Losing Faith

 

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.

17 thoughts on “Losing Faith

  1. Ken

    I had the same instincts as you. I did not intend to read the paper (even for amusement), but thanks for reassuring me that I won’t miss anything. At age 54 my LDL-c runs about 250mg/dL, I recently had a negative heart (calcium) scan, and I maintain a ketogenic diet and exercise routine. I theorize that this may eventually reverse my mild isolated fasting hyperglycemia (there are signs, after almost 3 years, that this is happening) – in any case it sure is effortless to stay lean and all of my (other) bloodwork markers are much improved.
    I have read your book (Cholesterol Con) — I am grateful for the work that you and others have put in to reassure me not to take statins or any other such drug. I live in the very worldwide capital of the statinators (Boston, Mass. area). It’s brutal just to deal with one’s general practitioner in this regard. Most people simply succumb.
    Fortunately, in some areas, I believe the medical research is actually fairly good. I think the basic research in diabetes, for instance, is well above average. Some of it is truly excellent, while much is garbage. I have learned to quickly discern the difference, I think, and am grateful for the good stuff.
    In efforts to avoid having a statin shoved down my throat, I’ve collected a lot of info indicating that a ketogenic diet fairly commonly elevates LDL-c to so-called hypercholesterolemic levels. I crudely estimate (based upon limited data) that this effect occurs for 15% to 30% of the (Western) population — in other words, a minority but a large one. Some say it has to do with apo-E4 alleles. In the USA there are definitely a few experienced clinicians who prescribe ketogenic diets who are well familiar with the high LDL-c long-term response in some. Barry Groves (whom I guess you might know personally) is apparently an example.
    It’s mostly academic curiosity to me at this point, but I wonder if you have any thoughts on this. I have convinced myself that mine must be a healthy and natural response to a healthy diet in a genetic minority of Westerners. I would guess that Barry Groves has had LDL-c like mine for several decades now — methinks he looks pretty good at that!

    Reply
    1. Dr. Malcolm Kendrick Post author

      I think it is extremely positive that you are taking the opportunity to check the research for yourself. It is the way to go…. if terribly time-consuming. Does a ketogenic diet raise LDL in a proportion of the population – probably. Does it matter, not in my opinion. Frankly, I am a bit of a diet agnositic, although I am coming round to the idea that carbs are the most important factor in driving obesity, and that eating fat(s) is the best way to lose weight.

      Reply
  2. Jo

    Since I started reading research papers on the subject of low carb diets for personal reasons (i.e. calorie counting didn’t seem to be working for me), I have developed a low opinion of scientists. I am saddened by this because I think some of them really do care about their field and learning new things that can help humanity. I wondered whether the poor science is only happening in nutritional studies, but guess it’s happening in lots of other fields too (e.g. medicine). The climate change debate (and subsequent publicity) isn’t helping either. Sad really.

    By the way, loved your book on Cholesterol and have passed it on to family members.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Malcolm Kendrick Post author

      I think the main problem is that it is very difficult to know which scientists are doing research for the right reasons, and which ones are doing it for the wrong reasons. In the book I am writing at present, I am attempting to provide a check list to allow people to spot the gold amongst the dross.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Palmer

        Jo,
        you may be interested in an alliance of Scientists, Architects, Engineers and Technologists who network under the banner of Scientists for Global Responsibility. Chris Langley and Stuart Parkinson co-authored a report commissioned and promoted by SGR called ‘Science and the Corporate Agenda’ (Oct 2009). The report looked at 5 key sectors of commerce and industry and passed comments upon the quality of outcomes as the authors perceived them. Pharmaceuticals, tobacco, military/defence, oil/gas, biotechnology. I can’t summarise all the issues but the key point that comes across is the declaration that wherever there exists a choice between a low input solution and one which may be interventionist and lucrative then enthusiasm for the latter seems to win the day. A search engine should take you to the SGR website and/or a pdf of the report.
        In addition Ben Goldacre has been a prominent canary in the coal mine attempting to alert public and practitioners to ‘Bad Science’. Try his entertaining book by that name. There’s also Robert Winstons (Lord) ‘Bad Ideas?’
        On Wikipedia ‘Academic Spring’ will open up a feature and links to a network of academics who have been vocal about deficiencies in the system of peer review publishing.
        When the editor of a liberal journal ‘Medical Hypotheses’ was ‘sacked’ by the publisher Elsevier it was taken to be a set back for liberal expression of scepticism and alternative theory. Some academics rallied and ‘kicked-off’ in their reserved and understated way.
        So people working in sceince and technology are concerned and it looks as though the level of dissent has amounted to something.
        The Dept of Business Industry and Science (BIS) has announced an initiative to make all publicly funded research publicly accessible via some web feature. It looks as if the expression of dissent and concern has resulted in some will for some change. Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has been recruited to advise on the trajectory of developments. It may be worth watching developments as we may get better transparency. The level of transparency and integrity we do get will be commensurate with the will of the people who actively press for it. We owe a lot to brave individuals, like Dr Kendrick, who have been vocally sceptic on one matter or another.

    2. Christopher Palmer

      Hello Dr Kendrick and hello Jo,

      “I wondered whether the poor science is only happening in nutritional studies, but guess it’s happening in lots of other fields too (e.g. medicine).”

      Yes Jo, your instincts are correct; there is ‘good science’ and there is ‘bad science’. ‘Good science’ may seem to be in decline and ‘bad science’ may appear to be on the rise. ‘Bad science’ is detectable because it carries with an odour. You will have caught the whiff of inauthenticity on occasions in your past but you won’t necessarily have recognised it for what it is – you have to develop a nose for it. Once you have matched the whiff to an instance of inauthenticity then you won’t forget the experience and future detection gets easier. The key is involvement so continue sniffing around and you’ll awaken the bloodhound in you. Addictive as the pastime is it can be time consuming; I learned the hard way. I learned something else the hard way too. … …

      The human condition favours clarity and trust. Moreover the mind favours the familiar over the unfamiliar. We like to see the distinction between the truth and lies as a stark contrast like black and white but there are many affairs in which such certainty is unattainable. My answer to this opens the way for a workable ‘fuzzy logic’.

      -Imagine that science attaches explanations to circumstances, events and their causes. Not hard for this is precisely what science does. Next imagine a line, an axis or a scale extending between two points. One point is labelled ‘authentic’ and the other is ‘inauthentic’. Now, take any explanation you like and try to access where it deserves to be placed upon that axis. This forces you make some assessment of whether the the explanation is wholesome and valid or less than that. We like to trust what other learned people direct us to believe because that lightens our load, but other people are fallible too. Curiosity for where something should sit on the axis of authenticity gives us some reason and responsibility to find reason to trust or distrust explanations that come before us.

      There’s a way Newtons Laws of motion were valid (because they worked in a given circumstance) and a way in which they were invalid (because they ceased to work in another circumstance). Einstein came along and proposed the radical, “Now they work and now they don’t”, which nonplussed his contemporaries. Moreover he described the alteration in circumstance and factored the trend into the equations. Newtons wasn’t ‘bad science’ but it wasn’t fully authentic either for there was a case where Newtons laws ceased to work. Good science requires perpetual scepticism and watchfulness for factors that haven’t been accounted for. Einsteins ‘ radical advance did many things including proving Newtons laws correct but with the addition of important refinement. E=mc2 means something else to e=mv2 but there is elegance in the comparable geometry.

      Off the back of these alterations to the way I think about things I no longer worry about ‘good science’ and ‘bad science’. There is just ‘science’. However the quality of science does vary and ranges between authentic to inauthentic. People behind inauthentic science aren’t likely to be aware there science is inauthentic because many of them are good natured people like you and me. Often their attachment to the inauthentic is because they have taken something on trust that ought notta. But science is also business. People make a living from science. Science pays mortgages and feeds kids. This aspect is a strong selection pressure influencing what scientists recommend. The origins of funding make a difference. There is a compelling force favouring suggestions and reports that paymasters prefer. It is the way of the world as the world stands and the moment and the circumstance is presently more acute for reasons that can be identified and canbe explained … … but not here.

      Jo, there are some sources that you may find interesting and that may reward your intuition but I am going to submit then in a separate comment. WordPress is discouraging long comments but not alerting us when it does.

      Reply
  3. Arie Brand

    I have got a tale to tell that fits perfectly in this thread (‘the decline of honesty in science’) – but alas the post (or rather posts because it is an involved tale) is still not being accepted by your computer. I am posting from Australia and on a Mac.

    Reply
  4. Arie Brand

    Yes I would be glad to email it to you – but where can I find your email address? It is a long story (that I originally wrote in Dutch) and I have divided it into six sections meant for six consecutive posts.

    Reply
  5. Mrs Elizabeth Ann Biles

    My husband is 73 yrs old and has had an amazing life for his age–his memory used to be ‘out of this world” (friends comments) since taking simvastatin about 5 yrs ago–his normal ‘behaviour” has gone downhill so rapidly–as a family we thought it was maybe Dimentia, but his worst habits are nowadays–his anger and argumentative attitudes are such a strange thing for any of us to see, normally such a placid man–a gentleman–is what others see him as–whereas–within confined home/car spaces the accusations we get as a family is really getting us down, especially myself. Having found your book and Duanes on AMAZON and read them both cover to cover—and now seeing your video online too—its brought it home to me that it could well be his intake of statins—because also—his joints now hurt and he’s lost a lot of upper body weight–and height too.
    AS for me–I was put onto statins in 2001 by a new Dr (standin for my Dr who was off ill) plus lowering blood pressure –even tho’ my previous Dr had disagreed with this view as uneccessary. Consequently when my old dr returned I asked his opinion and after shrugging his shoulders saying its my choice—I gave up any form of ”medication”. Since this time –in 2006 I had a full torso scan, privately–which showed how amazingly fit my body was for ,my then 61 yrs, no sign of any fats/or nasties at all anywhere in my torso so why—when visiting my Dr she tells me my cholesterol and equally blood pressure was sky high?
    She has refused to look at anything in the medical sense –”done privately” even tho’ the company I dealt with is reputable and had sent her all documents stating his findings!
    My blood pressure etc is not what my ”beef” is about tho’. I want my husband to accept his ”odd” behaviour–worse at times than others—-and not constantly blame me or our son John, who lives with us at the moment–and I WOULD RATHER LIKE TO HAVE MY OLD MAN BACK TOO–I am about to write and let his Doctor know how I feel because as Duane says–not enough people get in touch with GP’S to inform them of the awful changes which confront them every day—just because of of chemicals invading our bodies unnaturally.
    I know there arte many other factors which donot help his–or my—situation at this time, but really this note to you is to let you know, as a LAYPERSON, I found your book extremely enlightening and put together with Duanes ” THIEF OF MEMORY”has presented me with more than I had hoped for.
    Thank you from a concerned wife–LIZ

    Reply
      1. Mrs Elizabeth Ann Biles

        I agree—I put a msg onto my facebook about the problems I have so far with them, and a few–young people –reply to say cholesterol ”is linked” to dimentia and heart disease—-I did reply to them, in similar way as you have said in your book.
        2 people -my age group–have emailed to say their husbands are on them and they put it down to thier age—–Now they are looking into it —whether as seriously as me I dont know!
        Thanks for the comment.
        Liz

  6. Tracy Stanley

    Hi, and thank you for such an interesting site. I’d like to ask what your advice is for anyone trying to find information on putting together a sensible reduced/low carb diet? I’m really wary of diet books & websites etc from people who seem to have lots of products and appear to be quite focused on making a profit, but then it would be good to have some guidance – any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Malcolm Kendrick Post author

      Sensible advice about diet? I would direct you to Zoe Harcombe’s diet in this area. They are pretty sensible. Barry Groves is someone else who I think is very clear. These people are not trying to sell anything, and they have a good understanding of the underlying science, and scientific research underpinning this area

      Reply
  7. Tracy Stanley

    Thanks very much for the reply. I have looked at Zoe Harcombe’s material and it does look interesting / well researched. I was a bit put off when I signed up to the online club and one of the first things I saw was an offer to upgrade membership which seemed to cost anywhere between £1 to £5.95 for a month. There was free content too, and I do recognise that everyone has to make a living, it’s just hard to get a feel for who is genuine. I will check out information from Barry Groves as well. Thanks again.

    Reply

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