Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not Journalism. Not Science. What is it?

What the hell is the deal with Dr Nancy Snyderman? She is supposedly an MD (and hence a scientist) and a journalist. I am seeing issues with both of those roles.

This morning she did a fluff piece on Eastern medicine to accompany the Olympics. Now fully admit there may be other cultures that have some answers ours does not. But this bit went on and on about the wonders of Eastern medicine and really never touched on science or proof or studies. It's just wonderful okay? Sure one of the folks that practiced it mentioned in passing how there is evidence behind it... though there was no examination of the evidence. And the unexamined evidence was proclaimed by the person practicing the voodoo. This doesn't smell of good science. I am sorry, but when my prescription contains entire whole dried lizards and snakes in it, I want some amount of study that this actually is doing something positive for me. (Yes, this is a real example and not an exaggeration.)

Compare and contrast this with a very biased bit she did about a month ago on a study of low fat diets vs low carb diets. In study after study the evidence continually shows that the low carb diets have positive effects on cholesterol, triglycerides and weight loss. This isn't really something new. The diet dates back to the 1970's and was developed by a cardiologist. It does fly in the face of some well accepted Western medical traditions, but isn't the point of science to adapt and change as studies come out? Accepting an outdated study is akin to a flat earth "theory" or an intelligent design "theory." In this bit, Dr. Snyderman mentions the following:

  • Whenever she mentions the Atkins diet used in the study, she always uses cutesie little air quotes and says "Atkins like" diet. She continually points out that the diet they used was not the greasy bacon double cheeseburger diet of the Atkins plan. Of course, she does this without ever reading Atkins. The only reason I say this is because the "Atkins like" diet is ... quite honestly pretty true to Atkins. The greasy bacon diet attributed to Atkins is pretty much manufactured by the media. There is a "jump start" part of Atkins that lets you do this, but that lasts 2 weeks. Read the damn book if you want to criticize it. Journalism, remember?
  • You must discount this study because it was funded by Atkins. (Now cut to Dean Ornish and show studies he funded. But that's okay.) First Atkins was criticized because his organization did the research. So his organization funded someone else. They got the same result. And now that's wrong too. Okay, don't believe it? Do your own damn study and prove you are right.
  • She discusses the low fat diet and its restricted calorie intake and points out the Atkins version had no calorie restrictions. She then goes on about how there is no magic -- it's calories in vs. calories out. Um... I think you changed the subject there Nancy. Atkins is not calorie restricted. That doesn't mean it doesn't follow the laws of conservation of energy. You see, while it isn't calorie restricted, that just means the diet doesn't restrict you. What restricts you is your body. You still take in fewer calories, you are just full. Get it? (Yes there is some complicated chemistry bits on how the body deals with sugars. And yes, that is still within the laws of physics.) But I am pretty convinced that is small potatoes in comparison to just eating fewer calories, feeling full, and still feeling full 4 hours later. Now compare that to a plate of nothing that never fills you up1 and makes you one angry son of a bitch for the next 4 hours before your next empty plated meal.

It just doesn't matter that low fat diets have worse outcomes in weight loss, blood chemistry and weight maintenance. They are better because she says so. This is bad journalism and bad science. I think she needs to take two lizards and call me in the morning.

1I would like to point out that I edited this. I originally typed "A plate of nothing that never feels you up". While that is not what I meant to say, it is still pretty funny, so I had to include it here in a foot note.


Kari said...

It's all the fault of Ancel Keys. He started this whole modern fat-phobia with his own junk science.

This might provide you with some interesting reading (made short because blogger is cutting it off):


Here's the original link:

Anonymous said...

Just want to say...I lost 30 lbs. in 1998 on the Atkins, and have been able to keep 20 of it off, consistently!!! Mmmmm, Bacon!!!

Spork In the Eye said...

First off, this should have been Ellie's rant. I just couldnt wait any longer for her to spit it out.

Its good for weight loss, but I seriously think it is more than that...

My issue here is that there is junk science going on (and junk journalism to boot.) Over and over there are real scientific studies that seem to say "this low fat crap is bad for you" and yet the entire world still embraces it as if it were some religious revelation.

Its like all those people that think "that is good in theory but..." But what? The way one tells if something is good in theory is to test it in reality. If it doesnt work, then it is bad in theory. So goes the low fat craze and so it has gone for years.