Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Anti-meat experts ask external bodies to suppress rival research.
Much scientific research is now conducted by tribes. Some tribes think certain foods are good for us. Eggs, fat, coffee, dairy, whatever. Other tribes insist their own research shows the opposite.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published a shocking account of how the ‘eat red meat sparingly’ tribe tried to make research by a rival tribe disappear.
Last fall, a collection of systematic reviews were published by a prominent journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine (see here, here, here, here, and here). Online publication happened on October 1st, prior to the material appearing in the printed journal in mid-November.
After carefully reviewing scientific evidence concerning meat consumption, the PhDs and medical doctors involved formulated a clinical guideline, aka a nutritional recommendation, which was published at the same time. This was intended to help practicing doctors provide appropriate advice to their patients.
The short version is that most of these researchers (11 votes to 3), believe no reliable evidence justifies telling adults to eat less red meat and less processed meat. As this commentary explains, nutritional research is typically “shaky.” Studies that identify a link between meat consumption and a particular disease usually show tiny increases in risk.
The Annals had taken into account the feedback of peer reviewers both pro and con, and had made its call. To quote editor-in-chief Christine Laine, “the public should know we don’t have great information on diet.”
The JAMA article tells us that, as the Annals was preparing to publish this material online, the anti-meat tribe began mobilizing. An estimated 2,000 vitriolic e-mails flooded into Laine’s inbox during a half-hour period.
Members of an organization called the True Health Initiative contacted her at least twice. They complained about the wording of a press release the journal was circulating about the upcoming research. They also urged her to “preemptively retract publication of these papers” for “the sake of public understanding and public health” (read their letter here).
How did these people react when their outrageous attempts to suppress scientific results failed? Did they start behaving like grownups? Hardly. Instead, they complained to an agency of the US government, the Federal Trade Commission. You can read about that here in their own words.
The anti-meat tribe thinks a government body tasked with ensuring marketplace competition and fair business practices should be second-guessing medical journals. Arguing that the journal’s press release amounted to misleading advertising, their petition asked the Trade Commission to:
permanently prohibit [the Annals of Internal Medicine] from disseminating, or causing the dissemination of the advertisement at issue and require [the journal] to issue a public retraction and corrective statement regarding the advertisement. [bold added]
When that went nowhere, did these people finally start behaving in a civilized manner? I’m afraid not. Their next stop was the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. You know, the prosecutors and detectives tasked with keeping citizens safe from criminals. (The Annals offices are in Philadelphia.)
In their own press release, the anti-meat tribe said the Annals should be investigated for “potential reckless endangerment.” The journal, they insisted, had distributed “dangerous and misleading information.”
The entity that turned first to the Trade Commission and then to the criminal justice system calls itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. It’s unofficial motto is: if you can’t persuade people to do what you want, find a third party who’ll compel them to do so. Just kidding. It actually sees itself as leading a “revolution” – based on the idea that plant-based diets “can prevent and even reverse diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.”
This is a lobby group, an activist organization. According to its own website, only 12,000 of its 175,000 members (7%) are actually physicians.
Welcome to the polarized world of medical publishing. This is how the scientific community now behaves.
To be continued… Part 2: Here’s Who Pressured the Medical Journal