Politicizing Science For Everyone’s Good

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Top Science Journal Rebukes Harvard’s Top Nutritionist

In an extraordinary editorial and feature article, Natureone of the world’s pre-eminent scientific journals, has effectively admonished the chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department, Walter Willett, for promoting over-simplification of scientific results in the name of public health and engaging in unseemly behavior towards those who venture conclusions that differ to his.

Willett, who is one of the most frequently quoted academic sources on nutrition in the news media, appears to have crossed a Rubicon when he denounced Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the US National Center for Health Statistics, for publishing a study that showed people who were overweight (but not obese) lived longer than those deemed normal weight. “This study is really a pile of rubbish, and no one should waste their time reading it,” he told National Public Radio.

Flegal had derived this conclusion from a meta-analysis of 97 studies covering 2.88 million people, and it had been published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). What concerned Willett – and other public health experts, who as Nature reported, later staged a symposium to criticize it – was that it seemed to counteract the general message that people should lose weight. As the journal noted:

“Studies such as Flegal’s are dangerous, Willett says, because they could confuse the public and doctors, and undermine public policies to curb rising obesity rates. ‘There is going to be some percentage of physicians who will not counsel an overweight patient because of this,’ he says. Worse, he says, these findings can be hijacked by powerful special-interest groups, such as the soft-drink and food lobbies, to influence policy-makers.”

Read the entire article for more details.What happened here is that someone with a serious reputation as a researcher and scientist, trained at Harvard no less, trashed a study that undermines his predetermined conclusions. He has been promptly, and correctly, called out for that by Nature. His complaint was NOT that the study was flawed, drew incorrect conclusions, or wasn’t backed by science. No, it was that it undermined the message he and the rest of the Nanny State pseudoscientists want us to believe.

Note also that the mention of a study that was published as confirming a link between Aspartame and cancer. It was originally hyped having dramatic conclusions, but that claim was withdrawn shortly before publication. Willett was an author of that study which some could call “a pile of rubbish” if they weren’t charitable. Apparently evidence is weak when Willett doesn’t like the conclusion, but strong when he has an interest in publishing the study.

Apparently, the general public isn’t smart enough to read the data and make their own decisions, so Willett thinks we need his help.

No wonder people are starting to question so called scientists.

 

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Why on earth would this lead them to question scientists? The system WORKED in this case; Willett was condemned and his weak study was withdrawn. This sort of thing has gone on for centuries, what is new is that a high-ranked scientist was rebuked publicly rather than the incident being “pushed under the rug”.

    Maybe if people in this country tried to educate themselves about science and scientific method, instead of parroting sound-bytes from political commentators, maybe things that are proved and disproved by controlled experiments will shape policy instead of the other way around.

    • His study wasn’t withdrawn, just the hyping of it’s significance. Willett was condemned, but that won’t lead to his losing his position or his stature. Sadly, as we’ve learned, often studies are influenced by who has commissioned them. Look at the ALIVE study. 12 people had ROSC, non survived to discharge, and we’re now using Amiodarone in preference to Lidocaine. People, sadly rely on the media, which unquestionably believes people like Willette because of their stature in academia.

      • Scientists alone tend to be bad enough with pushing pet theories and trashing whomever disagrees with them. I got just a taste of it a long time ago in my previous (i.e. pre-EMS) life and that was plenty.

        It’s another whole level of bad when we compare the results of studies with who funds the studies (the AHA and amiodarone, tobacco studies, etc…).

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