I have heard it said many times that scientists are honorable people, working with actual data which is incontrovertible, and can be reproduced. This is what proves a hypothesis to be (dare I say this?) real fact and not simply a theory!
The sun rises in the Eastern sky each morning and sets in the Western sky each night. It is a reproducible (visual) fact; therefore it is not a hypothesis. You and I, so long as we have eye sight can see this daily event for ourselves.
Some things require a more detailed set of figures and analysis to present a theory, and turn that into reproducible fact – making them incontrovertible.
So what do you do when you discover that an American scientist who studied the influence of diet on health, particularly the way certain fats affected the human body – lied. Not only did he Cherry Pick his data, that data was used as the basis for all the modern day anti cholesterol – saturated fat is bad for you nonsense that is plaguing humankind.
Uffe Ravnskov has written: (It was published in Nutr Health 2010, part 2, p 109-119)
There is little evidence from epidemiological studies that high intakes of saturated fat leads to cardiovascular disease. Ancel Keys introduced the idea that dietary fat plays a pathogenic role in heart disease. His main argument was a strong, curvilinear correlation between heart mortality and the total amount of fat available for consumption in six countries . However, Keys had selected his data. At that time figures for fat consumption and heart mortality were obtainable from 22 countries and if all of them were included the association became trivial , and an analysis based on the totality of more recent data that included 35 countries found an inverse association .
So Keys originally studied data from 22 different countries, and because he was working towards a theory that saturated fat and cholesterol could be the cause of coronary heart disease, it seems he cherry picked his data to prove his hypothesis. Naughty Boy!!
I still see dieticians in the press media and television warning against the dangers of saturated fat. You have to wonder how long it’s going to take until this myth finally dies completely.
The most notorious example of research gone wrong in the field of nutrition has to be that of Ancel Keys and his “Seven Countries” studies. I’ve mentioned Keys’ groundbreaking work on starvation in the past: “The Minnesota Starvation Experiment”, which resulted in the two-volume Biology of Human Starvation. Perhaps it was those impressive credentials that bought him so much trust and good will in the scientific community. As history would come to prove, even a brilliant mind like Keys’s is susceptible to bias and error.
The birth of the fat fallacy goes back to the 1960’s, when Keys started promoting a low fat diet to lower cholesterol levels. At that time he was in the process of finishing up the first study on cholesterol and heart disease. At this point he had convinced himself that there was a connection between fat intake, cholesterol and heart disease. He changed his stance slightly in the early 1970s , when he discovered that death in heart disease was best predicted by the intake of saturated fat specifically.
Keys needed stronger evidence for his hypothesis. Since he had already seen the connection in the “Seven Countries” study, it made sense to him that he would continue his work on the study over a longer time period. His findings were published in the 1980s and it was concluded that there was a connection between deaths from heart disease and serum cholesterol. Populations with a high saturated fat intake (U.S, Finland) had more deaths from heart disease, while populations with a low saturated fat intake (Greece, Italy) had fewer.
The fear of saturated fat had gradually been building up and reached its peak after the results of that study was made public. It was further compounded by studies showing a positive link between dietary fat, obesity and cancers in the early 1990s. By this time there seems to have been a mind shift in the public perception of fat – all fat was basically considered bad.
The mistake: Ancel Keys cherry picked his data to support a pre-existing notion he had about a connection between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease. Instead of choosing to continue his work in the seven countries from his original study, he should have selected other populations. When more and different data is added into the mix, the connection disappears. Keys seems to have been blinded by his own bias and wanted to validate, not investigate.
The consequences: Keys’s findings resulted in the crusade against dietary fat in the 1980s and ’90s. The message to the public was that dietary fat should be minimized and replaced with grains, and saturated fat replaced by unsaturated fat. Everyone started doing low fat, high-carb diets. On a related note, Keys’s study also gave birth to the Mediterranean diet and the notion that people should adopt a diet rich in monounsaturated fat.
The truth: Many of the old theories about dietary fat and disease have now been contradicted by more rigorous studies that dispute the results, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago the tide started to turn. It is now quite clearly established that there is no clear connection between fat intake, weight gain and many of the aforementioned disease states. Unfortunately Average Joes and Janes, especially those 40 years and older that don’t spend their time debating nutrition on Internet forums, still think fat is “unhealthy”. At least those I converse with.
Note: There are many nuances to Keys’s story and I’ve only given a brief summary of the events which lead to the fear of cholesterol and fat. One book that covers the topic in great detail is Anthony Colpo’s “The Great Cholesterol Con”. It’s an impressive piece of work and an excellent read.
I watch carefully today, the Government paid Scientific Lackeys, who would be out of a job, with no future in their specific industry, if they were to present a theory, different from what their employers require. If you do not produce what your employer wants you are out of a job. Could this have been the situation Keys found himself in? Or was it a case that the Government of the day, chose to run with Key’s hypothesis and politicize it. There has been and continues to be mega amounts of money being made off this scam. The Follow The Dollar motto applies in earnest when it comes down to the FDA and Pharmaceutical Companies.
How simple it would be for the FDA or another suitable organisation to come out and say ‘we got it wrong, sorry.’ That is NOT going to happen while they can scare and scam people into believing they have your best interests at heart (pun intended).