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.”

katz-dietary-guidelines-bmj-cspi-huffington-post-article

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.

Where’s the Beef?

Politico reports that the BMJ will not retract “controversial” dietary guidelines article by Nina Teicholz, author of New York Times best-seller, The Big Fat Surprise

Via Politico’s Morning Agriculture (MA) blog, Teicholz said she was notified of the journal’s decision after it conducted a months-long review:

A controversial article questioning the science behind the U.S. Dietary Guidelines that appeared in the British Medical Journal a year ago today won’t be retracted, its author, Nina Teicholz, tells MA. “The BMJ has informed me, in writing, that they have made the decision not to retract the article,” Teicholz said in an email.

Teicholz was quoted in another article by Retraction Watch as saying that outside reviewers found that her criticism of the methods used by the DGAC “[is] within the realm of scientific discussion, and [is] therefore not grounds for retraction.”

The news comes exactly one year after the BMJ published “The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?”, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

As reported on this blog and on The Sidebar (Atlanta, GA reporter Peter M. Heimlich’s top drawer website), Washington DC-based advocacy non-profit, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), aggressively campaigned to get the article retracted.

Leading the charge was CSPI’s Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, who in her September 23, 2015 opening salvo called Teicholz’s article an “error-laden attack” on the 2015 DGAC report:

The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.

On November 5, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.

The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.

However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.

As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.

But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatures to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog herehere and here.

Until the BMJ releases its findings, it’s unclear whether the journal will make corrections to Teicholz’s article, but here’s what Teicholz, Liebman, and BMJ editor in chief Fiona Godlee told Retraction Watch:

“The BMJ’s decision vindicates the view that it’s important to have open debate and discussion over scientific issues, especially when they have such an oversized impact on public health, and even when large, vested interests are at stake” – Nina Teicholz

“Until [the review is released], we really don’t know the end of the story. It would be a shame if the media handled the story as if the case is closed, when really it isn’t…

“…I’m frustrated. It’s been a year since the original article was published, and more than 10 months since more than 180 scientists called for a retraction…Here we are in September, and we still have heard nothing” – Bonnie Liebman

“You can be sure that we will let you know as soon as our review of this matter is complete, which we hope will be very soon” – Fiona Godlee