Voice in the Wilderness

Nina Teicholz by Laura Rose

“I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science” – The (ongoing) story of how top US nutritionists tried to gag New York Times best-selling author Nina Teicholz [Updated: CSPI’s BMJ retraction request goes missing – more after the jump]

As readers of Shooting the Messenger and The Sidebar (my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s world-beating website) will know, there have been some major developments in recent months re: efforts by members of the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to gag journalist and author Nina Teicholz.

Taking stock of the story so far, it’s remarkable how closely each new development seems to mirror Teicholz’s own account of previous efforts by nutritionists to suppress dissenting viewpoints.

Via her seminal 2014 book on the history of nutritional science, The Big Fat Surprise:

At a conference that [Danish researcher Uffe Ravnskov] and I 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 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.

For Teicholz, who started her research “expect[ing] to find a community in decorous debate,” this incident illustrated a surprising lack of tolerance within the nutritional sciences for alternative viewpoints, or even simple scientific inquiry.

Unfortunately, her anecdote would prove eerily prescient.

On November 5 last year, a letter signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, was sent to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

The letter – organised by Bonnie Liebman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based advocacy non-profit – requested that the journal retract The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC.

If there’s any doubt as to whether this constituted an attempt to silence a critic, all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC signed their names to the letter.

But the effort to gag Teicholz didn’t end there.

In March this year, she was disinvited from the National Food Policy Conference, a prestigious Washington, DC food policy panel at which she was scheduled to speak the following month (her replacement – wait for it – was president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research & Education Maureen Storey).

Sound familiar? Check out this excerpt from The Big Fat Surprise:

As [Ancel] Key’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.

…they were not invited to conferences and were unable to get prestigious journals to publish their work. Experiments that had dissenting results, they found, were not debated but instead dismissed or ignored altogether.

Things took a sinister turn in late March, with Peter reporting on how DGAC chair Barbara Millen and US Department of Agriculture exec Angela Tagtow conspired with Thomas Gremillion – director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which organised the conference – to kick Teicholz off the panel (click here to read Peter’s May 2 article showing the extent of Millen’s involvement).

Piling-on the anti-Nina Teicholz bandwagon was nutritionist and Huffington Post columnist Dr. David Katz, who was quoted in Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 7 Guardian article, The sugar conspiracy, describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Via The Big Fat Surprise:

…slander and personal ridicule were surprisingly not unusual experiences for…opponents of the diet-heart hypothesis.

Last month, several prominent physicians criticised Katz for his ad hominem remarks, leading Yale University’s School of Medicine to publicly disassociate from its otherwise unrelated namesake, the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centerof which Katz is the founding director.

Bringing the whole sorry story up-to-date, this month Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed Harvard professor and DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu’s efforts to solicit European signatories to Bonnie Liebman’s CSPI retraction letter.

Is Teicholz surprised by the extreme measures taken by members of the DGAC to shut her out of the debate? Here’s what she had to say:

“Even though I had covered the vicious politics of nutrition science extensively in my book, I couldn’t quite imagine the force with which the various attack strategies would be applied against me. Virtually every tactic that Keys and his allies used to malign anyone who challenged them – false accusations about supposed errors and supposed industry backing as well as just sheer name-calling – has been employed aggressively against me. I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science.”

Like those whom she wrote about in The Big Fat Surprise – researchers such as John Yudkin, Pete Ahrens and Mary G. Enig – Teicholz has dared to challenge the scientific consensus on nutrition, and has paid the price. Yet unlike those before her, Teicholz remains a prominent voice of dissent.

Is the tide starting to turn on diet and nutrition? Will we soon see a crack in the consensus? Wouldn’t that be a big fat surprise.

Update, 14/07/2016: The CSPI’s November 5, 2015 retraction request of The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 BMJ article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC, has gone missing from the CSPI’s website, in its place this 404 notice:

CSPI BMJ 404 Page

According to Teicholz, the BMJ is preparing to announce it will not retract her article.

A PDF of the CSPI’s retraction request is available by clicking here.

An updated, December 17, 2015 version – absent the names of 18 signatories – is available by clicking here.

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5 thoughts on “Voice in the Wilderness

  1. It’s depressing to see how confirmation bias affects those who we pay to think objectively about nutrition and issues of public health. It’s enraging to see the personal attacks and blackball methods used by these same people on Ms. Teicholz. Can we get our own petition going to lobby these institutions to rethink the diet-heart hypothesis and the USDA dietary guidelines? I feel as though there are enough keto/paleo/no sugar advocates/websites/communities to get some traction at this point.

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