An installment in a series: Red Pill Reality Dispelling Blue Pill Delusions
I've written several posts in the past regarding the primary means for which we often see press releases in the mainstream media regarding claims that meat, red meat and/or saturated fats are the cause of a host of illnesses and deaths like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
The most common tactic employed is to use statistical analysis of observational studies to make a specious claim to demonize a certain food. In other words, most such claims conflate correlation with causation to mislead the average mass media consumer.
The primary M.O. for making such claims believable is largely based upon comparing the overall health between kinds of people: those that are health conscious and do all they can to try and attain good health by following conventional wisdom promulgated by the corporate agriculture, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries in the mainstream media -- vs. those people who don't care a whit and simply live lifestyles without regard to any and all healthcare advice.
In other words, using observational studies based on self-reporting questionnaires, press releases that breathlessly declare meat and saturated fats as agents of death and diseases are based on nothing more than comparing people who avoid or minimize the meat and fat consumption -- but who also commit to lifestyles that the mainstream media regularly touts as necessary for good health; things like regular exercise, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol and drugs, and avoiding fast foods, sweets, pastries and processed snack foods vs. people who eat meat and fat with abandon because they're also smoking like chimneys, avoiding exercise, drinking like sailors and eating fast foods, sweets, desserts and snack foods on a regular basis without a second thought.
Such studies are basically comparing two different lifestyles - one of people who think health is important and are willing to sacrifice momentary satisfaction to their taste buds and comfort to achieve the desired state of health, and those who could care less and will eat whatever they want regardless of the conventional wisdom. The results of such a comparison are fairly intuitive to figure out...but the press releases of the mainstream mass media will usually point the finger at the meat and/or fat and claim that the difference in the results is due to those who focus on a "plant based diet" versus the filthy meat and saturated fat gluttons.
It's a complete misdirection designed to get the masses to embrace the plant-based processed food products of Big Agriculture. Of course, as the links thus far show, I've covered all this before...so why yet another post on the topic?
Because I'd also like to highlight other tactics employed by the sources behind such deceptive press releases: those based on studies that are deliberately "fixed" to reach a pre-determined outcome to support the overall narrative.
Exposing these tactics in his latest blog post: You Can't Debunk Everything: How To Avoid Being Baffled By Baloney, is author and blogger J. Stanton over at gnolls.org.
Stanton exposed on the sources of such dietary disinformation, and you really should read his entire post...but the following is a quick summary of 3 tactics used by researchers to prove the up is down, black is white and we should all be vegetarians...
Quit While You're Ahead
Stanton highlights a particular study that sought to show that "Foods high in fat are less satiating than foods high in carbohydrates."
Anyone who has tried the paleo diet for even a short period of time, knows this is simply rubbish. So how do researchers make their case? They measure satiety of various foods FOR ONLY 120 MINUTES...2 Hours.
In 2 hours, a full belly of any kind of food will still leave most people without any severe disorders satiated. Try it for yourself...on an empty stomach, eat a couple of eggs and bacon until you are full, than time how long it takes before you feel hungry again.
Than, on the following day, try eating oatmeal and a bagel with jam and some fruit. See how long it takes before you feel hungry again.
In either case, most normal people will find that 2 hours will not reveal the difference in satiation between the high carb vs. the low carb breakfast. But that doesn't stop the press release from claiming that the high carb diet is "more satiating" than the low carb one...
The next example of misleading research tactics is:
Construct an Artificial Scenario
The press release conclusion:
“Fat, not carbohydrate, is the macronutrient associated with overeating and obesity…Although more data are required, currently the best dietary advice for weight maintenance and for controlling hunger is to consume a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet with a high fiber content.”
How do they "prove" this?
Thus, to examine in more detail the mechanisms involved in the effects of carbohydrate and fat on food intake, we infused pure nutrients either through intravenous or intragastric routes.”
The only people who actually get their nutrients via IV are those in a coma or on life support. Another worthless study that means nothing to the 99% of us who actually masticate and swallow our food.
Than we have the next means of creating misleading studies:
Confound Your Variables
In a study from 1987, the researchers sought to prove that a "high fat diet" was the cause of obesity by feeding a group of women an alternate diet between low and high fat and measured the results.
They confounded their variables in three different ways.
First, in the high fat diet, the fats used were primarily Omega-6 imbalanced vegetable oils with a bit of milk and/or butterfat mixed in. Not all "high fat diets" are equal. Even mainstream media has been forced to admit the difference between trans-fats and regular saturated fats...which is why there is a few margarine brands nowadays that tout "TRANS FAT FREE." But back in 1987? Margarine was considered the superior health food to saturated fat rich butter.
The next means of confounding the variables was to mix up the serving sizes by "units" whether it was "high fat" or "low fat."
“All foods, including those served as units (eg, muffins, sandwiches), could be consumed entirely or in part. … Sandwiches were available in whole or half units.”
The final way in which this disingenuous study confounded their variables was to mix up the various meals on the test subjects. Stanton notes:
A typical subject would consume a low-fat meal one day, a high-fat meal the next, a medium-fat meal the third day, and the sequence would repeat.
Can you imagine a drug trial where patients took one drug on odd days, and another drug on even days? How could you possibly disentangle the effects?
All of us have eaten a huge dinner and not been hungry the next morning…or gone to bed hungry and been ravenous when we awakened. In this insane design, each high-fat meal was guaranteed to be surrounded by two days of lower-fat meals. Yet in Figure 2, they graph energy intake for each day as if it were the same people eating each diet for two weeks!
In conclusion, this study is triply useless: first, due to using known industrial toxins for the “high-fat” diet, second, due to unequal portion size, and third, due to an intentionally broken design that commingles the effects of the three diets.
So there you have it...4 ways in which Press Releases claim scientific evidence for misinformation regarding diet and nutrition: Conflating correlation with causation in statistical analysis of observational studies, and 3 techniques for running studies to reach predetermined conclusions.
Next time you read, hear or see another breathless claim in the corporate mass media denouncing meat and/or fat and urging everyone to eat a plant based diet of "fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains," it's almost a virtual certainty that they're either reporting on studies comparing health conscious people versus those who don't care...or they are reporting on studies that were fixed to support the claims rather than an unbiased study designed to discover the truth.