Gary Taubes Eviscerates Seth Yoder

That’s right, folks. I’ve been disemboweled.

Introduction

This is a very strange post for me to write. It’s basically a rejoinder to a rejoinder to a rejoinder. So apparently some economist named Miles Kimball wrote a post that I might have convinced him that his love of Gary Taubes’s work was misplaced. Taubes caught wind of this and wrote him to basically tell him what a hack I was and how I don’t know anything, and I just have a grudge against him. Anyway, Kimball asks Taubes to respond to a few points that he (Kimball) found compelling, eventually turning it into another blog post, which he ends up titling a “Smackdown of Seth Yoder” and a “vindication” of Taubes.

He claims to have never read my review of TCAS yet quotes parts from it that Kimball doesn’t bring up.  He says my fact-checking abilities are “third-rate, at best” yet also admits in an email correspondence things like

  • “the sentence I wrote is indeed wrong, as you point out”
  • what I pointed out was “embarrassing”
  • he had no idea where some of his quotes came from

He also says in the email that he is grateful for my fact-checking and that it would be a great help to him, while also simultaneously claiming that I am wasting my time. This is a guy who tries to have it both ways in the most promiscuous manner.

He also characterizes an email exchange we had in the following ways:

  • I found Seth’s fact-checking to be third-rate at best. I could share that e-mail exchange with you, if you’d like. It ends with him asking me if we might want to hire him at NuSI and me suggesting that my former colleague Peter Attia has very little tolerance for sloppiness (mine included) and so I very much doubt he would get a job.
  • As I said my earlier experience with Yoder was so discouraging that I lost interest in anything he wrote.
  • It wasn’t just that his goal (as he admitted to me) was to dismiss the message of my books by nit-picking them as close to death as he could get them, but that he did a lousy job of nit-picking.

That last point is a real whopper. I’ll let you read the correspondence and see if you can find where I admitted my goal was to dismiss GCBC by nit-picking it to death. Moreover, I think you’ll find the entire characterization of our exchange quite different than the one Taubes portrays. Although I can’t say I’m surprised since the one thing you can count on Taubes to do is wildly misrepresent his source material. He also brags, unprompted, about how much money he made off of GCBC. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Not the Introduction

Let’s go…

I think the problem with blogging is that it doesn’t have the requirement that journalism does that the writer/reporter go to the source to ask for comments. […] I do wish folks like you would reach out, just like a reporter would have to, and assure you’re getting the story right. I realize this isn’t what bloggers do. I’m just wishing here that it was.

Except that is literally what I did. He gave his thoughts on my critique and I included them verbatim.

see taubes 2

see taubes 4

Lest you think this is a recent thing I just did to save face, check the wayback machine. Taubes’s responses have always been there.

Additionally, from these comments he seems to hate bloggers, but he loves to promote bloggers like Ivor Cummings (aka The Fat Emperor) who doesn’t appear to have any formal biology, medical, or nutritional training but blogs about diet anyway. And in this video he seems astonished by how great and amazing bloggers are. If you don’t wanna click the link relevant part is at 2:45 where he says there are “some bloggers out there when I read them I think ‘My god, these people are smart. I can’t compete with this!’”

 

* * *

I still don’t think it’s worth responding publicly to these folks (Yoder, after all, is just a young man with a grudge and too much time on his hands) […]

Except this is exactly what he’s doing here: responding publicly to folks like me. And he claims I have a grudge against him with zero evidence. Taubes didn’t steal my wife or anything. I don’t even know him personally, other than some email correspondence. He probably wishes there were some kind of grudge so he could use that for ad hominem attacks and to convince others to dismiss my claims. Well, he’s doing that anyway, so I guess facts don’t really matter.

I also wish I had as much time on my hands as he seems to think I do. I have written barely anything in the past few years. But, sure, go ahead and throw too much time on my hands in there as well. (It’s a great Styx song, though, I don’t care what anyone says.)

As I said my earlier experience with Yoder was so discouraging that I lost interest in anything he wrote. … It wasn’t just that his goal (as he admitted to me) was to dismiss the message of my books by nit-picking them as close to death as he could get them, but that he did a lousy job of nit-picking.

[…]

My point was a simple one: when someone like Seth goes after my reporting, they have to get their facts straight. Credibility is everything in this business, which is why Seth was trying so hard to undermine mine. My reason for not taking him seriously is he couldn’t get his facts straight and his take on science is, well, let us just say ill-formed.

Of course, even in my lousy, third-rate nitpicking he admitted to basically making numbers up that just so happened to support his narrative when the real numbers did not. Other errors he blamed on the student researchers he hired or where something got lost in the edit process or he claimed “journalistic license” when he reported significantly different results as no difference at all. It’s kinda weird when you look at all of the innocent errors he makes that all conveniently support his positions. He never makes a mistake that would contradict his narrative. As Taubes states later in the post “If they can get simple things so very wrong, what’s the likelihood they get the complex things right?” Indeed, Taubes. Indeed.

* * *

Taubes asks for some points that Kimball, the blog author, found compelling so he could refute them. Kimball gives him some points, then Taubes spends 1,884 words talking about points that Kimball never brings up and from a critique which Taubes claims also never to have read.

* * *

Although Taubes derides me throughout the post calling me ignorant and the like, he seems to agree with most of my points. He says things like:

  • I suppose Seth has an argument
  • Seth is absolutely right that Bauer said the diet should be restricted in calories
  • Seth has got me on this one
  • Seth has me on the Europe vs. Germany issue.
  • Seth may be right that I jumped to conclusions.
  • Seth is right

But he defends his misrepresentation by claiming that he has some sort of sixth sense and intuitively knew what the authors were thinking, even if they didn’t write it:

  • It would have been nice if Bauer was pushing carb restriction, and I suppose I could have put in a footnote to the effect that even though he didn’t think “overalimentation” was the cause, he still pushed underalimentation as a treatment.
  • So, yes, the “high-fat” was me filling in the details […] Typically when nutritionists were talking about Kenyan populations it was the Masai or another pastoralist population
  • [T]he fact that Rony discussed the evidence that was absent in confirming the theory does not mean he didn’t think the totality of the evidence supported it.
  • [M]aybe [Wilder] felt, as people often do, that he had to say it was all about calories just so folks wouldn’t get mad at him and stop reading
  • Yes, Wilder also was a prisoner of his context.

I especially like the prisoner bit, as if Wilder really wanted to say that carbohydrates cause diabetes, but society wasn’t ready to hear it, so he had to stay in the low-carb closet.

* * *

Many times Taubes will simply say, something like “you decide” or it’s a “judgement call.” One such example is when Taubes claims in TCAS that authors of a cross-sectional study on diabetes consider sugar consumption to be the prime suspect in the rising incidence of the disease. I pointed out that the authors don’t at all consider sugar to be the prime suspect, but Taubes’s response to me is to basically shrug his shoulders and say it’s a judgement call. It’s not, though. Taubes made claims in his text without the supporting evidence. This is not like that stupid dress color thing.  Did the authors consider sugar to be the “prime suspect” in diabetes prevalence? The answer is no.

* * *

Taubes’s strongest language for me was in the fourth section where he describes me as “bizarrely wrong” and showing my ignorance. I’d like to talk about these points in more granular detail, but I feel like it would be very difficult to follow, because this whole thing is basically me quoting Taubes who is quoting Miles who is quoting me who is quoting Taubes who is quoting some author from a century ago. It’s easy to get lost.

What I will say about this is that Taubes states in TCAS that a particular author (Bauer) stated that “obesity was clearly the end result of [endocrine] dysregulation.” Then I wrote that it was a bit more complicated than that and supplied two quotes. I’m not sure how providing actual statements of what the author wrote is ignorant and bizarrely wrong, but that’s Taubes for you.

miles 4

Maybe this pic will help?

I could write several paragraphs on how what Bauer writes about in these articles is not at all representative of what Taubes is talking about, because the source material discusses endocrine disorders arising from things like castration that lead to weight gain (or at least abnormal weight distribution), but I prefer not to think about men that have had their genitals removed as children who then go on to develop breasts.

* * *

Again and again Taubes is caught literally making stuff up and misrepresenting the source material to fit his narrative purposes, but when called on it he writes some mealy-mouthed defense of it that is more or less incoherent.

Click here for the original point and here for Taubes’s response to see what I’m about to talk about, but in this case Taubes claims that a researcher named Trowell went to Kenya where the locals ate high fat diets, were very thin, and had no shortage of food. Taubes even states that nobody knew how to get these Kenyans to gain weight. But if you go to the original text, there is no mention of high fat diets. Taubes just made it up because it helps his story. Additionally, Trowell makes it clear that the Kenyans are thin because they barely eat anything, but Taubes carefully leaves that out because he wants you to think they were eating a bunch of fatty foods yet remained thin while people like Trowell stand by perplexed at this strange phenomenon that defies the conventional wisdom. Taubes’s fake narrative fits perfectly into his story and the real evidence hurts it.

But nevertheless, Taubes somehow claims that my comments are “irrelevant.” They seem pretty relevant to me (and at one time relevant to Kimball). I’m not sure how any rational person could describe my comments as irrelevant, unless of course you’re trying to sell books and pointing out bad writing and bad scholarship might hurt those sales. In that case you’re motivated to attempt to discredit them no matter how relevant.

* * *

Conclusion

I’m not really sure how to wrap this up. I’ve noticed that Tubes has a tendency to write a lot of words without really saying anything at all. I’m not sure if this is because he is a bad writer or if it is an obfuscation technique that he’s developed over time. The above point about Trowell I think illustrates this well, along with most of his replies to me in the post or in the email correspondence and even his own blog posts.

I would challenge the reader to read what Taubes writes very carefully and ask yourself some questions like: Is Taubes addressing the main point? Is what Taubes writing clear and concise? Is Taubes citing quality evidence or is he speaking in hypotheticals or thought experiments? Is Taubes accurately representing his source material?

Much of the time he falls short in these areas, and the problem is that most of his readers don’t have either the knowledge base to understand that they’ve been given the run-around. Or if they are knowledgeable, it’s unlikely they will spend the time and effort to check his cited texts from a century ago. But if you are willing and able to believe his nonsense, no one will stop you.