Artifact Reviews April 5, 2012
Amie A. Conant
Title: “Chocolate & Red Meat Can Be Bad for Your Science: Why Many Nutrition Studies Are All Wrong.” Discover Blogs. The Crux, by Gary Taubes
Summary: This article written by Gary Taubes for a Discover Blog, “The Crux” offers some reasons that nutrition studies aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. He claims that two recent nutrition studies, the first—‘a study by the Harvard School of Public Health the eating red meat causes premature death and disease’ and the second—‘a study by UC San Diego that suggests chocolate helps people lose weight’ aren’t actually very good studies as there is no real causal relationship between what the researchers are saying and the results. Taubes argues that the Harvard researchers that claim eating red meat and processed meat can kill you is based on a very “tiny association…. It’s a 0.2-fold increased risk—1/100th the size”.
Taubes says that this very tiny increased risk could be explained by the researchers comparing a lot of people and what they eat, including vegetarians that don’t eat meat, to people that eat a lot of meat and doesn’t take into consideration other unhealthy behaviors of the people they are studying such as smoking, drinking, or an unhealthy lifestyle.
Taubes says that the experiments to figure out if the relationship between eating red meat will cause people to die or if it is their other behaviors that are the cause. These are the trials that compare Atkins diets to other weight loss diets, like the Meditteranean. “These conventional weight loss diets tend to restrict meat consumption to different extents because they restrict fat and/or saturated fat consumption and meat has a lot of fat and saturated fat in it…. And when these experiments have been done, the meat-rich, bacon-rich Atkins diet almost invariably comes out ahead, not just in weight loss but also in heart disease and diabetes risk factors.” “Ultimately we’re left with a decision about what we’re going to believe: the observations, or the experiments designed to test those observations. Good scientists will always tell you to believe the experiments. That’s why they do them.”
Rhetorical Context: Gary Taubes is a science writer, and has written numerous books. He “studied applied physics at Harvard and aerospace engineering at Stanford” according to his blog, garytaubes.com. “He has won the Science in Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers three times and was awarded an MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellowship for 1996-97.” He is a former staff member of Discover magazine, a highly rated science and technology magazine that has won many science awards for the writing within by educated scientists with over 700,000 subscribers. Their audience is “affluent, educated and involved in their communities”. (http://discovermagazine.com/media-kit/editorial/mission)
Evaluation: This artifact is strong in a counter intuitive way—basically saying that we have to be critical of every study and not believe everything we hear, even if it seems to come from a credible source—we must be especially wary of all the experiments out there and weigh them carefully. The credibility of the author and the magazine are very strong. I might use this to disprove theories in my paper.