‘Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.’ J Ionnadis.
Recently, I have taken to looking at the headlines of various medical studies are groaning. You may have seen the hype surrounding a ‘low carb’ diet study in the BMJ. One headline, plucked from many, stated that ‘Heart disease linked to low-carb diets.’
Perhaps I should take such studies more seriously. After all, the BMJ is one of the most respected and highly ranked medical journals in the world. It is not the Fortean Times or the National Enquirer. So, one would hope that it prints things that should be serious and taken seriously. I wish.
Instead, my first thought was. This is bollocks. I know that this is rubbish. But, frankly, can I be bothered to read the damn thing myself, to prove to myself it is rubbish. I immediately knew it was rubbish because I have been studying nutrition and health for nearly thirty years, and if there were anything inherently unhealthy about a low carb, high protein diet, I would know it. And I don’t.
I also know the context of such studies. Mainstream medical thinking has been high carb, low everything else for the past thirty years. It is unshakable dogma, maintained in the face of a relentless bombardment of evidence. When anyone, such as Atkins, dares to take on this established dogma, they are ruthlessly attacked, personal, professionally and scientifically.
On the other hand, when anyone produces a paper supporting the high carb, low everything else, dogma, it will be uncritically supported, waved through peer-review, then published. ‘See, we were right all along. Low carb diets kill you. Nyah, nyah, nyah…..you’re not singing any more etc.’ Such is the world of medical research today.
The decline of honesty in science
Anyone who has been a scientist for more than 20 years will realize that there has been a progressive decline in the honesty of communications between scientists, between scientists and their institutions, and between scientists and their institutions and the outside world.
Yet real science must be an arena where truth is the rule; or else the activity simply stops being science and becomes something else: Zombie science. Zombie science is a science that is dead, but is artificially kept moving by a continual infusion of funding. From a distance Zombie science look like the real thing, the surface features of a science are in place – white coats, laboratories, computer programming, PhDs, papers, conference, prizes, etc. But the Zombie is not interested in the pursuit of truth – its citations are externally-controlled and directed at non-scientific goals, and inside the Zombie everything is rotten…..
Scientists are usually too careful and clever to risk telling outright lies, but instead they push the envelope of exaggeration, selectivity and distortion as far as possible. And tolerance for this kind of untruthfulness has greatly increased over recent years. So it is now routine for scientists deliberately to ‘hype’ the significance of their status and performance and ‘spin’ the importance of their research.
Bruce Charlton: Professor of Theoretical Medicine
Getting back to the study, I did read it, it was rubbish. Luckily, others too read it, and there has pretty much been a barrage of criticism (none of which will ever reach the media, of course). Here is what Dr Yoni Freehof had to say on the New England Journal of Medicine discussion forum. http://www.cardioexchange.org/voices/what-reading-that-low-carb-gives-you-heart-disease-paper-actually-told-me/
‘…..So, to review: The authors of this paper are basing their 15-years-worth of conclusions off of a single, solitary — and clearly inaccurate — baseline food-frequency questionnaire; they didn’t control for clearly known smack-you-in-the-face dietary confounders; they found just a miniscule absolute increase in risk; and the diet they are reporting on can’t even be fairly referred to as a low-carbohydrate diet.
Useful? Conclusive? Press worthy?
It gets worse.
The BMJ didn’t just publish a completely useless paper, they gave this very clear, yet completely non-evidence-based, advice to clinicians in their accompanying editorial:
Despite the popularity of these diets, clinicians should probably advise against their use for long-term control of body weight.
Worse still, highly reputable, socially networked curators of medical information tweeted the resultant media stories as relevant, and even Physician’s First Watch — a news alert from Journal Watch and the publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine — reported it as valuable to scores of physician subscribers who trust JW to keep them abreast of the latest important journal studies.’
He didn’t like. I didn’t like it. No-one who knows anything about this area liked it. It was Zombie Science, to go along with an ever-increasing pile of Zombie Science. I am losing faith in medical research.