More bad science on the horizon

Okay, finally getting to this. It may be old news, but whatever. This is a paleo blog. Old is the new new.

You may have heard, read or seen about a study saying that red meat causes cancer, heart attacks, and who knows what all else. Basically, the news reports were saying that red meat, even unprocessed red meat, causes death. The study itself was more measured, saying that consumption of red meat is linked to increased chance of death. Here’s the study itself: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality

Now, because the paleo/low-carb community is all about the science, the big names really jumped on this immediately. Most of them recognized (and noted) that there’s a study claiming to show that red meat kills us about every 6 months, and it’s almost always the same study. Or at least it’s so similar as to be indistinguishable. So at first, I know they were hesitant to jump on it, because writing the same response to the same study over and over has to be exhausting. But they did it, because they’re troopers. I’m just going to link to all their posts, because they all do a much better, more thorough job than I can of explaining and debunking this stuff. My brief commentary will follow.

Is Red Meat Healthy? – Robb Wolf

Will Eating Red Meat Kill You? – Denise Minger

Red Meat & Mortality & The Usual Bad Science – Zoe Harcombe

Science, Pseudoscience, Nutritional Epidemiology, and Meat – Gary Taubes

Always be Skeptical of Nutrition Headlines – J. Stanton

Of all of them, I have to say I like Stanton’s the best. He absolutely eviscerates this study, and even the research it is based on. It’s not just saying “Observational studies can’t prove causality” (which is true and totally legit) he’s actually saying that this particular study was designed and executed so poorly that the information in it isn’t even valid to generate hypotheses (which observational studies would normally be good at). It’s very well done.

Those articles are kinda long, but if you like to see smart people lay the smack down on bad science (or if you want to have the information at your fingertips to debunk your Aunt Betty’s claim that your steak is killing you) they are great reads.

Honestly, there’s just nothing that I can say that isn’t already explained in those articles, or in Tom Naughton’s “Science For Smart People” which is still one of the best intros to understanding health science that I’ve found. He even talks about the Nurses’ Health Study and some previous studies linking red meat to cancer. The biggest thing to remember with all of these is the confounding variable of “Health Conscious people” that is impossible to completely adjust for. Also, the methodology of “Food Frequency Questionnaires” collected every four years (as explained in Stanton’s post) is absurd, and I think it may make the Nurses’ Health Study invalid regarding nutritional information of any sort. If you want to use data to drive hypotheses, you need to have good observations and they simply don’t have them.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I’ve seen a lot of paleo folks on FB and elsewhere responding to this by saying “Yeah, but that’s grainfed meat, you wouldn’t see that if it were grassfed”. This is not how we win the fight. This isn’t a good study about bad meat, it’s just a bad study and it doesn’t prove anything at all, regardless of what sort of meat people were eating. I don’t care if it’s grassy grass the grassfed grass those cows are eating, a study this badly designed would still be able to screw up the data. So don’t go that route, if you’re arguing with someone. This is just bad science, pure and simple.

Okay, that’s probably enough from me. Plenty of links, plenty of rambling. Thanks for reading!


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