This item is from my 2015 recap post, which you can read by clicking here: The Year in Blog – 2015 Edition.
In 2015, Dr. David Katz provided this blog with some much-needed comic relief. What I didn’t expect was that the comic relief would lead back to the serious stuff.
As covered in my 2015 recap post, last September Katz was caught reviewing a novel he wrote under a pseudonym, without disclosing authorship. Damning evidence came in the form of a glowing, five-star Amazon review (caveat emptor), plus two similarly-worded Huffington Post articles. Peter M. Heimlich had the scoop; I merely reblogged the story.
Following queries from Peter, Amazon and the Huff Post pulled Katz’s reviews. Rather than admit he was wrong, thus allowing the story to die a quick and quiet death, Katz went on the attack, claiming – wait for it – that a “cabal” backed by “the beef industry” was working to undermine the work of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). This was news to me, not least because I’ve been vegetarian almost 15 years.
Katz’s October 24 Huff Post article – “National Nutritional Policy, Imperiled by Bullies” – in which he stated that criticism about his failure to act ethically helped put public health itself in jeopardy, clues in to his motives (take note: he makes no distinction between criticism and censorship).
Translation: Why waste time reading about boring old me – hey, what’s that over there?!
After the Huff Post retracted his articles, Katz ran to LinkedIn to publish this discursive, rather paranoid screed directed at journalist Nina Teicholz. To spare you the effort of wading through it, Katz clumsily connects the Huff Post retractions – the result of Peter’s query – to an investigation by Teicholz that featured in the BMJ in September. In the process of trying to distract attention away from his various conflicts of interest, Katz had inadvertently given us our next story.
What we learned was that in November, Katz was one of over 180 signatories to an open letter organised by Bonnie Leibman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that requested that the BMJ retract Teicholz’s investigation – “The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?” – criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 dietary guidelines. If there’s any doubt about whether this constituted an attempt to quash dissent, all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC signed their names to the letter.
After all the hype about a shadowy, industry-backed plot to overthrow science for beef and profit, it was somewhat surprising to learn that Katz was himself part of an industry-backed effort – “cabal,” if you will – to disappear a journalist’s article. Remember that all-important distinction between criticism and censorship? Who’s the censor in this scenario – a journalist asking unwelcome questions about government science, or a government scientist rallying to excise unwelcome questions from public debate?
On November 19, the BMJ asked the authors of the CSPI letter to submit it as a “rapid response” on thebmj.com. This required all signatories to declare their competing interests. Peter, doing what he does best, went about asking questions and filing records requests. One such request to the University of Colorado, regarding former president of the American Heart Association (AHA) Professor Robert Eckel, was particularly intriguing. On November 25, Peter received a letter from the university’s legal counsel stating Eckel was intending to remove his name from the retraction letter. Here’s what happened (via The Sidebar).
Click here to read and download the Heimlich-Eckel emails.
Following Eckel’s decision to remove his name from the CSPI letter, more signatories started to disappear. As reported in this item Peter and I co-authored and cross-posted to each of our blogs, on December 17 the BMJ posted an updated version of the letter, absent the names of 18 scientists and graduate students. Result.
Bringing the story full circle is our man at Yale, Dr. Katz. A few weeks after Amazon and the Huff Post pulled his self-reviews, I discovered yet another five-star rating Katz had awarded his novel on a website called Goodreads, where he failed once again to disclose the obvious conflict of interest.
As we would our item on Nina Teicholz and her run-in with the CSPI, Peter and I co-authored and cross-posted this latest chapter in Katz’s storied history of shameless sock puppetry to each of our blogs. No sooner had Peter queried the Goodreads team than the rating disappeared into Internet ether.