The theme here is how the most recent set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans went from recommendation to reality. The Guidelines may not sound like a big deal, but they matter. Their publication every five years influences hundreds of millions of people and billions of dollars worth of commerce.
How does nutrition policy get made? We spoke of the article Nina Teicholz wrote for The BMJ criticizing how the revision of the Guidelines was handled.
A highly opinionated author who goes by the handle “CarbSane” asserts that Teicholz misled readers. (CarbSane, by the way, has only a first name, Evelyn, and has worked as a research scientist.) At any rate, Teicholz is said to have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by referring to a “BMJ investigation,” when in actuality the article originated not with any sort of investigative body, but in the mind of a freelance writer (Teicholz). Worse, the medical journal was actually paid to publish it, a practice that is frowned upon in many quarters.
Is this okay?
The money came from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the philanthropic endeavor of a billionaire couple. The LJAF is against a lot of things, like when the click-baity results of an outlier study are blown up into a story that seems to imply causation where there is only correlation. The foundation favors rigorous science and modest journalistic claims. Its position is to decry bad research and bad science — which some critics saw as hypocritical, considering how the LJAF conducted itself in this instance.
To put it another way
No independent person or team was commissioned by The BMJ to investigate the Dietary Guidelines committee. Instead, The BMJ accepted the LJAF’s money, said CarbSane, as a “publishing fee for a Nina Teicholz hit piece.” By implication, the once-respected journal performed like a sleazy vanity press.
CarbSane was also doubtful of the objectivity, given that Teicholz received speaking fees for addressing various professional and business groups, including the dairy industry and especially the meat industry. In fact, Teicholz gave seminars on how to “gain the tools to intellectually and scientifically defend meat.”
Coincidentally, one of Teicholz’s own recommendations for the newly revised guidelines was more dietary fat, such as that contained in meat. Whether or not she was completely right about that, the fact that her patrons bought her a platform served, in the eyes of many people, to invalidate her claims. Among other inquiries, CarbSane used the Internet to question the credentials of the Nutrition Coalition vis-a-vis its official non-profit status or lack thereof, and to suggest that The BMJ ought to reveal how much money it received to publish the controversial article.
(The saga of the Dietary Guidelines will continue.)
Your responses and feedback are welcome!