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Scientist Who Discredited Meat Guidelines Didn’t Report Past Food Industry Ties (nytimes.com)
152 points by himaraya 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments





Dr. Johnston said the real problem is that people don’t want to accept findings that contradict long-held views. “People have very strong opinions,” he said. “Scientists should have intellectual curiosity and be open to challenges to their data. Science is about debate, not about digging your heels in.”

There's a vast difference between not having intellectual curiosity and not wanting to deal with cranks. Dr. Johnston is not challenging any data. He's simply treated the data to a different type of analysis previously deemed inappropriate for dietary studies and lo and behold, has achieved a different result. Unless Dr. Johnston can show this analysis better describes observed effects, which he has not even attempted to do, then there's no reason to give any of this research a second look.


There's a quote from the original NYT article that I found interesting.

> “It is important to recognize that this group reviewed the evidence and found the same risk from red and processed meat as have other experts,” she said in a statement. “So they’re not saying meat is less risky; they’re saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/30/health/red-meat-heart-can...


I don't think that's an accurate summary of the research. One key aspect of their review is that they don't give much weight to (blatantly confounded) correlational studies. Looking at RCTs that "same risk" is tiny and not statistically significant. For example, looking at all-cause mortality, correlational studies find a hazard ratio of .93, while RCTs find a hazard ratio of .99.

They are definitely saying meat is less risky.


A coworker linked the original study to me, and was quite glib about how this new study is quite reliable and so on. I checked it out, immediately got suspicious by the article (that was even more nonsensical, since it was not written by a scientist), then went into the study's summary instead, which was already way more nuanced .

What mostly stood out to me: the study did not even try to discredit the hard and overwhelming evidence that consuming red meat regularly does give you a single-digit percent incrase of various types of cancers. They then proceeded to give a summary that says that there is no point in worrying over such small percentage likelihood increases, basically (I am obviously paraphrasing here, so)

After that, we concluded with the coworker that yeah, this was not a holy grail counter to "mainstream science", just one slightly fishy one.

But this does not diminish my trust in the scientific method. This just adds one more example to the book 'why you should always try to at least verify/clarify claims before blindly believing them'.


Key findings are here - https://bit.ly/2OqMoyD

At a 5% significance level, the hazard ratios posted there are clearly not significant. Most of them are reasonably close to 1.0 - so there is basically no difference in mortality between the control & treatment arm. Sample size is very large, n=48000.

The data he used is public & verifiable, so am not sure what digging into this person's private life has to do. Whether he is funded by meat industry or eats beef himself is as relevant as the color of his underwear.

In the study, he says "issues of animal welfare and potential environmental impact... is outside the scope. Related to this, we took an individual rather than a societal perspective."

Taking an individual perspective is imo the right thing to do. He further explicitly says if you are concerned about global warming etc. this study isn't about that. So he's being blunt & honest.

Those who are batting for the other team, like the opposing researchers & NYT etc. are questioning not the stats or the methodology but the fact that if you make public policy based on this, it will undoubtedly be bad for the environment. Which it will. But that's not the point of the study now, is it ? The researcher himself says it is not the point.


Recognizing a failure to disclose a conflict of interest is not “digging into this person's private life“

>The data he used is public & verifiable, so am not sure what digging into this person's private life has to do. Whether he is funded by meat industry or eats beef himself is as relevant as the color of his underwear.

First, it's a matter of principle.

Second, there are 1000 ways to slice and dice and present findings the way you want, even if the data are "public & verifiable".

Heck, you can spin things even if the processing you did is reproducible and freely available (e.g. as a script) AND the results are against your bias -- in the wording and tone of your paper.


This kind of stuff should be forbidden, but unfortunately, it's left to universities to regulate themselves. Some have guidelines that say don't take research funding from the tobacco industry and other industries, others don't.

What is ironical, is that this new study DID conclude that there was a link between chronic diseases and consumption of red meat, just like the others before it, it was mostly dog bit men news. But of course, mainstream media didn't read it.

They only read the incredible conclusion, that said that its was not worth for meat eaters to stop eating meat to improve their health, since they like it so much!

One of the authors of one of the studies came out and said that this was the most outrageous abuse of data that he ever saw.

Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee for responsible medicine pretty much sums it up in this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYPYH93nVg8


If there is any information domain were it’s harder to figure out the real truth than current US politics, it’s “nutrition science”. As someone who actually tries to invest the time to check on sources and methods beyond the clickbait headlines, it’s really a mess. Poor scientific methods (observational studies), cherry-picking data to match a bias (Ancel Keys), conflicts of interest all over the place, etc. At a very macro level it seems like a few things are true: (a) 300,000 years of human evolution eating meat; (b) per-capita leveling off or even a drop in consumption of red meat, that didn’t stem the huge spikes in disease; and (c) being told to swap out good fats (meat, eggs, dairy) for industrial seed oils and ‘fat-free’ cookies to make up the calories, leading to an explosion of diabetes.

Fallacious arguments abound for the carnivore group all the way over to the militant vegans who would want to tax or outlaw meat eating altogether, while telling us to shut up and eat our processed patty of canola oil and isolated pea protein. For now, I’ll keep eating like my grandparents ate - you know, real food.


Mutant animal meat raised in factory farms fed soy and corn and shot with antibiotics and hormones is not real food either, and that is 99% of the meat dairy and eggs out there.

This is a straw man argument, because the perfect experiment will never be conducted. You would have to take 5000 people, put them in an island and feed them plant foods their whole life, collect blood and urine sample periodically to monitor them, wait for them to die and autopsy them.

Like we are doing with chimps currently literally. And we would need a control group. So because we can't conduct this perfect experiment, nothing in nutrition science has validity.

This is nonesense, its about gluing the pieces together. There are studies that show that certain populations are healthier than others, and we know what they eat.

There are studies that track population movement across the globe and their changes in health. Africans and Asians moving to the US and developing heart diesase and diabetes, when before they had none.

There are also studies that identify the mechanisms, we know certain molecules produced from the result of digesting meat that are carcinogenic.

So its the population studies, the observational studies, the studies of the action mechanisms all together that form a complete picture.


> There are studies that show that certain populations are healthier than others, and we know what they eat.

Going by the top 5 countries: wealth, high-quality healthcare, healthcare focusing on preventative care, strong personal safety and sense of wellbeing, strong community, siesta, favour walking and biking, reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing.

If I recall the findings of one of the longest study ever done on human health, if you want to live long be born with few stressers, genes that is correlated to low stress, and have good access to stress management, regularly exercise the hearth and genuine enjoy it. Don't drink and don't smoke, through they could also be correlating to a lack of access to better strategy for stress management.

We could ask what the diets of Japan, Spain, Singapore, Switzerland, and South Korea has in common, as those are the top 5 countries with longest life expectancy, but it seems much more relevant to look at stress factors and stress management. Cancer rate and cancer recovery in particular is very interesting subject matter in this context.

Diabetes is an interesting side note, in particular to the finding from studies looking at children born around the dutch hunger winter. It doesn't say anything about meat but a lot about how diabetes in part occur when there is a mismatch between how easily it is to access nutrients in the environment and how easy body is expecting it to be. A simplified version is that in one extreme you starve and in the other extreme you get diabetes. A diet that tries to avoid diabetes would be one that tries to match what the individual body expects.


You can't reverse diabetes and heart disease with stress management, but its a well-documented scientific fact that a plant-based diet can do that.

By reversing, I mean stopping and reversing the progression of symptoms, not cure every single person completely with it.

This means clogged arteries (with cholesterol, not calcified arteries) start to open up, and diabetics reduce or get off their insulin completely in well-documented cases.


Acute and chronic stress causes, among other things, increased risk for high blood pressure and holds key roles of inflammation and the immune system. Cortisol is even involved in increasing cholesterol. Stress management is a very real part of any heart disease recovery.

For diabetes: https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/18/2/121 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1425110

Stress has a major effects on metabolic activity, weight gains, effects hormones and is generally a problem in managing glucose levels. Stress management a key part of diabetics health plan.

In general there is few things as deadly to a human as chronic stress and that is what a lot of studies in longevity shows.


Look I'm not saying that stress does not play any role at all, but obviously the main cause is diet.

I mean put people on Yoga classes and don't change their diet and see what happens.


There are many cultures with higher fat (French) and higher sodium (e.g. Japanese). So at least they can’t wholly explain the difference in health.

While sugar consumption is markedly higher in the US, I do believe that a good portion of the health outcomes can be explained by the total unwalkability of most of the US. If walking is part of the regular routine, you don’t need an app to hit 10,000 steps per day. But most Americans only walk the distance from the parking space to the front door on a daily basis.


I would like to get a mobility scooter so I can avoid even having to walk that distance ;) /s

One day we will have fully automated cars that will just drop us off right at the door


This is basically the world as imagined in Wall-E, just minus the spaceship and a few extra steps.

>> For now, I’ll keep eating like my grandparents ate - you know, real food.

One little problem with that is that your grandparents probably didn't eat what my grandparents ate. I'm guessing you're from a majority English-speaking country, the US, or UK, etc. I'm Greek. Our traditional cuisine is choke-full of strictly vegan dishes that are absolute staples [1]. Only of course no Greek would dream of calling those dishes "vegan". They are simply "food". And, I dare say, they are "real" food, the kind of food that grandma would make, as opposed to the stuff one can find in fast food joints etc.

The same goes for the "300,000 years of human evolution eating meat". Considering how far and wide humans have ranged during our evolution, figuring out what an average human ate would be very tricky. On the one hand, you have the diets of the peoples of the Arctic who eat predominantly meat from seals and caribou and the like. On the other hand, you have the diets of people in the Indian subcontinent who eat mostly pulses.

The bottom line is we've always been omnivores and we cant eat only meat any more than we can eat only plants. And we can't look at the plates of a few million people who have settled down in one part of the world and ignore the rest, who live all over the rest of the planet.

_________________

[1] Rather than me giving a list of Greek cuisine dishes with no meat or animal fasts etc in them, here's a blog post by a vegan touring Greek:

https://www.thenomadicvegan.com/the-nomadic-vegans-guide-to-...

The list includes spanakopita and xoriatiki (Greek salad) that are normally prepared or served with feta cheese as are many of the other dishes. Greek cuisine is not vegan, but a lot of it is lacto- ovo- pescaterian.

Note again that the dishes in the list above are staples- the kind of dish the average Greek would eat a few times a year.


It's more like 2.5-3 million years for meat eating: https://www.livescience.com/31974-earliest-human-hunters-fou...

>>If there is any information domain were it’s harder to figure out the real truth than current US politics, it’s “nutrition science”

I recently dug out some original USDA documents from the 19th century to research[1] the origins of nutritional science in the US. W. O. Atwater, the guy who introduced things like Calories (equal to kcal), macros, and "dietetics" has had a huge impact on nutritional science, including modern food labelling and things like the simplified conversion of fat to 9 Calories/gram and protein/carbs to 4 Calories/gram. Atwater himself was very much influenced to introduce these to the American public by his German professors (he did a postdoc there), who were themselves looking into making nutrition "efficient - for cattle and humans alike.

I found the history quite fascinating, it gets to the "origins" of the idea of quantifying food.

[1]https://blog.jumpycatapp.com/calorie-counting-weight-loss-hi...


The main problem in the US with food is not the type, quality, or purity -- it's the quantity.

https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

>The prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016.


That's technically correct but it misses the whole picture.

For an extreme example--it's a lot easier to gain weight if you regularly stop by the convience store and pick up cookies, chips and a bottle of coke for dinner than if you cook lean chicken and roast vegetables.

Sure you could eat a similar calorie portion of both.


The more common scenario is for the cookies, chips and coke to come from the respective aisle-long displays at the supermarket. Ready to eat frozen meals tend to be high calorie as well.

As for eating out, fast food is bad, but fast casual is worse. All you can eat shrimp at Red Lobster, the pasta cabonara with chicken at Cheesecake Factory (~2300 calories) and your personal pie at the pizza place put on more weight than convenience store snacks. Plus a few beers or glasses of wine, a margarita or two -- pretty soon it adds up.


>The more common scenario is for the cookies, chips and coke to come from the respective aisle-long displays at the supermarket.

I'm not sure I see the point here?

>Ready to eat frozen meals tend to be high calorie as well.

They can be, but I wouldn't say they tend to be high calorie. Most of the cheaper frozen dinners tend to be somewhere around 500 calories. Only the larger, more expensive, higher calorie dinners tend to get near 1,000 calories.

>As for eating out, fast food is bad, but fast casual is worse.

Fast casual doesn't mean Red Lobster or The Cheesecake Factory. Chipotle, and Panera Bread are examples of fast casual restaurants.

All you can eat shrimp at Red Lobster, the pasta cabonara with chicken at Cheesecake Factory (~2300 calories) and your personal pie at the pizza place put on more weight than convenience store snacks. Plus a few beers or glasses of wine, a margarita or two -- pretty soon it adds up.

For all but the pizza place your getting close to $100 meals there. The number of people who are eating like that regularly enough for that to be the primary cause of them being overweight is relatively small. And when you consider that obesity is negatively correlated with income, I don't think those restaurants are having a huge impact here.

As for a personal pan pizza. A pepperoni personal pan pizza at Pizza hut is only ~600 calories, that's less than a burger and fries at pretty much any fast food restaurant.


Chimps in the wild eat 12 kilogram of meat on average. So it is probably millions of years.

> “Fallacious arguments abound for the carnivore group all the way over to the militant vegans who would want to tax or outlaw meat eating altogether, while telling us to shut up and eat our processed patty of canola oil and isolated pea protein. For now, I’ll keep eating like my grandparents ate - you know, real food.”

It sounds to me like just more bullshit food nostalgia nonsense and you’re just perpetuating your own brand of unscientific nutrition opinion. Researching that a bunch of other hypotheses are wrong or partially wrong doesn’t mean your idea is right.

“Eating like my grandparents ate” for a lot of people in the US means a wildly lopsided diet of mostly meat and a slew of convenience foods foisted on consumers during the advent of mega supply chain processed foods. “Eating like my great grandparents ate” usually means “eat whatever you can and don’t complain” with no serious regard for nutrition or balance.

There are likely confounding effects in rate of disease, obesity, early death etc. due much more to lifestyle differences, general sources of pollution, sedentary habits, prevalence of jobs requiring hard physical work (where even the same job in the same company today is likely partly automated or handled differently to reduce physical labor), lack of good medical screening or testing in past generations obfuscating knowing true rates of disease or health problems due to diet back then, different structures for ensuring screening in schools, etc. The sheer volume of confounding effects that would have to be convincingly controlled for to compare causal impact of past generations’ diets is staggering. If we can’t even get good science on simple studies across cohorts today, it seems like a ludicrous stretch to claim universal positive causal effect from eating “like my grandparents ate.”

The tone of your last paragraph also makes it sound like you would not give credence to ideas of choosing food options that reduce water depletion or CO2 emissions, or even the philosophy of just animal welfare and cruelty in even small-time farming (not saying we know with great certainty what those choices or green impacts would be, only that you seem to have made up your mind that some Norman Rockwell Americana picture of green beans and chicken on the table represents The Right Choice).

If you don’t actually feel that way, you may want to consider writing more charitably and not invoking food nostalgia as the alternative to flawed modern nutrition science.


Hmmmm… The danger in the constant back and forth of poor nutrition science being hyped up in the media, reversing last week’s headline, is that eventually the general population just gives up, and stops listening/acting on ANYTHING coming from this expert group.

Those who want to drive food guidelines by other factors than actual health, should be honest about their motivations, whatever they are, rather than claiming that they are scientifically/health driven. Arguments for animal welfare, water use etc need to be backed by good science as well, not just platitudes. I’ve had people try to make the argument to me that all the water falling on all the pasture land in the US needs to be ‘counted against’ meat. That because we treat some animals poorly, we should stop eating all of them, rather than asking why we treat them that way, or how other countries might be doing it better. I’ve yet to see a good study on the millions/billions(?) of small animals that are killed in millions of acres of U.S. monocrops, but I’m guessing it would be eye opening. For every warning statement on animal CO2 use, I can find a seemingly well done study on positive CO2 capture by regenerative farms (i.e. traditional farms before feed lots). Carnivores on Twitter seem to have had amazing individual successes getting rid of their own specific inflammatory diseases, but then often assume that experience can be extrapolated to everyone, and often discount the long-term health impact of zeroing out plants completely…. It goes on and on.

Lastly, my statement about eating like my grandparents used the words “I” and “my” and was obviously my own rule - hard to imagine what you found ‘uncharitable’ about that statement. I’m somewhat new to HN - are we not allowed to share our own experiences here?


> The danger in the constant back and forth of poor nutrition science being hyped up in the media, reversing last week’s headline, is that eventually the general population just gives up, and stops listening/acting on ANYTHING coming from this expert group.

That is exactly the goal here. To confuse the public, discredit scientists so that people just throw their hands in the air and just eat whatever they want and are used to.

For example, the tobacco industry had this famous memo that said "Doubt is our business". For 40 years, they never had to prove that smoking caused cancer. No, all they had to do was to create doubt due to contradictory studies, and the public would be confused and just keep smoking.

That is the goal with these studies and headlines, it's to confuse the public. The study they made actually said that there is a link between eating meat and a series of diseases.

It was the incredibly unscientific conclusion that its not worth to stop eating meat to avoid disease since people like it so much that caused the headlines, not the actual science of the studies.

Climate change, human health and animal welfare are all 3 huge reasons to not eat so much meat, the science is clear.


>For every warning statement on animal CO2 use, I can find a seemingly well done study on positive CO2 capture by regenerative farms (i.e. traditional farms before feed lots).

It looks like you are actively looking for data that makes you feel good about your habits and suspending critical thinking. The amount of evidence for the negative impact of the animal industry on the environment is staggering.


No, I actually think it's a large negative impact today, but rather than just accepting that's the way it is, I wonder why. Why is the US food system geared toward mass-scale industrial feed lots? What could be changed? On a trip to Ireland I never saw a ruminant in a feed lot, only on pasture, and they were slaughtered 1-2 years after our cattle. Why? Tax policy? Are other countries just not as smart as we are?


Would you be so kind as to cite some of those papers to which you refer?

> The tone of your last paragraph also makes it sound like you would not give credence to ideas of choosing food options that reduce water depletion or CO2 emissions

I am not the writer of that comment, but yes I don’t give credence to choosing food choices based on water consumption. Water is a renewable resources water “shortages” aren’t a problem with actual water supply, but distribution of water. The Pacific Northwest is really wet, the Mojave is really dry. One could claim a dire shortage of water in the Mojave, which would be true, but that isn’t indicative of actually running out of water.

As far as fearing CO2 output from food; that’s just religious jibber-jabber for the doomsday cult du jour. The world isn’t ending.


First off, these diet studies are not science. It's a lot of drama and PR push by so-called "scientists", it's a bit sickening to see this crap play out.

Observational studies on diets or food intake are useless to draw conclusions that are then plastered all over Daily Mail and so on: people actually read this shit seriously.and it affects people's lives. All based on shoddy, PR-centric "science". I would actually want to see something like "dietfraudwatch" that shames these researchers who don't have high standards to begin with.



> as recently as December 2016 he was the senior author on a similar study that tried to discredit international health guidelines advising people to eat less sugar. That study, which also appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI, an industry trade group largely supported by agribusiness, food and pharmaceutical companies and whose members have included McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cargill, one of the largest beef processors in North America.

I think this is enough for me to disregard that individual and anything he says about nutrition. If you want to eat processed meat go ahead and eat it. You can convince yourself it's healthy too. You can convince yourself sugar is healthy.


So, even if he published a replicable study that was convincing, you'd toss it merely because of his affiliations?

That seems like... a poor way to do science.

Personally (I'm a PhD scientist in biology) I think a lot of the claims about sugar aren't actually supported by the evidence and are in fact just driven by super-egotist scientists who want peoeple to believe what they believe (lookin' at you, Lustig).


Sugar is missused word in the diet world. Some groups of people (mostly keto and carnivore group, but others too) use sugar for every type of carbohydrate, lumping simple sugars, fibers and starches together. Lusting from what I remember does make distinction from the different types of carbs. And yes, not all carbs are the same. Some ARE bad, like simple sugars and processed fructose (unless eaten rarely and very moderately) but some are not, like starches from whole foods and fiber!

He didn't publish a replicable study, he just said the risk is acceptable.

metastudies are trivial to replicate because there is no additional data collection, etc. most metastudies are implemented as simple scripts that can be run by somebody else.

If the study were funded by vegan groups or environmental groups would it be more credible? Or course not.

let's say that I don't trust the sugar industry.

I am starting to feel that academia and scientists have a lot more dogma than they would care to admit.

People believe whatever they want to believe and find a 'paper' or 'stat' to back it up.

In the end, a person should weigh out all the costs of a meat-heavy diet and consider the all the benefits of a plant-heavy diet. It's not even a debate for me.

I still allow myself to try unique food when I travel to fully experience a culture. I don't overdo it though, my body just feels different when I eat meat after getting used to life without it.


The key argument of the authors, it seemed to me, was that because there is only low quality evidence (e.g. correlative) for the benefits of reducing meat consumption. Thus, there isn't evidence to suggest that meat is bad. This doesn't mean that there won't be overhwelming, high quality evidence in the future. One of the authors, in an interview with The Economist, countered this point, however, saying that it is extremely difficult to do sound nutrition research at scale, so the best evidence that we'll ever have is that meat is not bad for you. This signalled a big red flag for me.

[flagged]


Dear mods, if anyone on the left said something as polarized as “socialist anti-cow climate nut job“, they’d get a personal reprimand from dang. Is that going to happen for this guy, or not?

This smells like a non-story. There’s just not enough there.

really? to me it looks like he's a crook after reading it.

> When Dr. Johnston and his colleagues first published the sugar study, they said that ILSI had no direct role in conducting the research other than providing funding, but later amended their disclosure statement in the Annals after The Associated Press obtained emails showing that ILSI had “reviewed” and “approved” the study’s protocol.


Agreed. Seems like an ad-hominem.

There is often a huge lag between funding, submission for publication and final publication. His interpretation of the rules would be widely agreed upon as reasonable.


Would it? The point of reporting like that is to create reader confidence by disclosing any possible conflict of interest. Taking a narrow, technically-correct interpretation of the rule, rather than a bend-over-backwards approach is a bad way to do that.

Also, your "huge lag" point is a strong argument in favor of disclosing. That suggests funding relationships have a more lasting effect.


Well, you don't have to attack the bias of the author. You can agree with the author's findings that red meat consumption is correlated with the exact same percentage increase in cancer rates as previous studies have shown. He has not disputed that.

From there, you can say that his analysis is merely word-play.

"18% increase in likelihood for a 6% rate is only 1 more person per hundred on a population scale. Therefore it is only a 1% increase on the population level" is basically all he is saying.

It is fundamentally non-analysis imo: basic arithmetic meant to reframe reality in a way convenient for a desired headline.


Such logic can make anybody say "wordplay" about any study which contains verbal interpretation of statistics, including the original metastudy.

If a seatbelt makes you 50% safer in the event of a potentially fatal crash, you wouldn't say "it's really a 4% difference because 8% of the population is involved in a potentially fatal accident"

That is purposefully obfuscating the relevant data.


The wording you used for your example is purposely unwieldy, but even so it would be still logically valid. It's perfectly valid as well to say that it obfuscates a particular point you are trying to make. However, as humans tend to have different priorities, and values a wording you prefer may be validly presented as obfuscating points other people see as more important.

It is a perfectly reasonable example. Both are individual decisions one makes for individual safety considerations. Introducing society-wide multipliers makes it harder for an individual to make decisions based upon the data. When I get in a car, I am not buckling up for society. When I invest food, I am not making a decision for society.

Unless you believe the primary function of this research is to inform policy decisions which have little to no effect, and not consumers, who have a very direct effect?


I'm sure your intentions are good, but what I wrote is that any logically/mathematically truthful statement is, well, true. The fact that it emphasizes this, or that side of the argument doesn't make it false, and its value is in the eye of beholder, because proper desicions are based on cost/benefits assessment where both costs, and benefits differ between people/societies/tribes/whatever.

And what you offer me to discuss in response is that your position in your particular example is certainly right.


Risk does need to be presented both ways - relative and absilute - for anyone to make any sense of it though.

People see 50% increase in risk and don't have enough information to make an informed choice. If you tell them that we go from 2 people in a thousand suffering ill effects to 3 people in a thousand they can make their choice.

See the work of Gerd Gigerenzer for plenty of examples of people caused harm because they were told only the relative risk.


But in this case, the extra variable adds weird implications that are simply not true...

For instance, if half of the population became vegetarians, the rate of colorectal cancer would go down, and red meat would become even more "safe."


People aren't saying that.

They're saying if you have a population of 1,000 people who don't eat red meat you'd expect to see 2 cases of DISEASE_X. If you take a similar population but who do eat red meat you'd expect to see 3 cases of DISEASE_X.

That's a 50% increase, but that 50% relative risk number isn't enough information for people to make any decision. Here we're talking about an extra 1 person in 1000 people. But if the numbers were 4 in 10 increasing to 6 in 10 that's still only a 50% increase.

We need the absolute risk numbers to get an understanding: 0.2% increases to 0.3%. Something that's unlikely to happen becomes marginally more likely to happen.

This is not some weird obscure trickery. It's an important thing for people receiving healthcare to understand. It's mainstream science.

https://bestpractice.bmj.com/info/toolkit/practise-ebm/under...

https://www.eufic.org/en/understanding-science/article/absol...

Have a look at the factbox and the icon array linked in this page: https://www.harding-center.mpg.de/en/fact-boxes/early-detect...

But also, we should avoid using percentages and we should use natural frequencies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310025/ Only about 1 in 4 people understand that 0.1% means 1 in 1000.


It depends on the audience.

Personally, if something will make a low occurence event marginally safer, I might not care. That's what this paper is saying.

Perhaps a scientific paper isn't the place for that (an article about the paper probably is) but that translated data is still relevant to a certain perspective.


But this is exactly the point of studies like this. They are written in a way that allows misinterpretation, and then the media can pick it up and run with it (like they did with this one).

There is a large body of writing about P-hacking, bias in studies, this is just one more in that long, long list.


It is not. Please read the summary of the study,and tell me that that the conclusions drawn there are reasonable.

> Scientist Who Discredited _______ Didn’t Report Past _____ Industry Ties

Fill in the blanks for many industry studies.




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