The China Study – #3 – Criticisms

No discussion of anything scientific is complete, myocarditis in my mind, website like this without some review of the criticisms leveled against the paper, web journal or study.

I think that the criticisms against the China Study fall into a couple of categories, and I will cover my thoughts about them seperately.  As I consider Wikipedia a marginal source of information at *best*, I won’t devote too much time to it.

Criticism #1) The China Study is full of confirmation bias. (the tendancy to only quote things that support your hypothesis)

My Response:

(i) Campbell spends most of the chapter on Scientific Reductionism covering a competing viewpoint, that put forth by the Nurses’ study out of the Harvard school of medicine.  He goes on for pages and pages about the flaws in the study design, his public criticisms of the study, and his interactions with the people in charge of the study.  The most telling part was when he pushed them on the lack of low-animal protein diets in the cohort explaining the lack of information they were getting out, they replied “You may be right, but no one wants to go there”

(ii) The chapter on the Science of Industry gives behind the scenes information on “The Airport Club”, a group of scientists paid by the Dairy Industry to keep tabs on potentially problematic research.  Their conflicting research on CLA was admitted by one of the insiders to be… esssentially… shenanigans.

(iii) he spends a fair amount of time covering the Atkins’ and kin misrepresentation of facts, and the flaws of their experimental design for the one study they did.

(iv) he quotes (literally) hundreds of independent scientific, peer-reviewed, published studies through the course of making his point.  You can cherry pick one study, but not hundreds.

Criticism #2) There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. (aka “Epidimiology is crap”)

My response: I hear you.  I have degrees in mathematics and always viewed statistics as the armpit of an otherwise elegant discipline.  That said, if you stick enough independent corroborating evidence together the chances of it being random or carefully cobbled together are so close to zero that you’re probably better off wearing a tinfoil hat to protect from alien brain wave capturers.

Criticism #3) I know someone that did X and then Y happened and then rockets fired out of their nostrils and that’s why this sucks.

My Response: That’s nice, but a sample size of one is useless in probabilistic information.  I don’t care about individual stories or non-confirmed, non-published, non-reviewed allegorical stories.

Criticism #4) Wikipedia says…

My response: Wikipedia quotes 3 major contendors, all of which love to pick on chapter 4, and neglect the other 300+ pages of the book.  Oh well, such is the nature of poorly constructed criticism.  You can throw out chapter 4 if it makes you feel better and you’re still getting the same message.

(i) Eades – who is an Atkins follower, has refused a $20,000 challenge to verify the central hypothesis of his “Protein Power” diet books.  And his criticisms indicate that he didn’t read the whole book or understand it.  And that he has an agenda.

(ii) Kroeker analysis of data related to chapter 4 – there is no methodology, reproducibility or peer review/publishing of his findings.  If we can’t see how someone did something or replicate it, it is useless.  Again – throw out chapter 4 if it makes you feel better.

(iii) Minger – Well, where to start.  How about here.  Or the fact that a sock puppeteer can’t put together 100+ page papers chalk full of citations that would take research groups years to do.  Or the fact that I couldn’t get more than a couple of pages into her rebuttals without running into poor understanding of experimental design, a lack of understanding of how to do linear analysis, and either really bad logic (incompetence) or intentional misrepresentation (front for lobby group).  In any case, I’m done looking at Wikipedia.

Criticism #5) There’s no solid advice on what to eat, when to eat it, or recipes.

My response: I, for one, am glad the he kept the book just to the facts.  His recommendation is for a whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD), eat as much as you want, and there are lots of cookbooks for vegetarians, vegans and the like out there.  He does give a list of foods to eat all you want of and foods to avoid, but really you have to make the decision how much risk you are willing to assume.

And that’s what it is – how much risk can you live with?

Edit: You can find all the posts in this series HERE

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