns.

When these people on the right speak of science, they are speaking of it as symbolizing something greater in their worldview. It isn’t just science they are speaking of. They fear something that is represented by science. They fear the change and uncertainty that science offers. They distrust scientists challenging their cherished views of present reality in the same way they distrust academic historians revising established historical myths about America. These intellectual elites are undermining the entire world they grew up in, everything they consider great and worthy about this country.

Conservatives aren’t wrong to fear and distrust. Indeed, their world is being threatened. Change is inevitable and no one has a clue about what the end results might be. But they should stop attacking the messenger. Scientists are simply telling us to face reality, to face the future with our eyes wide open.

* * * *

Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries:
The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment
by Tom Shachtman

Science and the Founding Fathers:
Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison
by I. Bernard Cohen

The Invention of Air:
A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America
by Steven Johnson