The Meat Wars: JAMA Stirs the Pot

Visitor Essay by Kip Hansen — 20 January 2020



Rita Rubin, Senior Author, JAMA Medical Information & Views,  has stirred the pot on the controversy surrounding a collection of research printed final Fall within the Annals of Inner Drugs, “one of the extensively cited and influential specialty medical journals on the earth.”  Her  newest piece,  titled “Backlash Over Meat Dietary Suggestions Raises Questions About Company Ties to Vitamin Scientists”,  appeared in JAMA on-line  on 15 January 2020.   It begins with this:

“It’s virtually extraordinary for medical journals to get blowback for research earlier than the info are printed. However that’s what occurred to the Annals of Inner Drugs final fall as editors have been about to submit a number of research exhibiting that the proof linking crimson meat consumption with heart problems and most cancers is simply too weak to suggest that adults eat much less of it.

Annals Editor-in-Chief Christine Laine, MD, MPH, noticed her inbox flooded with roughly 2000 emails—most bore the identical message, apparently generated by a bot—in a half hour. Laine’s inbox needed to be shut down, she mentioned. Not solely was the quantity unprecedented in her decade on the helm of the revered journal, the tone of the emails was significantly caustic.

“We’ve printed lots on firearm damage prevention,” Laine mentioned. “The response from the NRA (Nationwide Rifle Affiliation) was much less vitriolic than the response from the True Well being Initiative.”

Welcome to The Meat Wars.  Yet one more Trendy Scientific Controversy taking part in out within the mass media. I lined the story initially right here at WUWT in “Trendy Scientific Controversies Half 7: The Meat Battle”  final October.  Learn this earlier essay to get a really feel for what has occurred thus far.


A bunch of impartial researchers, from a number of international locations, have fashioned a bunch known as NutriRECS, “an impartial group with medical, dietary and public well being content material experience, expert within the methodology of systematic critiques and follow pointers who’re unencumbered by institutional constraints and conflicts of curiosity, aiming to provide reliable dietary guideline suggestions based mostly on the values, attitudes and preferences of sufferers and neighborhood members”.  They’ve lined a variety of points since 2010.

NutriRECS authors printed six papers concurrently in  Annals of Inner Drugs. 19 November 2019 Vol: 171, Challenge 10, the papers together reviewed the proof used to make public well being suggestions for quantities of crimson and processed meat within the human weight loss plan.   [ While the official publication date, issue, and volume of the journal show 19 November, the controversy breaks as early as September 2019 — with pre-publication copies of the papers sent out to the press, as evidenced by coverage in the NY Times on 30 September 2019. I was able to access all six papers online in early October 2019.  — kh ]

Gina Kolata, of the NY Occasions Well being part, characterised the furor over the papers  final September this manner:

“Public well being officers for years have urged Individuals to restrict consumption of crimson meat and processed meats due to issues that these meals are linked to coronary heart illness, most cancers and different ills.

However on Monday, in a exceptional turnabout, a global collaboration of researchers produced a collection of analyses concluding that the recommendation, a bedrock of virtually all dietary pointers, just isn’t backed by good scientific proof.

If there are well being advantages from consuming much less beef and pork, they’re small, the researchers concluded. Certainly, the benefits are so faint that they are often discerned solely when taking a look at giant populations, the scientists mentioned, and should not enough to inform people to vary their meat-eating habits.”

Kolata characterised the response to the papers as:

“Already they’ve been met with fierce criticism by public well being researchers. The American Coronary heart Affiliation, the American Most cancers Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Well being and different teams have savaged the findings and the journal that printed them.”

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For those who’ve adopted a number of the hyperlinks, to my earlier essay or to the NY Occasions article by Koltata, you’ll be fairly properly knowledgeable as to the quick reactions to the papers.

Rita Rubin’s JAMA article actually digs in, declaring that “Subsequent information protection criticized the methodology used within the meat papers and raised the specter that a number of the authors had monetary ties to the meat trade, representing beforehand undisclosed conflicts of curiosity.”  There was, in actual fact, no specter, not even a suggestion that some or any of the authors had monetary ties to the meat trade — besides in advert hominem assaults from a sure small group of researchers and public well being coverage advocates.

In an article in The BJM (beforehand, the British Medical Journal), additionally printed earlier than the official publication the meat guideline papers, Owen Dryer repeats the assault  “from critics who be aware that the lead writer of the principal  paper additionally helped to jot down a 2016 paper questioning the advantages  of limiting sugar consumption, which was funded by an trade  group.”   Let’s have a look at this declare:  The lead writer of one of many six papers, out of the 14 authors concerned within the six papers within the collection, “additionally helped to jot down a 2016 paper questioning the advantages of limiting sugar consumption” which paper was reportedly “funded by an trade  group.”  Any reality to this?  Sure,  Brad Johnston, lead writer of this one paper within the NurtiRECS meat collection, “Unprocessed Crimson Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Suggestions From the Dietary Suggestions (NutriRECS) Consortium”, was one in all 5 authors of a 2016 paper “The Scientific Foundation of Guideline Suggestions on Sugar Consumption: A Systematic Assessment”.  The sugar consumption paper was funded by the nonprofit Worldwide Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is primarily supported by the meals and agriculture trade.  ILSI helps non-public/public collaborations in diet science.  Notice that the NY Occasions has just lately printed an article attacking ILSI,  which contained false details about ILSI, to which ILSI responded.  (The NY Occasions didn’t print ILSI’s response.)

The JAMA article by Rita Rubin is a superb deal extra even handed.  She states bluntly:

“However what has for essentially the most half been ignored is that Katz and THI and plenty of of its council members [which includes Frank Hu and Walter Willett]  have quite a few trade ties themselves. The distinction is that their ties are primarily with firms and organizations that stand to revenue if individuals eat much less crimson meat and a extra plant-based weight loss plan. In contrast to the meat trade, these entities are surrounded by an aura of well being and wellness, though that isn’t essentially evidence-based.

So the assaults on the NurtiRECS papers come from researchers whose major focus — and supply of fame and wealth — is advocacy for “life-style medication” and “plant-based diets” — researchers with ties to for-profit firms and organizations that may revenue from their views.

The first, and most vitriolic, of those gamers?   David Katz, Frank Hu, Walter Willett, all council members of the True Well being Initiative.   What have they performed? First, they tried to preemptively stop the publication of the NutriRECS papers:

“Katz, Willett, and Hu took the uncommon step of contacting Laine [editor of Annals] about retracting the research previous to their publication, she recalled in an interview with JAMA. Maybe that’s not stunning. “Among the researchers have constructed their careers on diet epidemiology,” Laine mentioned. “I can perceive it’s upsetting when the restrictions of your work are uncovered and mentioned within the open.””

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One other member of the THI council, Neil Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Accountable Drugs (PCRM):

“Hours earlier than the meat articles have been posted and the embargo lifted, Barnard’s PCRM went as far as to petition the Federal Commerce Fee (FTC) “to appropriate false statements concerning consumption of crimson and processed meat launched by the Annals of Inner Drugs.” However the FTC describes its position as defending shoppers and selling competitors within the market, so it’s unclear what authority or curiosity it might have on this case.

Regardless of PCRM’s title, lower than 10% of its 175 000 members are physicians, based on its web site, which describes the group’s mission as “saving and bettering human and animal lives by way of plant-based diets and moral and efficient scientific analysis.” [Rubin in source]

The plant-based weight loss plan advocates didn’t cease there: (all from Rubin’s  JAMA article)

“Info Terrorism”

The rebukes continued for weeks after publication of the meat articles, however Katz didn’t remark by way of the standard routes of posting feedback on the journal’s web site or writing a letter to the editor. He mentioned he did neither as a result of he’s “capable of react way more instantly and generate a a lot wider consciousness with my very own weblog platforms.”

In his October 6 column for the New Haven Register, Katz in contrast the articles, which he known as “an important debacle of public well being” to “info terrorism” that “can blow to smithereens…the life’s work of innumerable cautious scientists.”

“About Three weeks later, [Neil Barnard ‘s] PCRM requested the district legal professional for the Metropolis of Philadelphia, the place the Annals editorial workplace is positioned, “to analyze potential reckless endangerment” ensuing from the publication of the meat papers and suggestions.”

“One other salvo got here throughout a current 1-day preventive cardiology convention, the place half the shows have been on plant-based diets. Throughout his keynote deal with, Willett confirmed a slide entitled “Disinformation” that faulted a number of organizations and people: the “sensationalist media,” particularly the Annals and longtime New York Occasions science reporter Gina Kolata, who wrote the newspaper’s first story concerning the meat papers; “Huge Beef,” particularly Texas A&M and diet scientist Patrick Stover, PhD, vice chancellor on the college and a coauthor of the NutriRECS meat consumption guideline; and “evidence-based lecturers,” specifically NutriRECS and Gordon Guyatt, MD, MSc, chair of the panel that wrote the meat consumption pointers.

“It was a part of my speak addressing the confusion that the general public will get from the media about weight loss plan and well being,” Willett mentioned in an e-mail to JAMA. “A few of this pertains to the triangle of disinformation that’s…feeding into this. The identical technique is getting used to discredit science on sugar and soda consumption, local weather change, air air pollution, and different environmental hazards.”

If any of this reminds readers of the assault ways of  The Local weather Staff and the Local weather Science Speedy Response Staff, it’s no shock.  And whereas it’s David Katz that slings the accusation of “info terrorism”  — I’m of the opinion  that he has reversed the arrow of trigger — it’s THI and its cohorts which can be partaking in “info terrorism” .

We see these similar approaches taken to any analysis outcomes which could weaken the advocacy case of the IPCC coverage calls for.  On this venue, I don’t have to call names of those that interact in these nefarious, unscientific practices.  However,  in actual fact, we see the identical response in each Trendy Science Controversy that I’ve lined right here at WUWT.  The advocacy-science practitioners — those that rely upon weak scientific outcomes — imprecise, correlational, inferential, small results, based mostly on withheld information and strategies, unreplicable — are terrified and outraged when the weaknesses of their findings, coverage positions and opinions are challenged and made public.

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Willett assaults each supply of opposite science — regardless that the opposite science is evidence-based, clear and intensely rigorous.  He lets the cat out of the bag when he states:  ”A few of this pertains to the triangle of disinformation that’s…feeding into this. The identical technique is getting used to discredit science on sugar and soda consumption, local weather change, air air pollution, and different environmental hazards.”

What is that this “similar technique” that’s getting used?  Good, evidence-based science.


When the main focus of strong evidence-based science turns its consideration on advocacy-science, stunning outcomes flip up.  We noticed this just lately in Ocean Acidification Science in Clark et al.’s “Ocean acidification doesn’t impair the behaviour of coral reef fishes” which was reported extensively (and favorably), examples  right here and right here.  Science Journal reported:

“In a serious, Three-year effort that studied six fish species, they might not replicate three extensively reported behavioral results of ocean acidification. The replication workforce notes that lots of the authentic research got here from the identical comparatively small group of researchers and concerned small pattern sizes. That and different “methodological or analytical weaknesses” could have led the unique research astray, they argue.”

Many of the papers that didn’t have their findings supported have been co-authored by Philip Munday of James Cook dinner College.  And though Munday has issued statements quibbling with the Clark paper and plans to publicly defend his findings, Science Journal quotes Tim Parker, a biologist and an advocate for replication research:

Replication research usually trigger quibbles about strategies, Parker says. However, he argues, “If the unique discovering is fairly sturdy,” then researchers utilizing even considerably totally different strategies ought to be capable of replicate it. And he notes that the replication workforce went to nice lengths to be clear. In contrast to the unique authors, the workforce launched video of every experiment, for instance, in addition to the bootstrap evaluation code. “That stage of transparency definitely will increase my confidence on this replication,” Parker says.


The Backside Line:  It’s strong, sturdy, clear evidence-based science versus weak, secret, correlational advocacy-science.

That is, then, the crux of the Secret Science Battle that has been constructing in Washington, D.C. .  The advocacy-scientists concern publicity of the weak science behind public coverage suggestions and laws on such matters as on sugar and soda consumption, local weather change, air air pollution, and different environmental hazards.”

Advocacy-scientists concern that if strict scientific requirements have been utilized to the foundational analysis supporting their advocacy views and coverage suggestions, which underpin many governmental insurance policies and laws, the outcomes can be the identical as for public well being meat suggestions and Ocean Acidificaton fish conduct research — they may  be discredited.

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Writer’s Remark:

This essay ends at first of one other extra critical essay on the Secret Science Battle unfolding within the US and elsewhere.  The subject is necessary to the general well being and success scientific advances.

Readers can prep themselves for the approaching dialogue of the Secret Science Rule by studying a couple of teasers:  right here, right here and right here.  My private opinion? : The hysterical voices blasting the brand new rule brazenly state that they’re making an attempt to forestall reanalysis of the weak, correlational, inferential, small impact, non-transparent and simply plain “iffy” science that has been used prior to now to create volumes of presumably pointless, un-scientifically-founded laws and insurance policies, upon which their private careers have been based mostly.  In lots of circumstances, it’s particular research which can be of main concern — research recognized to be questionable.

Tackle your remark to “Kip…” if chatting with me.

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