Fat in the Diet and Mortality from Heart Disease: A Plagiaristic Note

Not too long ago I was a graduate student at the University of Washington where I was taking an advanced class on nutrition and metabolism and the entire class was caught plagiarizing! Let me explain…

We all had a professor for several quarters that was really intelligent and everyone liked him, but the trouble was that during the classes he would verbally expel so much dense information on a topic that it was nearly impossible to digest in one sitting (pardon the pun). Our professor knew this and so at the beginning of our very first class he suggested that we actually record his lectures so we could go back and listen to them one or more times to better absorb the material.

Most people in the class – including me – did end up recording his lectures. It got to where there were so many recording devices that it looked like a press conference. I had the largest recording device, too. I’m a bit of an audiophile so a dinky Tascam DR-08 would not work for me. I had a Zoom H4n that stuck out like crazy, and sometimes I would even attach a Shure SM-58 to it before class started just for kicks. But that’s not terribly relevant; what is relevant is that not only did the class record his lectures, but most of the class got wise and started actually transcribing the damn things to make searching for specific details during a lecture much easier. Now if you have ever tried to transcribe something you will know that for each hour of speech it takes at least two hours of listening and typing if not more, depending on how fast you type. Of course to be more efficient one person would volunteer to type it and then email the document to the rest of the class. Now I was absolutely not interested in transcribing a near two-hour lecture during my evenings, so I never volunteered to do it. I knew this meant not getting my hands on the transcripts, but that was perfectly fine with me.*

About halfway through the year our prof begins one class very soberly by saying that he is very disappointed in us. We have been essentially plagiarizing our assignments by simply copy-pasting text from the transcripts into our assignments. How did he know this? It wasn’t simply that we all gave strikingly similar answers to the questions. Perhaps some of that is to be expected if we are all given the same questions, have the same professor, and have the same textbooks. No, the real smoking gun in this case was that whomever transcribed one particular lecture had misspelled something and the rest of the class had misspelled the exact same word in the exact same way.

We were banned from transcribing and/or sharing transcripts after that point. I actually have a friend going through the same graduate program right now, and he says his class was told in no uncertain terms at the beginning of the quarter that the prof will not tolerate any transcribing of his lectures. All because of our class that was too lazy to just do our own research and put it into our own words. I am glad that the professor called us on it. He takes plagiarism seriously as he should. It’s clearly a serious offense in academia, but even if we’re not in the ivory tower plagiarism is basically fraud. Anyone that has been caught plagiarizing has not only lost me as an audience of their work, but they have also lost my respect.**

Which brings me to Gary Taubes. Wait! It’s not what you think. I have ragged on Taubes in the past, but I am actually advocating for Taubes here. Honest! I’m going to discuss a topic that I touched on in the past, but just so everyone reading this is on the same page let me go through some background before I get to Taubes.

The Facts

You may or may not have heard of a guy named Ancel Keys. He was a Harvard-trained physiologist and epidemiologist. He did some research on human starvation in the mid-20th century before moving on to study heart disease for which he is probably most famous. In 1953 he gave a scientific presentation at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York city. The meat-and-potatoes of this presentation was subsequently published in the Journal of Mount Sinai Hospital (now known as the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine) with the title “Atherosclerosis: A Problem in Newer Public Health.”1 I don’t know what to make of the journal. It’s not really what I would consider a bona-fide journal, but it’s peer-reviewed and a couple tiers above a monthly newsletter. Anyway, it basically summarizes a lot of what’s known about cholesterol and heart disease of various countries at the time. It is not terribly newsworthy; the only thing in the article that is of any note is a Cartesian graph of the relationship between rate of death from heart disease and total fat intake (as a percentage of calories) in a few countries.

Keys1

Keys mentions that only a few countries are available for any kind of real comparison at the time of publishing. Some countries he leaves out of the graph because of major population shifts or poorly-maintained vital health statistics. He does mention that there are good quality health statistics available for many other European countries, but since WW2 had such an effect on diets (partially because Germany invaded, occupied, and rationed food) the food data of Nazi-occupied territories were left out. What is left appears to be a remarkable relationship between fat intake and death.

Four years later in 1957 a couple of researchers named Jacob Yerushalmy and Herman Hilleboe published a paper titled “Fat in the Diet and Mortality from Heart Disease; A Methodologic Note” that was critical of the above graph.2 Apparently they found the graph overly simplistic and perhaps a bit misleading. So they instead decide to conduct their own statistical analysis of similar data. They don’t use the same exact data as Keys used for whatever reason; Keys used FAO & WHO data from 1948-1949 and Yerushalmy and Hilleboe use FAO & WHO data from 1951-1953. They don’t exclude any countries from the analysis either, for any reason, choosing instead to include all the countries for which the FAO & WHO had data, which happened to be 22 countries.

YH data

As you can see when 22 countries are included in the analysis the relationship between fat calories and heart disease mortality is not so striking. However, despite not being as pronounced as Keys’s graph, this one still clearly shows a relationship between fat and heart disease. You can still see an upward trend happening as the percent of fat calories increases.

Y&H also make the convincing case that comparing total fat to heart disease mortality is kinda lame. They argue that the types of fat (or in this case the sources of fat) are far more interesting. In the paper they actually do some comparisons with heart disease and animal fat vs. plant fat and animal protein vs. plant protein and find that fat from animals and protein from animals each has a much stronger association with heart disease than simply total fat. They go on to say that their analysis shows that plant fat and plant protein is actually negatively associated with heart disease mortality. In other words, fat and protein from plants might have some sort of protective effect against heart disease.

Both Keys and Y&H assemble what is called a cross-sectional analysis, which in terms of observational studies is one of the weakest – at least when it comes to trying to show any kind of cause-effect relationship. Both Keys and Y&H mention this and state that their results are merely an association and that more robust studies on the matter need to be conducted.

Indeed, Keys actually goes on to conduct such a robust study several years later, colloquially known as the Seven Countries Study. This was a very large longitudinal cohort study that lasted for several years. Quite a bit of knowledge was gained from this study, including important information on diet, exercise, smoking, obesity, serum cholesterol, and many diseases (dementia, diabetes, hypertension). In fact, data from the cohorts is still being published today. In terms of epidemiological studies, a large prospective cohort study like the Seven Countries Study is about as strong as it gets. Of course the results are not as definitive as a randomized controlled trial of the same scale and duration, but enrolling so many people into a randomized controlled trial of that size and time is effectively an impossibility. Plus with a RCT you can only examine one variable, but with super large cohorts like this many variables can be studied.

At any rate, the first of many Seven Countries Study reports is published in 1970, thirteen years after the Y&H paper and a full 17 years after Keys’s presentation at Mt. Sinai Hospital. It is this study that becomes wildly influential and puts Keys on the map as an elite epidemiologist.

The Mistake

In his whopper of a diet book Good Calories, Bad Calories Gary Taubes blatantly lies about makes a mistake when reporting the results of the Y&H paper. He claims that the link between fat and heart disease vanishes if no countries are excluded from the analysis.

Taubes on page 18:

Many researchers wouldn’t buy it. Jacob Yerushalmy, who ran the biostatistics department at the University of California, Berkeley, and Herman Hilleboe, the New York State commissioner of health, co-authored a critique of Keys’s hypothesis, noting that Keys had chosen only six countries for his comparison though data were available for twenty-two countries. When all twenty-two were included in the analysis, the apparent link between fat and heart disease vanished.

As we have seen the link between fat and heart disease does not vanish.

Moreover, Taubes then says “Keys had noted associations between heart-disease death rates and fat intake, Yerushalmy and Hilleboe pointed out, but they were just that. Associations do not imply cause and effect […]” What follows is purely a semantic argument, but I would argue that correlations can and often do imply cause and effect. In fact most researchers test hypotheses based off of observational studies that suggest some sort of relationship between two things. Of course correlations certainly do not prove causation, and no epidemiologist worth his/her salt would claim otherwise.

The Fraud

Here’s the crux of this whole post: many people have been ripping off Taubes’s work. They have been ripping him off without attribution and making money doing it. You know how I know they are ripping him off? It’s not just that their verbiage and syntax are eerily similar. Much like my old professor the clincher is that these journalists and bloggers and charlatans all make the exact same mistake Taubes made with respect to the Y&H paper. In fact, many of these authors make it painfully obvious that they haven’t read ANY of the papers that they are making claims about.

Now it’s one thing to blog about, say, toasters and misinform your readers, but when you are dispensing health advice and you have no idea what you talking about… well, that can impact people’s lives in a very real way. And a very negative way.

Let’s begin the plagiarism parade, shall we?

Nina Teicholz

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22116724/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/what-if-bad-fat-isnt-so-bad/

At the time, plenty of scientists were skeptical of Keys’s assertions. One such critic was Jacob Yerushalmy, Ph.D., founder of the biostatistics graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley. In a 1957 paper, Yerushalmy pointed out that while data from the six countries Keys examined seemed to support the diet-heart hypothesis, statistics were actually available for 22 countries. And when all 22 were analyzed, the apparent link between fat consumption and heart disease disappeared.

Ms. Teicholz also says prior to the above paragraph “The first scientific indictment of saturated fat came in 1953. That’s the year a physiologist named Ancel Keys, Ph.D., published a highly influential paper titled ‘Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health.’”

According to Google Scholar this “highly influential” paper that doesn’t even mention saturated fat has only been cited 247 times since its publication, which spans 61 years as of this writing. An average of four citations per year. It was cited merely 99 times from the time it was published to 1973, a full twenty years after its publication. Each report from the Seven Countries Study, however, has been cited several thousand times each. Perhaps that’s what Ms. Teicholz is referring to, although if that were true then she could not have trotted out the Yerushalmy paper. Or maybe she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and just plagiarized Taubes and changed some words.

Dustan Howell

http://www.inshapeathome.net/blog/2013/01/10/Clean-food-versus-Dirty-Foods.aspx

At the time, many scientists were skeptical of Key’s claims. Jacob Yerushalmy, Ph.D. (founder of the biostatistics graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley) pointed out that while the data from the six countries supported the diet-heart hypothesis, statistics were available from twenty-two countries. When those countries were analyzed the apparent link between fat intake and heart disease vanished.

Jonathan Bailor

https://thesmarterscienceofslim.com/a-brief-history-of-lipophobia-the-fear-of-fat/

http://thecaloriemythbook.com/fatfacts/

Keys examined diet and heart disease trends in twenty-two countries. He was apparently more interested in headlines than science because he then published a study that included data from only the six countries that showed a scary link between diet and heart disease. Keys garnered a massive amount of press and then went on tour preaching that eating fat is deadly.

Here are the facts: When the data from all twenty-two countries in Keys’ study is examined, they show no relationship between fat intake and heart disease deaths. Keys selectively picked data and designed a headline-worthy conclusion.

Talk about hyperbole! He “garnered a massive amount of press and then went on tour preaching that eating fat is deadly,” eh? I don’t think so. Maybe 20 years after it was published and for a separate reason. Furthermore, Keys’s presentation to the Mt. Sinai Hospital wasn’t a study. Even the published text could not be considered a study. You could maybe call it a review article or an editorial, but it definitely was not any kind of experiment with a hypothesis. I suppose you could technically call it a cross-sectional study, but it’s a real stretch considering the Keys paper is 22 pages long and the “study” only takes up three paragraphs and one figure in those twenty-two pages from data that is publicly available. It’s not much more than a footnote in the text. I have literally written more words bitching about Nina Teicholz and Jonathan Bailor than Keys wrote for his “highly influential study.”

PhotoCalorie

http://blog.photocalorie.com/data-driven-dining/saturated-fats/

This correlation provided a great basis for creating a hypothesis, however the relationship may have been misleading. A caveat to this apparent relationship, pointed out by biostatistician Dr. Jacob Yerushalmy, was the questionable choice of these specific countries, when data was available for 22. Dr. Yerushalmy showed that if all 22 countries are included, the correlation becomes much weaker. Other researchers later showed that this correlation is just as strong when compared with any characteristic of a developed nation, such as television and radio sales.

At least whoever wrote this piece doesn’t claim that the link vanished.

Georgia Ede

http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/food/fats/

The misguided belief that saturated fats cause heart disease is rooted in a famous study published in 1970 called “The Seven Countries Study”, in which renowned scientist Ancel Keys claimed that people in countries where more animal fat was eaten had more heart disease then people in countries where less animal fat was eaten. Not only was this study an epidemiological study, and therefore incapable of proving a causal link between any dietary factor and any disease, but the original study actually involved 22 countries, not 7; the data from the other 15 countries having been omitted for undisclosed reasons. When the data from all 22 countries were analyzed, no correlation between fat and heart disease was found (Yerushalmy and Hilleboe 1957).

I think this is an example of what happens when you don’t plagiarize from the source and instead plagiarize the plagiarizers. The errors start to compound in on each other. Evidently Yerushalmy and Hilleboe are seers and wrote a critique in 1957 of a study in that would not be published for another thirteen years. There are actually so many errors in that one paragraph I don’t even want to bother writing more.

Nathane Jackson

http://www.nathanejackson.com/blog/heart-healthy-tips/

Up until recently, much of today’s science was based on researcher, Ancel Keys, 22 country heart disease and dietary fat study, or at least this is where it all started. Key’s has been accused of cherry picking the six countries that would support his hypothesis of saturated fat causing heart disease. However, as it turns out, one could have picked six entirely different countries and shown the complete opposite, in that eating dietary fat had very little connection with the risk of dying from heart disease.

Clearly English is not Mr. Jackson’s native tongue.

Three Sixty Personal Training

http://threesixtypersonaltraining.co.uk/free-stuff/articles-videos/the-whole-fat-story/

The trouble is that Keys selectively picked his data to match his hypothesis. In 1957, a biostatistician named Jacob Yerushalmy, along with Herman Hilleboe, published a paper noting that while data from the six countries analysed supported Keys’ hypothesis, Keys had actually collected data from 22 countries, and that when the data from all 22 countries was analysed, the apparent link between fat intake and heart disease was not found.

Chris Masterjohn

http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/The-Cholesterol-Myths.html

Ancel Keys first argued this theory by charting heart disease mortality against fat availability for six countries, showing the more dietary fat available, the higher the rate of mortality. There was just one pesky problem: data was available for 22 countries at the time. Include the other 16, and the association falls apart.

Also Chris Masterjohn

http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2011/04/let-us-honor-ancel-keys-our-patron-as.html

Keys had presented data from six countries, purporting to show a clear linear relationship between the amount of fat consumed in a country and its incidence of heart disease. This graph is shown on the left below. The one problem was that data was available for 22 countries at the time, and including that data demolished the relationship.

Keys

This graph actually appears in many of these posts. The right one is overlayed incorrectly because #13 is Japan, #12 is Italy, #22 is USA, etc.

Brendan Coburn

http://thehealthycow.blogspot.com/2011/03/historical-context-part-3-ancel-keys.html

The six countries he reported on (United States, Canada, Australia, UK, Italy, and Japan), showed a very strong association between fat intake and heart disease. Now, of course, this is only an observational study and no cause and effect can be determined. But the biggest problem with his study is that he left out the data from the 16 other countries for which data was available. When all 22 countries are considered, his perfect correlation turns into a much weaker one.

Paleo Leap

http://paleoleap.com/fear-of-saturated-fat-and-cholesterol/

Cherry picking data is the dishonest situation where a scientist wants to prove an hypothesis so bad that he chooses only the data that fits with it and ignores the conflicting data. In the case of Ancel Keys’s 7 country study, data for 22 countries was available to him, but he only picked 7. […] In this new graph you can see that no correlation whatsoever can apparently be made between heart disease and saturated fat consumption.

Do I really need to point out the hypocrisy of accusing Keys of being dishonest while at the very same time plagiarizing AND misrepresenting journal articles that you never read?

Craving Fresh

http://www.cravingfresh.com/2012/01/fresh-reviews-great-cholesterol-con-by.html

Keys hand-picked data from six countries that showed a clear link between heart disease and the dietary intake of fat. He actually had data from 22 countries available to him, but left out the rest as they told a completely different story. He was a man on a mission to prove that dietary intake of saturated fat causes heart disease, and he wasn’t going to let mere facts get in his way.

Keys’s “hand-picked data” was not about saturated fat – it was about total fat. But I guess Craving Fresh isn’t letting mere facts get in their way.

Innate Fitness

http://innatebodybootcamp.com/myths-about-saturated-fat/

Keys’ most famous study (the one still cited today) was called the 7 Countries Study. Keys plotted the rate of heart disease against the percentage of calories consumed as fat for Japan, Italy, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Looking at this graph you would definitely think that dietary fat intake was linked to increased heart disease risk. What most people don’t know (and what doctors their doctors don’t tell them) is that the study actually gathered data from 22 countries. When all the countries were added to the graph it looked like “buckshot hitting a page instead of a straight line,” in the words of one of Keys’s fellow researchers. While there is a significant relationship between fat intake and heart disease (at least as presented), the graph GREATLY over-exaggerates it’s importance.

At least the author of this post doesn’t claim the link vanished. Yet like many other bloggers here doesn’t understand the difference between the 1953 paper and the Seven Countries Study. Plus I think that quote is bogus. I think it goes without saying that it is unattributed, but I found a book that published the same quote and claims it is from David Kritchevsky. I still don’t buy it because there’s no source of the quote.

Kristopher Cleary

http://realconstipationremedies.com/eating-fat-can-help-my-constipation-are-you-kidding/

There were countries he turned a blind (or denial) eye to which devoured a diet high in fat and also showed a surprisingly very low rate of cardiovascular disease. Whilst on the other side of the table there were countries that demonstrated a high level of cardiovascular disease eating a little fat at all. In reflection, the study was not phenomenal. It was flawed. The Seven Countries study should have really comprised of ‘twenty-two’ countries. If this had of transpired then there would have been a very clear message out of it: ‘there is no relationship between fat intake and heart attacks’.

Colin E. Champ

http://www.cavemandoctor.com/2011/12/20/why-your-doctor-recommends-a-low-fat-diet-and-what-it-has-to-do-with-a-rabbit-and-a-little-lie/

Keys then performed a big “study” where he looked at the fat intake and death from heart disease in 7 countries (Japan, Italy, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, and the USA), appropriately calling it the 7 Countries Study. He found that the more fat citizens in these countries ate, the more they got heart disease and died. In 1956 the American Heart Association used this data to inform the public that consuming animal fat causes heart disease. […]

However, there is one little issue with Keys’ experiment – he actually looked at 22 countries and then picked 7 that showed an association between heart disease and fat intake. He ignored the rest and pretended he never saw them. Ok, fair enough, it’s a big issue. This was pointed out by Yerushalmey [sic] and Hilleboe who showed the graphs he used before he cherry-picked his countries.

For someone who claims to be a doctor he sure gets a bunch of things wrong. In fact pretty much everything. Every single sentence he writes is wrong. Dr. Champ can’t even spell the authors correctly.

Donald W. Miller, Jr

http://archive.lewrockwell.com/miller/miller38.1.html

Evidence against fat wilts upon close scrutiny. In his Six Country Study, Ancel Keys ignored data available from 16 other countries that did not fall in line with his desired graph. If he had chosen these six other countries, or even more strikingly, these six countries he could have shown that increasing the percent of calories from fat in the diet reduces the number of deaths from coronary heart disease.

If Keys had included all 22 countries in his study, the result would have been a clutter of dots like this.[graph] In fact, it turns out that people who have highest percentage of saturated fat in their diets have the lowest risk of heart disease.

Rebecca A. Malamed

http://www.drrebecca.com/2012/02/myth-of-cholesterol-and-heart-disease.html

Dr. Keys released a convincing diagram in 1953 which showed a very neat correlation between the levels of dietary fat in six countries and the rates of coronary heart disease in those countries. It was part of a very famous document called “The Seven Countries Study”, which has since been roundly refuted and shown to be poorly done science. This diagram appeared to show what can only be described as a perfect match between the level of calories from dietary fat and rates of coronary heart disease, making his theory appear to be perfectly correct. To this day, the concept of a low-fat diet is preached by many as essential to preventing heart disease.

Ignoring, for a moment, a well established mantra of science (“correlation does not imply causation”), there are a number of fundamental flaws with the data that Ancel Keys presented.

While the data points he used were technically correct, he only used data from 7 countries when, at the time, data was available for 22 countries. If those other 16 countries are added into the diagram, the neat line matching fat intake to coronary heart disease loses virtually all meaning.

Literally every sentence there is wrong, except for one: low-fat diets are preached by many, for better or worse.

Bryan Mayo

http://mayosmind.blogspot.com/2013/04/saturated-fat-and-heart-disease-folly.html

Unfortunately for Keys and his Diet-Heart Hypothesis, his study actually collected data on 22 countries. Because the data from these remaining 15 countries didn’t support his theory very well, he simply threw them out. If you put the data from all 22 countries back together, then the earlier clear line between fat intake and heart disease becomes non-existent.

Alexandra something-or-other from High on Fat

http://www.highonfat.com/3/post/2014/03/the-low-fat-fallacy.html

While the lipid hypothesis, or cholesterol theory can be dated back over 100 years ago, it was Ansel Keys’ [sic] famous “Seven Countries Study” in 1958 that can be credited for the fat phobia that plagues us today.

Based on his published findings, Keys claimed that there was a direct link between heart disease related death and the amount of fat in the diet. Therefore, if saturated fat raises cholesterol, and cholesterol causes heart disease, we should stop consuming saturated fat in order to reduce the risk of heart disease in our world.

Seems logical at first. However, there were two problems:1. Correlation does not equal causation 2. The “Seven Countries Study” actually consisted of 22 countries. Keys simply left out the data of all the countries that did not align with his theory. Tisk tisk…

Tisk tisk, indeed.

Diana Rodgers

http://www.radiancenutrition.com/2012/12/06/are-you-fat-phobic/

One of the biggest detriments to our thinking about fats came in the mid 1950’s, when a guy named Ancel Keys published a paper which served as an early kick off for the cholesterol campaign. Although he had data from 22 different countries, he cherry picked seven to show in his paper. What he showed was a correlation (note, this is different from cause, just an association) between increased fat intake and death.

She also highly recommends you check out a “smart, in-depth blog post” by Denise Minger that actually argues the opposite of what Diana Rodgers is arguing.

Dylan Klein

http://nutridylan.com/2013/07/15/the-great-cholesterol-consensus/

Researchers skeptical of Keys’ “study” pointed out that relevant data was available for 22 countries at the time and that Keys did nothing more than cherry-pick his data set to include the countries which supported his preconceived hypothesis of diet and heart disease. Indeed, when data from all 22 countries are incorporated into the analysis, the perfect relationship between fat and heart disease disappears.

Dana Carpender

http://holdthetoast.com/content/ancel_keys

Keys faked his data. Oh, it’s absolutely true that he had a lovely graph showing seven countries with their rates of saturated fat consumption paralleling their rates of heart disease. However, Keys had data from 22 countries. And when you look at the data for all 22 countries, the tidy rising line vanishes.

Joseph Mercola

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/22/debunking-the-science-behind-lowering-cholesterol-levels.aspx

In 1953, Dr. Ancel Keys published a seminal paper that serves as the basis for nearly all of the initial scientific support for the Cholesterol Theory. The study is known as the Seven Countries Study, that linked the consumption of dietary fat to coronary heart disease. What you may not know is that when Keys published his analysis that claimed to prove the link between dietary fats and coronary heart disease (CHD), he selectively analyzed information from only seven countries to prove his correlation, rather than comparing all the data available at the time — from 22 countries.

As you might suspect, the studies he excluded were those that did not fit with his hypothesis, namely those that showed a low percentage fat in their diet and a high incidence of death from CHD as well as those with a high-fat diet and low incidence of CHD. If all 22 countries had been analyzed, there would have been no correlation found whatsoever; it should have been called the 22 Countries Study!

Even Tom Naughton from the awful documentary Fat Head gets in on the plagiarism.

In Conclusion

The hypocsrisy here cannot be overstated. These authors are all accusing Keys of academic dishonesty while plagiarizing Taubes (or someone else who stole his work) and claiming to have knowledge of academic journal articles that they have almost certainly never read. Additionally, many of the blogs or articles mentioned here advocate pro-meat and pro-saturated fat diets yet the central study they invoke as evidence against Keys also happens to make the case against eating animal fat or animal protein.

In case anyone wants to actually read the texts in question I have linked to them in the endnotes. Enjoy.

cloud

*As it turned out I was almost always emailed the transcripts anyway. (Thanks y’all for supporting this bum that never took one for the team.) It didn’t really matter, though, because I rarely used them anyway. I much preferred listening back to the lectures over reading them. I can’t recall if this incident was one of those rare times or not. It could be the case that I was a party in this debacle.

** In case I am coming off as too much of a righteous plagiarism crusader… I am guilty of it. The one time I knowingly plagiarized something was in high school. I was given an assignment to write a review of some book that I never read. I don’t recall what book it was, but it was some 19th century British romantic novel that did not interest me at all. Rather than doing the assignment I grabbed some review someone else had already written online and turned that in. I was ultimately caught, and had to re-do the assignment. (Who knew that teachers could use the internet, too?) I regret the act and wish I would not have been such a lazy asshole and just done the damn homework.

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66 thoughts on “Fat in the Diet and Mortality from Heart Disease: A Plagiaristic Note

  1. Did you notice that in the Rebecca A. Malamed quote she says that 7 countries plus 16 countries equals 22 countries.

    Plagiarism 101 – make sure the numbers add up.

    “While the data points he used were technically correct, he only used data from 7 countries when, at the time, data was available for 22 countries. If those other 16 countries are added into the diagram, the neat line matching fat intake to coronary heart disease loses virtually all meaning.”

    • The numerical confusion is created by the fact that Keys treated two parts of the United Kingdom (Britain) as two separate “countries.” The six-country study and the seven-country study are really the same, geographically and politically, if not culturally. Maybe just another attempt by Keys to make the arrows point in his direction of choice? Let us not forget that Keys was an oceanographer, not a medical researcher or statistician.

  2. Pingback: Settled Science on Saturated Fats Revised | pundit from another planet
  3. Pingback: [Reblog] Seven Nation Army (update on the link between heart disease and food) « Health and Medical News and Resources
  4. It would have been nice if you had noted PlantPositive.com for video blogging since 2011 about this smear campaign against Ancel Keys… with a large dose of well-deserved snark.

    Chris Masterjohn is now a PhD and should know a thing or two about academic plaigiarism. But he’s got a long term association with the Western A. Price Foundation to uphold.

    Fuethermore, the fringe blogosphere’s echo chamber is one thing, but when mainstream media sources around the world start repeating this nonsense without fact checking (BBC, NBC, ABC in Australia, and even a BMJ editorial spews this disinformation), major influence over a large number of people can happen to the detriment of their health. Disgraceful!!

    • I think I ran across a Plant Positive video on the subject sometime a while back, but it was after I had already independently investigated this whole thorny issue. But if anyone reading the comments would like to watch it, here’s the link: http://youtu.be/NDwjkv1FW5g

  5. Denise Minger put the record straight in 2011
    http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/12/22/the-truth-about-ancel-keys-weve-all-got-it-wrong/
    obviously it’s a Liberty Valance situation we have here.
    Key is more justly criticised for pretending he had the answer – eat more carbs and less fat, more polyunsaturated vegetable oil and less saturated fat. When he still only had the questions.
    Because people who eat more nuts and fish have a little less heart disease, we should eat oils and spreads that supply the same polyunsaturated fats that we’ll find in nuts. Then we’ll get cancer as well as heart disease, if the studies set up to prove this ridiculous hypothesis were anything to go by. Hey, why not just eat nuts if you like them? Fish too? There’s a novel idea.
    Keys is also justly criticised for shouting down the case against sugar. The odds ratio, or relative risk for cardiovascular disease mortality associated with the highest sugar intakes in the USA is 2.75 (Yang et al. 2014). The statistical association between heart disease incidence and high GI refined carbohydrates in US women was 1.98 (Liu et al. 2000).
    The association between the highest saturated fat intakes and heart disease incidence was 1.00, or no association at all (Siri-Tarino et al. 2010 i).
    It is possible to find alternative studies that vary slightly from the ones cited, but this does not significantly alter the relative relationships between sugar, refined grains, and saturated fat as disease risks.
    Even if Keys graph was correct about fat, his ignorance of other, much greater risk factors, which were being drawn to his attention, and his use of his influence to shut down consideration of these by the authorities ruling on his claims remains culpable.
    As for the separation of animal fats and vegetable fats, this is not done often, but when it is you get results like this one (for AMD). Note the difference between nuts, and other (oil) vegetable polyunsaturates in the first paper. Animal fat looks bad (processed meats?) in the first but lacks a dose response, failing to meet the second of Bradford Hill’s criteria for determining causality beginning from correlation.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593
    Animal fat intake was associated with a 2-fold increased risk of progression (RR, 2.29 for the highest quartile compared with the lowest quartile; 95% confidence interval, 0.91-5.72), although the trend for increasing risk with higher animal fat intake was not significant (P=.09). Higher vegetable fat intake had a stronger relationship with increased risk of AMD progression with an RR of 3.82 (95% confidence interval, 1.58-9.28) for the highest quartile compared with the lowest quartile (P trend =.003). Saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and transunsaturated fats increased the likelihood of progression (RR, 2.09 and P trend =.08; RR, 2.21 and P trend =.04; RR, 2.28 and P trend =.04; RR, 2.39 and P trend =.008, respectively). Higher fish intake was associated with a lower risk of AMD progression among subjects with lower linoleic acid intake. Processed baked goods, which are higher in some of these fats, increased the rate of AMD progression approximately 2-fold, and nuts were protective.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11483088
    Higher intake of specific types of fat–including vegetable, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats and linoleic acid–rather than total fat intake may be associated with a greater risk for advanced AMD. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and fish were inversely associated with risk for AMD when intake of linoleic acid was low.

    • Hmm. You like Minger? She set the record straight, you say? Actually, she still ended up accusing Keys of cherry-picking his countries instead of admitting that the man was even more aware of the problem with inferior cause of death data collection than she at the time due to WW2 and poorly developed medical systems. After all, he was there. Keys was picking apples to compare, not cherries.

      Minger also fails to acknowledge the further development of Keys’s scientific insights on the causes of CVD in response to the work of others and his own further research, including ward studies. She fails to note that Keys changed his stance on the consumption of dietary cholesterol. He did not “get that right” as Minger claims.

      As for sugar, which certainly does our bodies no favors, before the obesity epidemic it did not stand up to scientific scrutiny as a primary contributor to CVD the way saturated animal fat-induced excessive serum cholesterol did. It still doesn’t.

      I would turn your attention to Plant Positive’s Keys vs Yudkin videos, as well as his consideration of recent industry-sponsored pro-saturated fat studies like Siri-Tarino. He does a much better job than I could.

      PS. We agree on refined bottled oils. There’s no substitute for whole plant foods, eg., eat flaxseed not flaxseed oil.

      • “He was there”. Perhaps if his diet data had been collected by independent researchers, he might have come up with different results?
        Dose-response is the 5th of Bradford Hill’s criteria, not the 2nd, I mis-remembered that.
        How do you know that the serum cholesterol due to SFA is correlated with CHD, and not the serum cholesterol due to sugar, transfat, or flour?
        For someone who criticised, with some justification, Taube’s attitude to an epidemiological study he didn’t like, your attitude to meta-analyses about SFA is a little ironic.
        I think this study contains evidence for all the points you made
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892297/

        It compares health conscious vegetarians – a self-selected group well able to produce a favourable bias – with their meat-eating friends and family. As you would predict, meat, SFA, and cholesterol are all associated with IHD.
        But – there is no difference in total mortality from any of these factors.
        If meat, SFA, and cholesterol are causing an increased incidence of heart disease (not an absolute incidence), then they are also causing a reduction in the rate of all other causes of death.
        Death is not something that you can misdiagnose; this is the bottom line finding from SFA meta-analyses; even the ones that find a slight increase in CHD, CVD, or IHD find no difference in total mortality.

        I am surprised to hear there is an SFA “industry”. They could have done a better job of promoting their product.

    • Thanks for this post. I wonder how Seth explains the outliers in graph 2? There is certainly an apparent ‘line of it’ that slopes up to the right, but a number of countries with high fat and (relatively) low event risk, and vice versa.
      These outliers at the very least suggest that other factors are at work that need to be explained.
      Seth, do you believe that Teicholz’s assertion that Keys’ data show his results depended on very little data from 65 subjects (some Corfu, some Crete) and during Lent, is incorrect?

  6. So let me get this straight. You chose to open a blog based overwhelmingly on my material with a discussion of plagiarism? You didn’t cite my work in your blog but your point is that these people are hypocritical? And after you were called on this your defense was that you’d been thinking about this stuff on your own before I published? Seriously, do you believe that’s how you establish priority in academic writing?

    Unbelievable.

    • No. You misunderstand. I never came across your stuff until after I had figured this out. I was reading Good Calories, Bad Calories some time ago, was intrigued by the claim, looked up the papers, wrote an earlier blog post mentioning it. Later I found your YouTube video. This and my other blog post were not based on “your material” at all.

      I didn’t even know you existed when I wrote the first post, and I only kind of knew there was a YouTube video discussing the issue when I wrote this post. Am I obligated to cite you in those circumstances? Did I use any of your actual material?

      • You can see on YouTube that I published my videos about Ancel Keys on Nov 30, 2011. Your earliest blog post even mentioning Keys is from September 26, 2012 so I don’t understand why you are bringing up this other blog post of yours.

        In this article you gave a list of people who criticized Keys while repeating falsehoods about him, like confusing Keys’ 1953 paper with his Seven Countries study. The date of your blog is April 21, 2014. I used this same tactic to make these same points in my Vegan Propaganda video, published March 18, 2012. This even included that clip from the Fat Head movie.

        You say that Taubes’ claim that the fat/heart disease relationship vanishes with all 22 countries was untrue, but this is what I said in my Ancel Keys Was Very Bad, Part 2 video from December 28, 2012.

        Seth, it’s not a defense to merely say you thought of something first. Anyone who plagiarizes could say this because it’s a very easy thing to say after the fact. Publication establishes priority. Everyone in academia should know this. Look at arxiv.org, for example. Scientists use this to date-stamp their work so no one can use a similar defense if someone takes their ideas. This issue goes back at least as far as the Newton/Leibniz controversy. To show you are not plagiarizing me in any sense you’d have to show that my analysis of Taubes’ and other low carbers’ claims about Keys omitting countries to show a spurious correlation was common knowledge before my first publication in 2011. I don’t think you can do that. The only prior references which addressed these ideas that I found at the time are already shown in my first videos and they simply pointed out the animal protein relationship. They were not critiques of Taubes and the other low carbers. Now I admit we are not arguing over the invention of calculus here; this is pretty small potatoes. But it certainly looks like you have taken my work and passed it off as your own and that isn’t right.

      • Indeed you did publish first. But I had not seen the above video or anything of yours when I published my first post on this matter back in 2012. There was no way I could have cited you because I didn’t know that you even existed. I guess I can’t prove this, but it is the truth.

        I came across your video later (perhaps late 2012? I don’t recall). As for this post, that video inspired 0% of my research and 0% of my writing so it would not be appropriate to cite you. If you look at my blogging history you will note that I give credit where it is due and cite my sources. I would have mentioned you if your work had played any role in this post.

        I have never seen the Vegan Propaganda video, so if you say that this post is similar I will take your word for it. I’m sorry if you feel slighted, but if you did come up with these ideas independently then clearly it’s possible to come to these conclusions without stealing someone else’s work.

        If I was writing a peer-reviewed paper or applying for a grant I would have done my due diligence and searched high and low for any relevant research that preceded mine. However, this is not academia, this is blogging. I don’t rigorously do those kind of checks before posting. I simply enjoy studying nutrition science and when I feel like researching and writing on a topic I do it without bothering to see if it has been blogged about before.

        I suppose you can choose to not believe me and continue to think I am a liar/hypocrite/asshole. Or you can accept what I say as the truth and move on.

      • There is another possible outcome which is to cite appropriately upon becoming aware of all this, if your account is true. I don’t expect you to due an inordinate amount of due diligence but you just said you had already seen my material “a while back.” You should cite me at this point. A debate about this shouldn’t be necessary. Even Denise Minger cited me when I objected to her blog post about Keys. It isn’t a defense for you to say you have lower standards for blog posts.

        It should be obvious to you what the right thing to do is.

      • I don’t expect you to due an inordinate amount of due diligence but you just said you had already seen my material “a while back.” You should cite me at this point.

        Did I not provide a link to your work once it was brought to my attention?

        You clearly published on the topic before me. No one is disputing that. If it is indeed the case that you were the first person ever to sleuth this out then you are entitled to all the kudos and atta-boys for breaking the story.

        You are also free to run your blog how you wish. If you want to treat it like it’s a quasi-academic one-man publishing house where you do an exhaustive search of blogs before you start to research something then you can do that.

        What you cannot do is bully me into claiming that I stole your work or that I piggy-backed off your ideas when that is not the truth. Nor can you force me into altering the way I run my own personal blog.

        I don’t want to be debating this either, but it wasn’t me that went to your blog to pick a fight.

      • Sorry if I sparked this conflict. That was never my intention.

        Positive,
        I’m willing to give Seth the benefit of the doubt here, as it appears you both travel in different nutritional circles. It is quite possible that Seth did his own research despite his coincidental timing. I also feel it would have been more than a kindness for Seth to have looked a little harder online for prior work on this subject so due credit, or at least a heads up could be given.

        However, it must be said that some people are prejudiced against veg*ns and will therefore discount offhand the information in your videos no matter how accurate they are. Additionally, due to their well-deserved length, some just don’t have the time or inclination to watch them all.

        Moreover, it’s just a fact that different bloggers reach different audiences. Evelyn Kocur aka CarbSane, for example, likely reaches low carb people who might never cross your path.

        Furthermore, you admit yourself that you do not have the time to respond to every misleading blogger/book author/supplement salesman out there maligning Ancel Keys and subsequent Diet-Heart researchers. I appreciate this blog post of Seth’s, as it so handily itemizes the error of such a long line of Gary Taubes’s acolytes. It’s a pretty staggering parade of ignorance.

        Therefore, IMHO I think it’s time to close ranks and accept all the allies we can muster in this fight for objectivity in nutritional science. The health of many depends upon it.

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  8. I thought this was a great post on an Internet ‘plagiarism’ effect of dummies citing dummies citing dummies without reading the studies they discuss . It’s well demonstrated and fun to read (especially the addition fails) but ultimately hardly unique to science, medicine, nutrition, fats, or Keys.

    The *point* of the article is ultimately that the Internet is often a place for compounding, extending and prolonging the life of intellectual laziness (or agenda following). The *example* happens to relate to Keys’ studies, confusion between and reactions thereto.

    Then Plant Positive, presumably ever-vigilant in monitoring his Google saved searches, comes in and add another level of delight by playing That-Internet-Guy that ‘owns’ the topic. Awesome!

    What is the important area of SCIENCE that Plant Positive believes cannot be explored, nor even mentioned without attribution and MUST include a reference to his body of work? What is this great academic discovery, fixed forever in the annals of history by a YouTube timestamp?

    “my analysis of Taubes’ and other low carbers’ claims about Keys”

    Sorry, PP it actually is a defense to a claim of plagiarism, to never have seen the other work, regardless of date. Seth never claimed that he invented or discovered anything here, he just aptly illustrates an apparent chain of propagated (plagiarized) conclusions. PPs videos thoroughly take down a handful of Keys’ naysayers (a batch of science types and a….meathead). Seth’s post takes down lots of blog posts about Keys…most of which were posted after PP’s hallowed ‘publication date’ and have literally nothing to do with PPs work.

    • Even so, it would have been a simple matter for Seth to do the gentlemanly thing and, upon learning of PP’s prior work, edit this blog post to include a link with a note to the effect of, “for an earlier treatment of this topic, check out this link on YouTube.”

      It’s not the blog post itself, but Seth’s reaction to it, that makes me somewhat suspicious of his story.

      Nonetheless, I agree that the blog post, on its own terms, is a great resource for debunking low-carber pseudo-science, and makes a nice complement/supplement to PP’s work.

      • Mark said:
        “Then Plant Positive, presumably ever-vigilant in monitoring his Google saved searches”
        If you would read MacSmiley’s comment, you’d know that this was sent to me.

        Then he said:
        “What is the important area of SCIENCE that Plant Positive believes cannot be explored, nor even mentioned without attribution and MUST include a reference to his body of work? What is this great academic discovery, fixed forever in the annals of history by a YouTube timestamp?”
        This is just snark and it doesn’t even make sense. Others’ ideas big or small should be cited. That’s all.

        “Seth’s post takes down lots of blog posts about Keys…most of which were posted after PP’s hallowed ‘publication date’ and have literally nothing to do with PPs work.”
        There are probably hundreds of individuals who have repeated this nonsense. That’s not the point.

        Seth said:
        “If you want to treat it like it’s a quasi-academic one-man publishing house where you do an exhaustive search of blogs before you start to research something then you can do that.”
        A one-man publishing house? Before I write about something I see what’s out there already. I use Google for that. This is normal and quite easy. But again, you said you saw my videos.

        “Did I not provide a link to your work once it was brought to my attention?”
        Yes, and I appreciate that, but citations are matched to ideas as you know.

        This is just bickering now and a waste of everyone’s time. I would have been happy to share your blog on social media had this been handled properly. I do like what you’re doing with your blog. But there is a chronolgy here and this content is uncannily similar. You must understand how this appears. Despite the melodrama about bullying you or forcing you or picking fights or whatever, at least you’ve acknowledged this now. Thanks.

      • But there is a chronolgy here and this content is uncannily similar.

        Actually, based on the evidence presented here I’m not convinced that the content is uncannily similar. But between you, me, and MacSmiley over there it appears I’m in the minority so I will take your word for it.

        You must understand how this appears.

        I can understand how it might appear which is why I wanted to set the record straight when MacSmiley not-so-subtly implied I cribbed your work. You chose not to believe me, and you decided to jump in and accuse me yourself. I explained the context of how I came to my conclusions without your assistance. You again chose not to believe me and you continued to engage me while making it clear you didn’t believe a word I said. As it turns out I had done what you wanted me to do before you even showed up. Don’t complain to me about bickering and wasting everyone’s time.

        Unbelievable.*

        P.S.

        you said you saw my videos

        I did not claim to see more than one video. Please do not distort what I wrote.

        *Note: I was not the first person in the comment thread to use this word. See here. 100% of the credit for being the first person to use this word belongs to Plant Positive.

      • Seth said, “As it turns out I had done what you wanted me to do before you even showed up.”
        You mean you credited me with some idea or other before I commented here? I’m not seeing this. Do you mean the part where you said I made a video “on the subject?” Isn’t that a little vague?

        Seth said, “I’m not convinced that the content is uncannily similar.”
        You can see a still from the same Fat Head clip at 11:15 in my Vegan Propaganda video and the same Chris Masterjohn quote at 12:35. The Donald Miller quote is at 13:00. The Taubes quote is at 13:05. All the points about total fat versus saturated fat, the confusion over the dates of the papers and six versus seven countries, and the parroting of these false claims without due dilligence by saturated fat apologists I’ve covered as well. I think these are striking similarities. I suppose reasonable people may disagree about that.

        Seth said, “*Note: I was not the first person in the comment thread to use this word.”
        I think you’ll find that such petty sarcasm doesn’t age well.

        Seth, I’m sorry we’ve had such a negative exchange and I’m sorry for my share of the responsibility for that. I was wrong to be so certain of how this happened. The points listed above certainly should have been obvious to anyone reading these papers so this is small potatoes and not worth all this argument. I probably shouldn’t have commented. I still don’t understand how you could have seen a video of mine on this topic (and therefore known I’d made other videos about it) and handled all this the way you have but as I said, I think you’re doing a nice job otherwise with your blog.

    • Plant Positive said

      “If you would read MacSmiley’s comment, you’d know that this was sent to me.”

      Not in my web browser. Maybe I need to upgrade. Direct quote or it didn’t happen.

      Also,

      “There are probably hundreds of individuals who have repeated this nonsense. That’s not the point.”

      Uh, that’s exactly the entire point – of the whole blog post.

      • Mea culpa and mea very embarrassed by the fight my email has inadvertently instigated here. Here is a facsimile for proof. The “idiot” in the subject line refers not to Seth but to the leader of Seth’s parade, Nina Teicholz.

        To: Plant Positive

        From: Melanie MacSmiley

        Subject: There’s another idiot on the block
        May 19, 2014 at 5:12 PM

        Hi Positive,

        Awesome post here which should have given you some credit, so I did in the comments.

        https://thescienceofnutrition.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/fat-in-the-diet-and-mortality-from-heart-disease-a-plagiaristic-note/

        Melanie

        Sent from my iPhone

        Unfortunately, text-only communication does not always accurately convey emotion. I did not send my email with the spirit of, “Hey, your stuff is being stolen” but rather, “Hey, great blog post for the same cause where I feel you should have been mentioned so I got you a plug”.

        I regret that I failed to add in my email how excited I truly am that we have more people on the Accurate Ancel Keys History Team now, including Evelyn Kocur aka CarbSane who’s battling for nutritional history truth on Twitter and her blog as well. I truly believe you guys have a lot to offer each other, and more importantly, to THE PUBLIC whose health will suffer for listening to the fabrications of GT and company!

        Can we shake hands and get along from now on? PLEASE!!??

    • A google search on a topic should turn up other bloggers who have written about it. However I think any researcher can be excused for missing or skimming past information in videos. Putting a video on YouTube is not the way to establish academic priority. You can check a study or a blog post for content in a fraction of the time it takes to watch a video. Moving images or spoken words on the internet are not searchable, do not contain links, and are almost useless to serious researchers.

  9. Hi Seth,

    For those of us who are mobile device-bound, have you ever thought of linking to your footnotes and back up to your main content so that we could read them at the proper time and context without scrolling? I’ve seen it done elsewhere online.

    • MacSmiley,

      I would love to do something like that but I don’t know how. I may need to purchase a WordPress upgrade to have that function. WordPress really limits what can be done on a free blog. I don’t really know, though. I never investigated it. Perhaps I will do that now.

      • I’m pretty sure it can be done with simple HTML. I’ve seen it done at the home coded John Gruber’s site DaringFireball.net and Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment’s site Marco.org. They put a cute little return symbol on their footnotes. I’m sure there’s a HTML DIY site that will show you the code. Or just shoot a tweet to @gruber or @marcoarment. They’re pretty nice guys.

  10. Any chance Taubes himself was borrowing from a still-earlier writer? I’m just wondering, not having studied his work myself. I did read the Wikipedia article on Taubes and it has some interesting links.

    It appears that Taubes’ first gained notoriety on this fats vs. carbs topic with a 2002 NYT article (not his 2007 book). http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html. In this article, ironically (relative to your blog), he says this: “What’s more, the number of misconceptions propagated about the most basic research can be staggering. Researchers will be suitably scientific describing the limitations of their own experiments, and then will cite something as gospel truth because they read it in a magazine.”

    The NYT article goes on to mention Ancel Keys but not the data or quote that you referenced from his book. Regarding avoidance of carbs, he said, “This is what my mother taught me 40 years ago, backed up by the vague observation that Italians tended toward corpulence because they ate so much pasta. This observation was actually documented by Ancel Keys, a University of Minnesota physician who noted that fats ”have good staying power,” by which he meant they are slow to be digested and so lead to satiation, and that Italians were among the heaviest populations he had studied. According to Keys, the Neapolitans, for instance, ate only a little lean meat once or twice a week, but ate bread and pasta every day for lunch and dinner. ”There was no evidence of nutritional deficiency,” he wrote, ”but the working-class women were fat.” ”

    A couple paragraphs later he says, “It was Ancel Keys, paradoxically, who introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50’s with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. Over the next two decades, however, the scientific evidence supporting this theory remained stubbornly ambiguous.”

    I realize the NYT article didn’t have the space for details and analysis as the book, but find it interesting that he doesn’t mention Keys’ alleged data cherry-picking. Wouldn’t he do so if he were aware of it? I’m wondering if he figured this out on his own later, or if he read it elsewhere, or if he simply omitted it for lack of space.

    • It’s quite possible that Taubes took the misinterpretation from someone else. When researching this post I searched variations of the passage using Google Books, Google Scholar, and plain ol’ Google. I found nothing that was published prior to Good Calories, Bad Calories. I hope I didn’t miss something, but it’s entirely possible that I did.

      As for the NYT article, here’s my theory based on nothing but pure speculation. Taubes wanted to be one of the great science writers, but he was writing about stuff like cold fusion that no one was interested in. He decided to switch to the well of food and diet that people had been fishing for years, and no one seemed to tire of it. He also knew that controversy generated interest. Controversy sells. Accurate or not, it doesn’t really matter; money will be made. So he decided to write a column in the NYT about how everything we know about nutrition is wrong: animal fat is good, cholesterol doesn’t matter, and all the modern nutrition evidence that says otherwise is deeply flawed. He researched it just enough to make a decent argument in only a few thousand words.

      His plan worked like a charm. It generated a lot of press. Some people were very intrigued by it; others were angered by it, but everyone was talking about it. Then Random House offered Taubes a very handsome book deal. Reportedly it was a $700,000 advance to write a book based on his article.* So for the next few years he had to do some more substantial research to expand his argument into a full-length book. GCBC became a best-seller and Taubes has written almost exclusively on the topic ever since.

      *Originally I wrote “seven figure advance” but it was actually reported as a seven hundred thousand dollar advance, as was pointed out below.

      • You’ve gotten me interested in Ancel Keys. Did you know that K-rations are named after him? Did you know that he lived 100 years, dying in 2004 (2 years after Taube’s NYT article)? Sounds like he was an adventurer, and also extremely intelligent. Mining bat guano in a cave, then gold in the Sierras, as a young man, before taking a ship to China where he communicated by writing Chinese characters, a skill he learned enroute. Would love to have met the man! http://www.epi.umn.edu/cvdepi/bio-sketch/keys-ancel/

      • I think indeed this error preceded Taube. Here’s a possibility for an earlier source that Taube may have used. A proponent of the view that the lipid-heart hypothesis of CVD is false is Uffe Ravnskov. In 2000, he published a book called: “The cholesterol myths: exposing the fallacy that cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease.” Given Ravnskov’s prominence (he has written several things in this area and is often cited), it wouldn’t be surprising if Taube had read his work. A Finnish version was written before the English translation, and was set on fire on Finnish television in 1992 according to http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/The-Cholesterol-Myths.html. This is a review of the book written by Chris Masterjohn, and he repeats the same error about Keys theory falling apart when all 22 countries were included (you quoted it in your post). Ravnskov said this at least a couple years before Taube’s book was published. (I’ll quote Ravnskov in a minute so you can decide for yourself if Masterjohn accurately summarized his words).

        In a 2002 paper in J. Clinical Epidemiology 55 (2002) 1057-1063, http://www.ravnskov.nu/A%20hypothesis%20out%20of%20date.pdf, Ravnskov said, “No consistent associations were found in ecologic studies between the consumption of saturated fatty acids (SFA) or the total fat consumption, and coronary mortality in various countries. Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, Keys did find an almost perfect positive, curvilinear correlation between the total fat consumption and coronary mortality in six countries [3]. However, in an attempt to reconstruct Keys’ diagram, Yerushalmy and Hilleboe found the correlation trivial [4]. The reason was that Keys had excluded data from 16 countries that did not fit the hypothesis.” Thus, in this paper, Ravnskov doesn’t say that the theory falls apart or disappears completely. He says the correlation was found to be “trivial”. That would suggest to me that he is saying it is either not statistically significant or of such low slope that it doesn’t explain most of the variation in CVD. That is not accurate, as you point out. Ravnskov also seems to attribute intentional bias and selectivity to Keys, which seems unfair.

        I did find a link to the out-of-print Ravnskov book on his website, but it isn’t clear to me if it is the 2000 edition or the 2002 revised edition (Amazon shows 2 editions). In any case, in Section 4 it says this: “The definition of the ”prudent” diet has changed considerably with time. Initially, it was considered important to reduce dietary fat of all kinds. This advice was based on a review paper by Ancel Keys (49), the main designer of the so-called diet-heart idea. In his review Keys presented a perfect curvilinear correlation between the mortality from coronary heart disease and the consumption of fat in six countries, but his curve was based on a selection of countries that fit his hypothesis and it has not been confirmed in studies including many more countries (50).” http://www.ravnskov.nu/myth4.htm. Ref. 49-50 are the Keys 1953 and Yerushalmy and Hilleboe 1957 papers, respectively. Thus, in this quote Ravnskov seems to accuse Keys of intentional data selection to fit his hypothesis, and he says that Keys’ hypothesis “has not been confirmed” in the studies involving more countries.

        Thus, while the chain of errors may go back even before Ravnskov, I think it is clear that an important and controversial book on this subject, written by a doctor and medical researcher, was translated into English and published just a couple years before Taube’s book. I don’t know if Taube quotes him or not (I don’t have Taube’s book), but it wouldn’t be surprising if Taube got the inaccuracy from Ravnskov.

        All that said, as I dig deeper it appears that the link back to Ravnskov was already made on Plantpositive a couple years ago. http://plantpositive.squarespace.com/blog/2012/3/25/tpns-36-39-the-infamous-ancel-keys.html. I don’t have a dog in THAT fight, btw! Just mentioning it.

      • Well shoot, boy. That’s some good sleuthing. I figured Taubes may have taken the research from Atkins or Eades, but maybe it was Ravnskov. There are quite a bit of refs that Ravnskov cites that Taubes also discusses in GCBC. I recognize them because I have been fact-checking Taubes’s book in my spare time for the better part of two years.

      • I could be wrong but I seem to remember the amount was 700,000 dollars, not a seven-figure advance which would be least a million dollars. Perhaps a little fact checking is in order?

      • You’re probably right. I may have conflated seven figures and seven hundred thousand dollars somehow. It has been corrected.

  11. The key point about Keys falsifying data is that he carefully excluded any multiple factor analysis including cigarette and sugar consumption – once those two are included as possible factors in the cross-sectional study they dominate the covariance matrix and the supposed correlation with fat consumption does indeed vanish. Indeed even without these factors the actual correlation on all 22 countries is actually very low. Try inverting the x-y axes and re-running the correlation and you will be gob-smacked by what happens. This is always an excellent test – which most naive analysts fail to do – to see whether a relationship is ‘real’ or just spurious rubbish. A reviews of recent studies by the SBU strongly suggests rubbish.

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  19. I didn’t see any reference, among the comments, to what John Yudkin said about Ancel Keys back in 1972. Starting on page 5 of “Sweet and Dangerous” we read, “Many people have criticized what I have previously written; they say the experiments that we and others have carried out have used absurdly high amounts of sugar to produce the effects we describe. One such person is the American physiologist Dr. Ancel Keys, the most important and certainly the most dogmatic research worker expounding the view that coronary disease comes from dietary fat and that sugar has nothing whatever to do with it. He has written that ‘the levels of sugar in the experimental diets are of the order of three or more times that of any natural diet.’ this is quite untrue, as we shall see, but it comes about because very few people have bothered to find out how much sugar people do, in fact, consume.

    “You hear stories that the Turks take a very great deal of sugar, as you can see from the amounts they put into their coffee. But the Turks even now only take about one third of the amount consumed in Britain and the United States, and ten years ago the Turks took less than one quarter. Apart from questions like these, you can also go wrong when you look at official statistics without reading the small print. There have been regular annual reports of the British diet for the last thirty years, and the figures given for sugar amount to an average of about sixty pounds a year. But if you look carefully, you will see that the statistics do not include snacks of food eaten away from home, and the real average turns out to be nearly twice as much, 120 pounds of sugar a year. If now you take into account that this is an average, you will find that the quantities used in experiments in Man and in animals is by no means extraordinary or absurd.

    And what about Dr. Keys’ reference to the sugar content of “any natural diet’? What is a natural diet? Is it natural for Westerners today to eat twenty times as much sugar, or more, than our ancestors ate only three hundred years ago? Nowadays one so often hears the words ‘natural’ and ‘moderate’; one really must be on one’s guard not to be misled into believing that they have any real meaning; or, even worse, that they provide evidence that something to which these words are applied is intrinsically wholesome, good, and desirable.

    Page 192 I have already mentioned Dr. Ancel Keys and his pioneer work in relation to diet and heart disease. A year of so ago he wrote a memorandum, which he sent to a large number of scientists working in this field, and which, with very few changes, has now been published in a medical journal, ‘Atherosclerosis’. It consists entirely of a strong – I nearly said virulent criticism – of the work I have published from time to time on the theory that sugar is the main dietary factor involved in causing heart disease.

    the publication contains a number of quite incorrect and unjustified statements; for instance: that we had never tested our method for measuring sugar intake; that no one eats the amounts of sugar that we and others have used in our experiments; that it was absurd of me in 1957 to use international statistics of forty-one countries as evidence for the relationship between sugar and heart disease (exactly the same statistics that Dr. Keys had previously used for only six selected countries to show the relationship between fat and heart disease).

    He ends by triumphantly pointing out that both sugar and fat intakes are related to heart disease, but that the cause must be fat, not sugar, because he had just found in 1970 that fat intake and sugar intake are themselves closely linked. You will remember my own discussion of this link in Chapter 5, based on the fact that as far back as 1964 I had shown this relationship to exist between fat intake and sugar intake.

    • Thanks for this post. I wonder how Seth explains the outliers in graph 2? There is certainly an apparent ‘line of it’ that slopes up to the right, but a number of countries with high fat and (relatively) low event risk, and vice versa.
      These outliers at the very least suggest that other factors are at work that need to be explained.
      Seth, do you believe that Teicholz’s assertion that Keys’ data show his results depended on very little data from 65 subjects (some Corfu, some Crete) and during Lent, is incorrect?

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  21. i think you need to lend your skills and collaborate on the open source peer review process that hopefully supplants this BS process we currently have!

  22. Pingback: Ancel Keys ~ It’s Time to Appreciate a Real Researcher …
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  24. Pingback: Gary Taubes, halmdockor och flyttade målstolpar
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  26. I have great respect for Gary Taubes. He deserves enormous credit for challenging the nonsense that the calorie people spew. Energy, as all physicists know, isconly an abstraction, nothing more. Energy, itself, is not A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G AT ALL. The original guy to blow the whistle on Ancel Keys and his work was Dr. Uffe Ravnskov back in the summer of 2000 , I believe. This is the history.

  27. Pingback: Kohti yhteisymmärrystä terveysasioissa | Turpaduunari
  28. Pingback: Diet-Heart And New Markers For Atherosclerosis
  29. Pingback: Joel Kahn, M.D.: Diet-Heart And New Markers For Atherosclerosis - Before And After Weight Loss
  30. Pingback: Diet-Heart And New Markers For Atherosclerosis - Dr. Joel Kahn
  31. The big picture with all this Dr Keys noise is essentially that he pushed the idea: FAT = HEART ATTACK = DEATH.
    Health care “professionals” ran with it, and we ended up with a grossly-obese-from-carbohydrates nation (peek at those statistics sometime.) Now the pendulum swings and my cardiologist barks at me, “eat meat!
    The most rational thing I’ve read this week was a bumper sticker that said, “If you want to gain weight, go on a diet!”
    Keys probably does not deserve the amount of intentionally destructive criticism he is receiving, any more than Donald Trump does; however, it seems they may have both oversold their pet theories, in fields of endeavor they should not be in. Keys was not a qualified medical researcher and Trump is not…well, you know where I’m going with this.

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