Two-Faced Reasoning in the Soda Business

A pair of two-faced CGI men

Childhood Obesity News has examined some statements made by Big Soda spin doctor Jeff Nedelman that are open to interpretation. For instance:

Causational studies are very expensive; to be credible must involve many participants over a long time and account for many variables, while observational studies are a simpler matter of crunching the numbers enough to get the results one expects. No one commissions research anticipating a negative response.

Translation: When a study makes a strong case for your opponent’s argument, insist that additional research and replicated conclusions are needed. But when a study supports your own side, accept it as the final necessary or possible word on the subject, and revere it as if carved in stone.

For instance, when studies indicate that sugar, artificial sweeteners, caramel coloring, and other ingredients are harmful, Big Soda likes to remind us that science has not yet reached its totality. There is still more work to be done, which will surely vindicate the junk food and beverage corporations. But if soda pop comes out looking not so bad, it’s a solid and reputable study that should be universally accepted. Unfortunately, this two-faced method of reasoning is not limited to the pro-sugar interests; it’s pretty much the human condition. Here is more Nedelman wisdom:

In any event, health decisions should not be made based on any one study but on the totality of the science…. [B]eware of stories that cite studies that use a lot of “mays,” “mights,” and two of my favorites, “these conclusions need to be replicated” or “additional research is needed…”

Of course, the spin doctors only call for additional research when the study under discussion goes against them. They themselves don’t mind saying “may” or “might,” but they only like to use those conditional words when a piece of research makes them look bad. Nedelman goes on to write:

We have the media distorting health data and academics, with no or little practical experience, publishing reams of paper to support their view of how the world should work.

That’s another bit of humor, the accusation that anti-sugar activists are deluded about reality. To the pro-sugar contingent, “how the world should work” is that everybody eats and drinks whatever they want, all day and all night, for decades, and nobody ever suffers any health consequences. That’s how they think the world should work, but it doesn’t.

You can’t win ’em all, but you can win some

Despite mountains of propaganda produced by the beverage industry, and despite the millions spent to saturate every corner of the earth with advertising, sometimes the harmful message fails and the good message gets through. For instance, over a decade ago the children of Scotland were chugging down more soda pop than their age-mates in most other European countries. But in 2012, the World Health Organization was able to report that “Fizzy drink consumption amongst Scottish secondary school children has fallen dramatically.”

In two demographic groups, 11- to 15-year-old girls and 11- to 13-year-old boys, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages had fallen to only half of the worrisome previous numbers. The BBC interviewed Candace Currie, a children’s health expert, who used the phrase “massive improvement” and attributed the change, in part, to the fact that school vending machines had stopped offering fizzy drinks for sale.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The venomous rhetoric is worse than the science,” FSHealth.com, 04/10/13
Source: “Scottish children ‘shunning’ fizzy drinks, says WHO study,” BBC.co.uk, 05/10/12
Image by JD Hancock

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