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The China Study. Again…

Written by Wellness Club on February 23, 2013 – 9:55 am -

By Nurse Mark


There are some arguments that will never end.


Republican versus Democrat. Ford versus Chevy. Pepsi versus Coke. Red Sox versus Yankees. These ongoing debates tend to assume a stridency and fervor that one might expect from a religious debate like Judaism versus Islam.

Indeed, adherents to either side of one of these arguments can become so emotionally invested in their “righteousness” that they can be moved to verbal and even physical violence. Even something as silly as the Ford versus Chevy debate has led to bloodshed, and we know only too well where religious differences have led mankind over the course of our history!

So it is no surprise that there are deeply entrenched adherents who support and defend dietary arguments with the same fervor and intensity and emotion as arguments about religion or politics. Or Fords versus Chevys.

There are vigilant souls ever ready to leap vociferously to the defense of their chosen dietary regime. Many are respectful, polite, and well-meaning, while others quickly degenerate in their defensive arguments to name-calling, insulting, and even threats.

We get plenty of “helpful” emails from those who disagree with our writings, seeking to tell us how wrong we are and why, telling us we must read their favorite book, watch a video, or talk with their messiah who will surely convert us to the “right” way of thinking. The respectful, polite, and well-meaning ones we will usually do the courtesy of reading, sometimes even replying to. The name-calling, insulting, and threatening ones respond nicely to the “delete” key.

One thing that Dr. Myatt and I have found is that most of the people who contact us in hopes of converting us to their point of view could, as one research scientist and friend of ours put it, “be tied to a tree and have irrefutable scientific evidence paraded before them and yet remain unmoved in their opinion!” These people usually respond to contrary evidence with “yes, but…” and often go on to relate testimonial “proof” of the correctness of their position. Sometimes they’ll just insult us by telling us that we only think the way we do “because you are prejudiced” or that we are simply ignorant of the “true facts.”

By the way, the modern, politically correct way to call someone ignorant nowadays is to tell them that they are “low information” – as in “low information voters.”

We know that we will never, ever be able to pry such people free of their beliefs, and to be honest, we are not really trying to. We will simply point out why we adhere to our beliefs, and we feel that if we are going to express those beliefs publicly we should offer scientific proof for them. That is why when you look at product pages on our website you will not see glowing customer testimonials about products. A testimonial is an opinion, not proof.

Even “scientific studies” often do not constitute “proof.” Scientific studied must be approached with caution: the first question to ask is “was this an observational or interventional study”? Did someone just gather up a bunch of statistics, massage the numbers, and reach the conclusion that supported their theory or hypothesis? Was the study done on humans, lab rats, or in a test tube? Who funded the study, and why? Who profits from the results of the study?

On Vegetarians, Vegans, Animal Rights Activists, and The China Study…

Regular readers know that Dr. Myatt recommends a low or very-low carbohydrate diet. This is based on personal experience, decades of clinical experience, and scientific research and study all of which have provided us with reason to believe that a low to very low carbohydrate diet is probably optimal for health in most humans.

Note that I said “reason to believe” and not “proof.” Neither personal experience nor clinical experience constitute “proof” – they are testimonial evidence that provide support. Only a preponderance of evidence, scientifically obtained and peer-reviewed, supply “proof” and even that can be open to change in some cases.

“Figures Lie, and Liars Figure”

I can hear my grandfather’s voice when I write those words, and they are as true now as they were then. Given a little time, creative semantics, and statistical manipulation, one can make statistical research “prove” almost any hypothesis. Just ask the drug companies – they are experts!

Indeed, there are people who fervently believe that the earth is flat and who will provide all manner of mathematical and geometric “proof” to that effect. Are they right? Maybe, but personally I doubt it.

Others will trot out “research” to support their contentions.

Sometimes this research is little more than finding and quoting the same lab-rat study that they found quoted in several dozen, or hundred, or thousand locations on the internet with a Google search.

There are “observational” studies: The researchers observe something, for example lifestyle habits of a certain population, and make conclusions from that. “The people of Outer Elbownia are more active than the people of America. Active people live longer lives” The problem here is that there are a whole lot of other differences between the two populations – perhaps the Outer Elbownians don’t have cars and that’s why they are more active. That would also mean fewer of them are killed in auto accidents. Or perhaps they are less affluent and drink less soda pop and junk food. “We observed that every morning the rooster crows and then the sun comes up – so we conclude that the crowing of the rooster makes the sun rise in the morning” is another example of an “observational study.”

Some will refer to a study done without adequate controls or on a very small population. This is the “12 patients were fed XYZ for a week and all lost weight” kind of study. It’s interesting, but far from proof of anything.

Then there are the “retrospective” studies: “10,000 middle aged women were asked to describe what vitamins they took over the last twenty years.” Can you see where there might be a problem with a study like this?

Then there are controlled, “interventional” studies: “500 men, aged 45 to 55 years, were fed XYZ supplement while eating a controlled diet and living and working and exercising in a controlled way for X months, and XX percent of those men demonstrated a change of X amount as measured by XYZ objective technique.” Whew! – Now we’re getting somewhere. There is enough information there to be able to assess the results. But is is still not “proof.”

For something closer to “”proof” we would take two groups of 500 men and have them do everything the same except that one group would get the XYZ supplement and the other would get a placebo, but no one would know which they were getting. That is called a “placebo-controlled study” and comes closer

To get even closer, you would then switch the two groups around. And assign supplement/placebo randomly within the groups, and ensure that those tabulating the results did not know and could not skew the results, and on and on. There is an entire science devoted to the science of performing research of this kind.

The very closest we get to “proof” of something however is when different, unrelated researchers perform separate studies using the same basic parameters as other studies – that is, similar study populations, similar circumstances such as diet, exercise, and environment, and similar drug, diet, treatment, or supplement studied. If a bunch of similarly conducted studies by unrelated researchers all reach similar conclusions, then we have something approaching proof.

Massaging statistics does not make proof.

Murders and sales of ice cream are both more common in the summer months. Does this mean that ice cream causes murders? Correlation does not equal causation. It is the basis for forming a hypothesis, not a conclusion.

Finally, there is something called “Observational Bias.” This is where someone already has a belief or opinion and will tend to look less critically at a studies or research that agrees with their belief. As in: “I believe that big, heavy automobiles are safer – and this study commissioned by the Big, Heavy Car Association agrees with me, so it must be true.”

So We Come To The China Study

We have written about this before – this has been a popular book for those who wish to believe that their vegetarian or vegan dietary habits are superior to those of omnivors or meat-eaters and feel that it provides plenty of “ammunition” for their arguments to impose their dietary beliefs on others.

One of Dr. Myatt’s readers wrote recently:

My husband is really fighting me about eating meat. He keeps referring to The China Study and how bad meat protein is – organic or not. I do feel bad about cooking meat at home because it does smell good and will influence him to want to eat it also, which goes against his belief system now. What advice do you have or information that can help my case?

And Dr. Myatt replied:

The China Study has more holes in it than a kitchen colander. I can’t enumerate all the problems — it would take a book. But here are two of the most important points.

1.) This was an “observational study,” which never proves anything. “The rooster crows and then the sun comes up — therefor the rooster crowing is what caused sunrise…”

Observational studies can give us ideas to test in interventional studies. Since we observed the rooster crowing / sunrise phenomenon, we silence the rooster and see if the sun comes up without his help. It still does. Our original observation that the rooster crowed and then the sun rose was correct, but our extrapolation that the crowing rooster caused sunrise was wrong. And so it is with many of the observations in The China Study.

2.) Data presented in the book often do not support the conclusions. For example, data presented in the book do not show statistically significant correlations between animal protein consumption and diseases such as cancer. Just the opposite. It appears that sugar and carbohydrates are highly correlated with cancer.

The data show that fat is negatively correlated (meaning “protective against”) cancer. That contradicts the claim that meat is harmful, since meat is a primary source of fat.

The long list of what is wrong with The China Study has been covered well by Dr. Michael Eades on his blog.

If you are interested in learning more about this travesty of good science, Read More Here.

I don’t know what else to tell you regarding your husband not wanting you to eat meat. His opinion on this, in MY opinion, ill-informed. And if he’s truly “against” eating meat, then the smell of your steak shouldn’t be a temptation for him. It should smell bad to him since he believes it is bad.

If you lose weight, lower cholesterol and / or blood sugar levels, have better skin tone or anything else good, then you’ll see that clean meat is a health food, not the villain that some people mistakenly believe.

Then more recently, in response to my article Fake Eggs And Other Food Fads Aaron wrote to take me to task for being obviously unfamiliar with the information contained in The China Study and in Dr. McDougall’s website:

You could not be more wrong.
Read Campbell and Campbell’s section on Affluent Diseases in The China Study or talk to Dr. John McDougall in Santa Rosa, CA via his web site.

Well Aaron, I am rather familiar with the content of both those things. I have some serious problems with The China Study, especially with the way conclusions were drawn in the Affluent Diseases chapter, and I am very clear about Dr. McDougall’s crusade to end the consumption of animal-based foods.

I respect Aaron’s beliefs though, and and those of his hero Dr. Mcdougall. I would never try to persuade them that they should eat animal protein. That would only offend them and frustrate me

Granddad had a saying about that too: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

I won’t spend any more time here rebutting The China Study – I have done so before, Dr. Myatt has given her thoughts on it, and there are others who have addressed the shortcomings of the book in far more detail and precision that I have time or patience for. In addition to reviewing the writing of Dr. Michael Eades on the failings of The China Study, there is an extremely well-written and heavily referenced formal rebuttal by Denise Minger that can be found here.

Oh, by the way… The China that Colin Campbell’s “The China Studypraises so highly for it’s “healthy” avoidance of animal protein in the diet? That the book fans point to as evidence of the righteousness of a plant-based vegetarian diet?

Did you know that China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork? That the average Chinese eats about half a grown hog each year? Or that China ranks 3rd in the world for beef consumption?

Really… Who knew!

Do I hear a “Yes, but…”

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