Censorship and Science

Prominent co-signer of failed CSPI retraction demand Dr. David L. Katz rails against censorship of science – but author/journalist Nina Teicholz says specious retraction efforts are also a form of censorship

katz-on-censorship

Per the above tweet, author/columnist Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the CDC-funded Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, alluded to reports that newly elected US President Trump had ordered a communications lock-down of several federal agencies, including the USDA, responsible for setting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Today, Dr. Katz expanded on that issue, in addition to broader issues of censorship and the scientific method, via his bi-weekly column for The Huffington Post:

Good science is an enemy to no one, since it advances understanding and knowledge…and thus choice. Good science empowers us with options. Censorship, of course, keeps us uninformed – or worse, misinformed. Ignorance is the ultimate form of repression.

Scientists are the first to acknowledge that the sounds of science are not always, immediately, perfectly in tune. It can take any number of revisions to get the lyrics and melody of truth just right. But this very process leads us robustly and reliably toward truth and understanding.

…When science is subordinated to silence, and the press to propaganda – only tyrants control the flow of information.

As readers of this blog will know, Dr. Katz’s recent concerns about censorship of scienceare quite the turnaround.

In 2015, Dr. Katz was one of 180+ co-signers to a flagrantly censorious retraction demand organised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – a powerful Washington, DC nutrition lobby group.

In a letter to the BMJ, the CSPI had requested a retraction of an article by New York Times bestselling author/journalist Nina Teicholz about the questionable science underpinning the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines.

cspi-retraction-demand

The CSPI’s November 5, 2015 retraction demand (source)

The BMJ nixed the CSPI’s retraction demand last month after a year-long investigation by two independent reviewers. They found no grounds for retraction, adding that Teicholz’s criticisms of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) are within the realm of scientific discussion.

Via the Huffington Post, Dr. Katz trashed the BMJ for its calamitous decision, as well as the two independent researchers, and finally Teicholz herself – referring to her in passing as a journalist with no known relevant expertise and a book to sell into the bargain.

It’s not the only time Dr. Katz has attacked Teicholz in the media.

Journalist/author Nina Teicholz (source)

As reported on The Sidebar – my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s crack investigative journalism blog – Dr. Katz has been clawing at Teicholz for years.

Shortly before the release of Teicholz’s best-selling book on the history of nutrition science, The Big Fat Surprise (2014), he attacked her motives and speculated about her rolling her eyes at this column on the way to cash her royalty checks.

When her critique of the dietary guidelines came out in 2015, he argued that the BMJ should not have published her article because she is not a nutrition expert, and not a scientist.

He was later quoted in journalist Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 2016 Guardian article about the nutrition wars, “The Sugar Conspiracy,” describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Celebrity nutrition expert Dr. David Katz (source)

That month, several prominent physicians criticised Dr. 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.

Yesterday, I e-mailed Teicholz for comment about Dr. Katz’s sudden change of heart re: his “censorship of science” tweet.

In her response, Teicholz said that “specious retraction efforts are also a form of censorship, as are intimidating columns trying to discredit the work of people whose views are different from your own.”

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Dr. Katz’s dramatic December 6, 2016 article (source)

Strangely, Dr. Katz maintains that he – not Teicholz – is the victim of a “cabal” funded by “the beef industry.” The claims go back to November 2015, following the Huffington Post’s decision to pull two of Dr. Katz’s articles after it was revealed he had reviewed a sci-fi novel he wrote under a pseudonym, without disclosing authorship.

Later that month, he wrote an article via LinkedIn, in which he connected the retractions – the result of an unrelated enquiry by Peter M. Heimlich – to Teicholz’s BMJ article. But as Peter told the Yale Daily News, he was unaware of the dietary guidelines dispute when he broke the story on his blog.

Dr. Katz’s review has since become infamous on the Internet for its lavish prose and self-reverential comparisons to legendary writers like Milton, Yeats, Dickens and Plato.

On that note, here’s an especially moving paragraph from that review:

I found the writing — prose that nonetheless managed to hint at epic poetry — as enthralling as the story was riveting. In reVision, Colleen McCullough meets John Milton. Yeats meets Yourcenar. In the blend of rollicking adventure with utopian aspiration, J.K. Rowling meets Gene Roddenberry. Where characters are vividly rendered and complex ideas distilled to stunningly simple clarities, Dickens meets Dawkins. As a clash of other worlds illuminates the better ways our world might be, Plato’s Republic meets Lord of the Rings. Where lyrically beautiful writing and deep currents of humanism traverse expanses of law and folklore, science and faith, passion and politics — the Bible, Bill of Rights and Bhagavad Gita commingle.

-fin

See also: “Butter, Meat and Free Speech,” my December 3, 2016 item re: The BMJ’s decision not to retract Teicholz’s dietary guidelines article.

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.

No Room for Debate II

This is a sequel to my post yesterday about the Consumer Federation of America’s (CFA) decision to disinvite author of The Big Fat Surprise Nina Teicholz from the 2016 National Food Policy Conference. To recap: one of the panelists, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Margo Wootan, said that “concerns were raised about Teicholz’s credibility, given the significant inaccuracies in her work.” 

Wootan cited a letter that was sent to the BMJ requesting the retraction of Teicholz’s article, The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, which criticised the methodology and findings of the 2015 dietary guidelines report. The letter was organised by Wootan’s CSPI colleague, Bonnie Liebman, via an email that was circulated among 180+ university professors and graduates from the US and Europe.

I’m taking this opportunity to publish some of the responses to Liebman’s original email, which I obtained by filing records requests with various UK universities.

Name of signatory and university

Jayne Woodside, PhD / Queen’s University, Belfast
Laura Johnson, PhD; and Angeliki Papadaki, PhD, MSc, FHEA / University of Bristol
Mike Rayner, DPhil / University of Oxford
Neil Poulter, MD / Imperial College London
Graham MacGregor, MA, MB, BChir / University of London

No Room for Debate

Journalist critical of 2015 United States Dietary Guidelines disinvited from speaking at the 2016 National Food Policy Conference [Updated: Read the UK responses to Bonnie Liebman’s email re: CSPI / Nina Teicholz retraction letter by clicking here]

Nina Teicholz, journalist and author of The Big Fat Surprise, has been disinvited – or perhaps a more apt word would be “deplatformed”¹ – from a prestigious Washington, DC food policy panel. Politico reports that Teicholz, whose work challenges the science on diet and nutrition, has been replaced by Maureen Storey, president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research & Education. If nothing else, Storey’s pro-carb perspective will make for an agreeable talk.

Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and National Food Policy Conference panelist, reportedly said that “concerns were raised about Teicholz’s credibility, given the significant inaccuracies in her work” – citing a letter that was sent to the BMJ requesting the retraction of Teicholz’s Sept. 23, 2015 article, The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, which strongly criticised the methodology and findings of the 2015 dietary guidelines report.

The Nov. 5, 2015 letter was organised by Wootan’s CSPI colleague, Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, via an email that was circulated among more than 180 university professors and graduates from the United States and elsewhere. For a sense of the slipshod organisation and uncritical thinking that went into the preparation of the letter, click here for Liebman’s original email plus a sample of the responses, which I obtained via a records request to Queen’s University, Belfast.

Click here to sign a petition to reinstate Teicholz on the panel at the National Food Policy Conference on April 6-7.

See also: Disappearing Act: 18 co-signers of BMJ retraction request letter are now MIA, which I co-authored with Atlanta, GA reporter Peter M. Heimlich last December.

¹Deplatforming means disinviting a speaker at the insistence of a special interest group, and is traditionally the domain of hypersensitive undergrads, as seen last October when students at Cardiff University (UK) petitioned to cancel a lecture by iconic feminist Germaine Greer.