Class Warfare Blog

September 13, 2016

These Are My People and I Feel Shame

In the NY Times yesterday an op-ed piece ran highlighting one of my pet peeves: the over focus on dietary fat in human health issues (How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat by Anahad O’Connor, Sept. 12, 2016). Specifically, the article is about how the sugar industry bribed health scientists to publish false reports on the role of fat and sugar in human health. Here are just a couple of excerpts:

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“’They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,’ said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA paper.

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.”

And this isn’t a “that was just back then” issue, it is still with us.

Last year, an article in The New York Times revealed that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity. In June, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

Scientists are quite ordinary people so I do not expect them to be free from corruption, but accepting cash for publishing shoddy, misleading papers strikes to the core of the scientific mission, especially in the arena of human health.

We have politicians working overtime trying to reduce people’s confidence in politics, climate science, and in public health issues, all to make themselves more money. Now significant corruption within the scientific community is undermining any remaining trust that citizens might have regarding the findings of scientists.

These are my people (once a scientist, always a scientist) and I feel shame.

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