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 Junk Science: Judo Chopped?
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25015 Posts

Posted - 01/29/2004 :  23:52:48  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
I had some good things to say about Steven Milloy, of JunkScience.com fame, until I read Atkins Attack, his January 30, 2004, "Junk Science" column for Fox News. Actually, I still have some good things to say about Milloy, I just have fewer good things to say now.

The main problem is quite simple: a study was reported in which a group of people on a high-carb diet lost weight, while a group on a lower-carb diet did not, apparently contradicting the advice of low-carb advocates like Atkins. Rather than rationally highlight the fact that for most people, the ratio of total calories eaten versus total calories expended is what governs weight gain or loss (which appears to be, based on Milloy's article, what the study confirmed), Milloy viciously skewers the "government nannies" and "research hacks" who ran the study.

He attempts to get the intake-vs.-output point across, but I fear it is lost amid his self-righteous indignation at the statements of both the researchers and "the media" (of which he is, undoubtedly, a part), who blow this study's results out of proportion. Hypocritically, Milloy's own reaction makes a mountain out of this particular molehill, as a rational and less-venomous response would have, in my opinion, done more to promote critical thinking about diet than his emotional diatribe will.

Weight loss is, after all, often a highly passionate issue for the people who are concerned with it. When people such as Milloy, who portray themselves as being rational minds fighting against irrational "junk science," instead let themselves cut loose on such a hot-button question as "which weight-loss plan is the best," they have, in my opinion, lost sight of the goal of putting an end to the emotionally-based divisions between the various camps arguing the point.

Milloy appears to have allowed himself to fully join in the fray, insinuating that government-funded studies will always result in findings desired by the government, and generally appearing to indicate that if you're not with Atkins, you're against him. Only a couple of sentences in the entire article would really suggest otherwise to the casual reader, as when he talks about how the NIH claims on its web site that "[High-protein/low-carb diets are] not a healthy way to lose weight!" Milloy responds with, "That may or may not be true. Much more research is needed." That's it.

Unfortunately, even fighters of the "good fight" against "junk science" can put their blinders on. Just by carefully reading the short abstract of the study in question, non-aligned readers can see that there is more to the story than even Milloy is willing to report. For one thing, the mean age of the study participants was 66, which certainly indicates that this study's results don't necessarily apply to everyone. Even more indicative of that point, the study was run on "34 individuals with impaired glucose tolerance," meaning the study subjects weren't even completely healthy to begin with.

In other words, the study in question was done on old people who were, at the very least, edging towards type-II diabetes. A high-carb diet, so the standard theory goes, shouldn't really have good effects on such people. If they managed to lose weight, that's news indeed, even if the researchers delivered the wrong sound-bites to interviewers. After all, I heard an interview with the author of the South Beach diet yesterday on NPR, and he claimed that "high glycemic" meals promote more eating, not less (in terms of total caloric intake). While "high carb" doesn't always equal "high glycemic," the details of which foods the high-carb groups in this study ate are unavailable to me as of this writing.

Milloy's apparent disregard for these details does nothing but

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25015 Posts

Posted - 04/15/2004 :  18:39:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
Hate to revive this old thread, but I just read something in the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter:
...Steven Milloy of the Junk Science Page, which I have criticized for having a political agenda that considers any scientist who disagrees with him to be guilty of "junk science."
It's nice to know I'm not the only one.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Renae
SFN Regular

543 Posts

Posted - 04/15/2004 :  20:27:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Renae a Private Message
Interesting.

Apparently Milloy writes for The Cato Institute. My understanding is that Cato is a libertarian political organization and seems to be, from a brief glance at its website, to be anti-government, among other things. Milloy has books from John Stossel and an anti-global warming book for sale on his site. Hmmmmmm.

It seems to me that weight control research should be evaluated on the whole, rather than pouncing on the latest study and deeming it to be conclusive. For example, Dean Ornish has shown weight loss and lowered cholesterol levels with his very-low-fat diet research. These studies and others should be considered when judgments are made as to how we should eat.

I'm anti-Atkins and pro-carb so Milloy scored no points with me here. While I belive that challenging the status quo can be a good thing, true skepticism should be more than hating the government or the media (both of which Milloy complains about.)

I also read Milloy's analysis of the secondhand smoke research out of Helena, Montana. I would really like to hear the researchers defend their position on that and I wonder why Milloy is so skeptical about the dangers of secondhand smoke. (Not to threadjack, but this seems like another example of Milloy being, well, kinda angry.)

Edited by - Renae on 04/15/2004 20:37:36
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
12798 Posts

Posted - 04/16/2004 :  08:10:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message
quote:
Renae:
I also read Milloy's analysis of the secondhand smoke research out of Helena, Montana. I would really like to hear the researchers defend their position on that and I wonder why Milloy is so skeptical about the dangers of secondhand smoke.


I think we should start a new thread on the dangers of secondhand smoke. There are reasons to be skeptical about its dangers. In fact, Penn and Teller did a whole show on secondhand smoke and neither of them smoke...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Free The West Memphis Three
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25015 Posts

Posted - 04/16/2004 :  08:23:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
But as Robert Carroll pointed out, Penn & Teller got their information from a person who used, as his main source, Steven Milloy's writings on secondhand smoke. If a new thread gets started, it would probably be wise to go all the way back to the original sources of data, and do an independent analysis.

Edited to add: Because it is certainly possible that Penn & Teller were the ones spouting BS in that particular episode.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
12798 Posts

Posted - 04/16/2004 :  08:33:53   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message
Sure. I'm not sourcing Penn and Teller. I am just suggesting that there may be a problem with some of the studies. And, you know, the media just eats this stuff up to the point that I personally believe there is some hysteria on the subject of second hand smoke and its dangers. I may be wrong, however...

Now, unfortunately, I have to drag my sick ass to work. So I can't do any research on this today.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Free The West Memphis Three
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