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Straw man arguments against Proposition 37, and a trip to the grocery store reveals the extent of the GMO food issue

As election day draws nearer in the United States, the advertisements criticizing Proposition 37 (California's ballot initiative to require the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified ingredients, with some exceptions) are heating up.

We've already seen in the previous post about this ballot measure how many more dollars have been donated from opponents of GMO labeling compared to the dollars contributed by its supporters.  Back in August, when the previous post on the subject was published, the contribution tally was $25.1 million against, compared to $3.3 million for the labeling requirement (with big agricultural companies, genetically-modified seed companies, processed food companies, and chemical companies supplying most of the contributions against the requirement).  As of publication of this post on October 6, the donations reported on this website now stand at $32.5 million against versus $3.7 million for the labeling requirement.

With that kind of monetary superiority (almost ten-to-one), the opponents of the measure have been able to flood the airwaves and the internet with advertisements persuading people to reject the labeling requirement.

Here are a couple examples.  The first one notes that trial lawyers may have had a hand in crafting the ballot initiative:

I am not a trial lawyer, I don't know this trial lawyer, nor am I happy to discover that some people are allegedly salivating at the opportunity to make lots of money from "Prop 37 Labeling Lawsuits," whatever those are.  However, even if that allegation is true, that does not necessarily mean that there are not good and valid reasons to support Proposition 37 anyway.  I know plenty of people who might want to know whether the food they are feeding to their family contains genetically-modified ingredients for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the above trial lawyer and his nefarious lawsuits.  

Ads like the one above do not address the real and valid reasons that some citizens might desire greater clarity regarding the ingredients of the bread they send to school in their children's lunch, for example.  They pull out a trial lawyer and kick him around a little bit, and act as though they have just defeated any reason that anyone would support Prop 37!  

That's called a "straw man" argument by some logisticians: instead of engaging the teeth of the opponent's argument, the purveyor of the "straw man" argument pulls out a weak or unappealing substitute argument and beats it up instead.  It's as if two kung fu fighters are squaring off to fight, and one of them doesn't want to really go up against the training and the moves that the other one has, and so that fearful opponent pulls out a scarecrow dressed up to look like his opponent, punches it around a little bit, and then throws his arms up in the air and declares himself the winner of the fight!

Also, since the opponents of Prop 37 allege that genetically-modified foods are perfectly safe, and that anyone who is concerned about eating them is just being silly, it's hard to imagine what they really have to fear from trial lawyers in the first place.  Nobody is really going to get sick eating GMO foods, according to the opponents of the labeling bill -- and if they do get sick after the labeling goes into effect, then trial lawyers won't have much to sue about, since those people were warned by the label.  It seems like trial lawyers would really be against labeling, if GMO foods are really dangerous, so that they could sue on behalf of clients who unkowningly ingested GMO ingredients.  

Here's another one, this time attacking the idea of labeling on the grounds that the bill draws the line on meat and does not require it to be labeled (the complete text of Proposition 37 can be found here, which explains what must and what must not be labeled):

Again, this ad does not address the teeth of the arguments for labeling.  It may have a valid point -- consumers may want to know if their steak contains GMO ingredients, but presumably the steak in the picture does not actually contain corn or soybeans (if it did, it would certainly have to at least tell the buyer that it contained such fillers).  

However, the point that the ad above is trying to make is based upon the fact that Proposition 37 specifically says that the requirement for a "contains GMO" label shall NOT be applied to "Food consisting entirely of, or derived entirely from, an animal that has not itself been genetically engineered, regardless of whether such animal has been fed or injected with any genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced through means of genetic engineering."  Presumably, the man in the ad is holding up a steak from an animal that is not itself genetically-engineered, but that did receive drugs or food that could have contained genetically-engineered traits.

But, just because some people would like such meat to carry a label stating those facts is not a valid reason to reject the labeling of the huge array of other foods which actually do contain corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and other ingredients that were genetically engineered.  Attacking the "lines" that the proposed labeling requirement draws (around what needs a label and what does not -- a necessary reality of any such legislation) does not do anything to address the real and valid concerns of those who might not want to consume genetically-modified food or give such food to their children (or even their dogs, which the man in the above ad seems to think is a silly concern).

The reasons why voters in California might want foods containing actual GMO ingredients to identify those genetically-modified ingredients is very simple: some consumers might wish to avoid purchasing foods with such ingredients.

Some consumers might have some questions regarding the safety of such ingredients, while others might wish to abstain from such foods as a matter of conscience, religion, or any other reason.  Arguing that the safety issue has been completely and utterly settled and that genetically-modified foods pose no safety risk whatsoever (as opponents of Prop 37 have also argued, which at least is not a "straw man" argument but attempts to address the primary arguments of those who want labeling laws) is really beside the point -- if some consumers believe that there might be a safety risk (in spite of what the experts say), they should have the ability to avoid such foods if they so desire.

As a matter of fact, there are some significant reasons to conclude that the safety issue is not completely settled, as discussed in previous posts on this subject (see previous posts "Genetically-modified food," "Genetically-modified cooking oil," and "Genetically-modified sugar beets, food labeling, and other issues").

Since those posts were written, a peer-reviewed article appeared on September 19 of this year alleging serious new evidence of dangers from the consumption of genetically-modified food over long periods of time (discussed in this article and associated set of videos from Dr. Joseph Mercola, who is the largest donor in support of Proposition 37 according to the website linked above).  The French study at issue was (perhaps unsurprisingly) immediately attacked by other scientists who called it "inadequate," but this only shows that the debate is quite heated on this subject and consumers can be forgiven for deciding that perhaps "the jury is still out" on the question of safety.

Are opponents of GMO labeling trying to say that consumers who still have questions on this subject should not be allowed to look at the food they buy to determine if it contains genetically-modified ingredients?  Are they saying that consumers are not allowed to have any doubts about the safety of consuming genetically-modified food?

Further, as stated before, some consumers may wish to avoid GMO ingredients for reasons entirely other than questions of safety.  Genetically-modified plants typically contain "traits" that are engineered through the introduction into their cells of bacterial and viral DNA: perhaps strict vegetarians might object as a matter of conscience to consuming plants that have been altered to contain the genetic material of bacteria and viruses.  Or, perhaps consumers might have religious objections to consuming such altered organisms.  Perhaps they are OK with the idea that other people have the right to consume such things, but they themselves have religious objections to consuming genetically-modified organisms.  Are opponents of labeling telling them that they have no right to look on the label and see if the food they are buying contains GMOs or not, so that they can choose for themselves?

Opponents of Prop 37 or other GMO-labeling requirements might argue that those who are still afraid of GMOs, or who have reasons to avoid them due to conscience or religious objections, can simply avoid foods made with the ingredients from any of the eight plants currently cleared for genetic modification for human consumption in the US.  Those eight are:
  • corn
  • soy
  • cottonseed (consumed by humans as cottonseed oil)
  • canola
  • sugarbeets (and therefore most sugar and most foods containing sugar as an ingredient, unless it specifically says "cane sugar")
  • more than half of Hawaiian papaya (some sources now say 80% of it)
  • a small percentage of zucchini
  • a small percentage of yellow crookneck squash.
Opponents might add that if those who want to avoid genetically-modified food want to eat something containing any of the above ingredients, they can look to brands which voluntarily choose not to use genetically-modified versions of the above ingredients, and label their products as "GMO free" (such as the excellent soy sauce from San-J pictured below, which I was delighted to see appear on my grocery-store shelves very recently for the first time).

That's a decent argument, and it is what people who really wish to avoid GMOs for any of the above reasons have to do right now in the United States.  However, what makes it difficult to do is the staggering array of foods on grocery-store shelves that now use ingredients from one of the above eight GMO-approved plants.  In fact, as noted in the previous post on this issue, as much as 70% of the food on the shelves of grocery stores in the US now contains genetically-modified ingredients -- that's according to a study cited in the material on the website of the opponents of Prop 37 and the requirement to label such food!

If so much genetically-modified material has crept into the products lining supermarket shelves in the US, then it seems that the argument outlined above that says, "just avoid it if you don't like it" is a bit disingenuous.  It might be more honest of such opponents of labeling to say, "just try to avoid it, if you don't like it (and see how far you get with that fantasy)."

With so much of the food being offered to consumers harboring genetically-modified ingredients, it seems possible that one of the real reasons so many food companies are so anxious to prevent Prop 37 from passing is the fear that consumers will be absolutely shocked when they find out how much of what they have been buying, eating, and feeding to their families contains genetically-modified ingredients.

It's not just "junk food" that contains ingredients from the above list of eight GMO-approved plants, as anyone can ascertain with a simple trip to their local grocery store.  For example, the sourdough bread shown below lists "soy flour" as an ingredient.

Does that mean it has genetically-modified soy as an ingredient?  Who knows -- it is currently not required for the company to tell us on the label, and this company has not chosen to state on the label that its product is "verified non-GMO," the way the makers of the San-J tamari sauce shown above have chosen to do.  However, since over 90% of the soy grown in the US for human consumption is in fact genetically-modified, it is probably a safe guess that this bread might contain genetically-modified soy (why sourdough bread would contain soy flour is a completely different question).

This brings up another important point: anyone trying to avoid the consumption of GMO foods would have to avoid this bread on the suspicion that it probably contains genetically-modified soy.  In this case, it is probably a well-founded suspicion, based on the huge percentage of soy in the US that is indeed transgenic.  However, the lack of a label means that some consumers might avoid purchase of some items on the suspicion that they might contain GMOs, when in fact those items do not.  If labels were required, sales of some items might go up, because consumers would then know what had genetically-modified ingredients and what did not, while today they have to assume the worst if they want to avoid consuming GMOs.

Below is another example.  Oyster sauce is an ingredient used in all kinds of delicious dishes, such as oyster sauce stir fry and egg fu yung.

Good luck finding a bottle on a typical supermarket shelf in the US that declares it is GMO free or that does not contain soy or corn syrup.  No doubt such brands do exist, but many supermarkets don't bother to carry them, probably because most shoppers don't bother to check.  If they knew how many food items contained GMO ingredients, some of them might start to bother checking.

If opponents of Prop 37 don't think anyone will care, then adding the fact that these foods contain GMOs on the labels shouldn't cause any problems with sales.  The fact is, the big food companies that oppose Prop 37 and who have donated millions of dollars to try to defeat it probably realize that such labels will have an impact in what people buy. 

Again, the above sauce may contain GMO because over 90% of soy and over 80% of corn (and probably higher than that -- 80% is a conservative number) grown in the US for human consumption is now genetically-modified.  However, we can't be sure -- because the label doesn't tell us one way or the other.

Here's another example.  Out of all the people who buy these tortillas, how many do you think are aware of the GMO issue?  How many have had the opportunity to examine both sides of the safety question and make up their own mind?  How many are aware of which eight crops are allowed to be genetically-modified and sold for human consumption?  How many are aware that three of those GMO-approved plants are present in these tortillas?  Is there any moral obligation to tell them?

It's too bad it's so difficult to find out what tortillas contain GMO ingredients.  As stated previously, I eat a lot of tortillas. 

Below is another example, this time of the common American hamburger bun.  Note that the label already contains mandatory "nutrition information" with facts such as number of calories per serving, calories from fat, total grams of fat, total grams of saturated fat, total milligrams of cholesterol, total milligrams of sodium, and even tells us that these buns were made in a facility that processes "tree nuts."  Why are the people who are up in arms against labeling GMO ingredients not also up in arms about all these label requirements?  Why is it OK to force companies to tell consumers how many milligrams of cholesterol are in their products, but not OK to require them to say if an ingredient contains cells that have been injected with the DNA of other organisms?

Some people might argue that cholesterol is not actually unsafe, just as some people argue that genetically-modified foods are not unsafe.  There are even studies and serious medical doctors who argue that cholesterol is actually good for you, and that the analysis that links consumption of cholesterol in food to heart disease and atherosclerosis is shoddy analysis.  But nobody seems to be upset that food labels have to tell us how much cholesterol is in a serving.  Nobody is screaming that telling consumers cholesterol data on the label -- or tree nut data on the label, which can be a life-saver for consumers who are allergic to tree nuts -- is "too expensive" or "makes food cost more for all of us," the way they are now arguing regarding the labeling of genetically-modified ingredients.

Below is yet another innocuous-looking common supermarket item -- a box of crackers.  Its ingredients reveal that these are made with cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and high-fructose corn syrup.

Are you still upset that Prop 37 won't label meat from cows that eat genetically-modified corn?  Upset enough to vote against it and prevent all the above products from telling you whether or not they also contain genetically-modified corn, soy, cottonseed, etc.?  In this case, you will be eating it, not the cows.

Similar story for the bottle of ranch dressing shown below:

These are just a few common grocery items found on grocery-store shelves.  It would be possible to show hundreds more.  The point of the exercise is to show how pervasive genetically-modified foods already are, and to show that the opponents of Prop 37 -- who are very well-funded and have the ability to hire very good advertising agencies that put out some very persuasive and hard-hitting ads -- are not addressing the real issue.  They are not addressing the real concerns that led to the creation of Prop 37.  They are not addressing the "meat" of the pro-labeling arguments -- not at all.

Most of those who support labeling of genetically-modified ingredients in food sold to humans are not also calling for the absolute abolition of genetically-modified foods.  Prop 37 calls for labeling; it does not call for outlawing GMOs altogether.

However, if opponents of labeling wanted to really address the GMO issue, then they should address some of the most problematic concerns that some opponents of GMOs have brought up.  Those include the fact that because plants reproduce by pollination, the existence of any genetically-modified crops anywhere (let alone in the huge quantities now being grown in the US) can cross-pollinate and alter crops that were not supposed to be genetically-modified, as well as the possibility that genetic modifications created using the genetic material of bacteria introduced into corn, soy, cottonseed, and other crops could somehow transfer to the genetic material of the bacteria which live in our guts if we eat too much of such GMO food.  These two possibilities, combined, could (in a nightmare scenario) lead to horrible consequences that have civilization-wide ramifications.

One of the hallmarks of a civilization is the division of labor, which means that we all end up relying upon one another for various things, instead of trying to make everything ourselves.  For a civilization to exist and for some people to live in cities where they can concentrate on making things other than food (in California, many of them work on technology that enables computer networks or other forms of new technology), and thus many people have to rely on others to grow the food so that those who don't grow the food can work on other things of value to the society.  Therefore, questions such as the one discussed in this post have enormous implications for everyone.

This issue is too important to be dismissed because of a "straw man" argument.

The ancients and the "plant-based diet" debate

Forks over Knives is a thought-provoking independent movie released last year which chronicles the analysis and life's work of two American doctors, Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn, and their conclusion that a whole-food plant-based diet is best for health.  The movie also argues that such a diet can reverse the deleterious effects caused by the "standard American diet" (which is sometimes called the "Western diet," and is probably better referred to as the "modern [as opposed to traditional] post-industrial diet" since it long ago began spreading around the world).

The film's subject matter is highly pertinent to the topics and issues discussed in this blog, although the connection may not seem so obvious at first.  Most importantly, the film illustrates the dangers of simply relying on the "status quo" conventional wisdom, and the importance of conducting good analysis or "due diligence," especially in areas on which a lot is riding (human health and diet being one of them, clearly). 

The doctors at the center of the film were not afraid to follow the evidence to conclusions that went against their initial "gaps and biases" (as one of them explains towards the end of the film).  The film also touches on the fact that following the evidence -- particularly when it points to conclusions that are different from the dominant paradigm -- can have professional consequences and lead to marginalization, vehement opposition, and even ridicule.  

The history of science is replete with examples of this opposition, including the modern era right up to today (the doctors in the movie have certainly experienced it, and examples of opposition and ridicule in other scientific disciplines have been discussed in this blog previously, such as in this post about continental-drift theory originator Alfred Wegener and this post about the work of Nobel Laureate Professor Dan Schectman).

Secondly, the subject of diet and human health is certainly one that concerned the ancients, including those who were renowned for their concern with matters esoteric -- matters that are quite central to the subject matter of this blog and of the Mathisen Corollary book as well.  

We have already seen that Plutarch (who is really the author of the earliest extant full discourse on the Osiris-Isis-Set-Horus narrative) discussed the fact that the Egyptian priesthood abstained from wearing garments made from wool or other products of animal skin or hair, and in the same passage he explains that the same priests abstain from eating the flesh of animals as well (he even mentions the opinion of some that they abstain from eating salt because it could contain the remains of many minute creatures, but dismisses this idea as ridiculous, although it is always worth noting what these ancient initiates to the mystery schools -- as Plutarch was -- mention and dismiss as ridiculous, because sometimes they deliberately drop hints while denying they are doing so, in order to conceal their full message -- sort of like saying something with a "wink" of the eye to deny it while slyly leaving it open as a possibility).

Long before the time of Plutarch (AD 46 - AD 120), the sage Pythagoras was said to have abstained from the eating of animal flesh (and, interestingly enough, to abstain from wearing garments made of wool or other animal products), and his followers were said to do the same.  One passage which reveals this Pythagorean tradition of a vegetable diet (and linen or flax-based garments) is preserved in the biographical writings of L. Flavius Philostratus (AD 172 - AD 250), who begins his Life of Apollonius by saying:
The votaries of Pythagoras of Samos have this story to tell of him, that he was not an Ionian at all, but that, once on a time in Troy, he had been Euphorbus, and that he had come to life after death, but had died as the songs of Homer relate. And they say that he declined to wear apparel made from dead animal products and, to guard his purity, abstained from all flesh diet, and from the offering of animals in sacrifice. For that he would not stain the altars with blood; nay, rather the honey-cake and frankincense and the hymn of praise, these they say were the offerings made to the Gods by this man, who realized that they welcome such tribute more than they do the hecatombs and the knife laid upon the sacrificial basket. 
The historian Herodotus (484 BC - 425 BC), who lived after Pythagoras, mentions briefly the practice of abstaining from meat among some peoples of the world, particularly the Atlantians mentioned in Histories 4.186, who take their name not from Atlantis but from their location near the "Mountain called Atlas" according to Herodotus, and of whom "it is said that they neither eat anything that has life nor have any dreams."  

After describing them, Herodotus also goes on to describe some nomads who also live in North Africa and who "do not taste at all of the flesh of cows, for the same reason as the Egyptians also abstain from it, nor do they keep swine. Moreover the women of the Kyrenians too think it not right to eat cows' flesh, because of the Egyptian Isis, and they even keep fasts and celebrate festivals for her; and the women of Barca, in addition from cows' flesh, do not taste of swine either" (4.186).  The mention of the Egyptians and Isis is undoubtedly important, as it connects to the priests of Isis in the later passage of Plutarch, as well as to the tradition of the earlier Pythagoras, who is traditionally held to have spent significant time among the priesthood in Egypt.  

The abstention from eating the meat of cows by the ancient Egyptians alleged by Herodotus is also significant to the possibility of a connection between ancient Egypt and India, just as such a connection appears to be possible between the ancient Egyptians and ancient China (or perhaps a third and now-unknown source informed all these ancient civilizations).

The debate over whether or not to eat meat is also interesting in that the ancient Hebrew Scriptures appear to indicate some kind of connection between eating meat and the global flood.  It has been remarked that Genesis 1:30 appears to prescribe "the green herb for meat" to every living creature (mankind, presumably, included), but that Genesis 9:2-4 appears to alter that diet immediately following the flood to include the possibility of consuming animal products of some sort, although specifically prohibiting the eating of "flesh with the blood thereof, [which is] the life thereof" in verse 4.

It is interesting that the allowing of the eating of flesh for the first time (if that is indeed what is meant to be conveyed by this passage) is associated with the end of the flood.  We have already noted that the lifespans described in the Genesis account begin to drop dramatically in the generations after the flood.  

If human lifetimes really dropped that dramatically, it may have been due to the possibility that most of the radioactive isotopes on earth were the product of a flood catastrophe. It is certainly hard to argue that eating meat caused such a drop in lifespans (if such a drop actually took place).  After all, even the advocates of a plant-based diet do not argue today that those who stop eating meat could live to be "nine hundred sixty and nine years" as Methuselah is said to have done prior to the flood (in Genesis 5:27).

There are those who make the argument that the Genesis 9 passage was never intended to sanction a meat-based diet.  After all, they point out, the eating of flesh with its blood is strictly forbidden, and it is actually impossible to remove all of the blood from flesh, or to say that one can eat flesh without also consuming blood.  They argue that Genesis 9:2-4 gives permission to eat reptile eggs -- the "meat" of reptiles (one could perhaps think of it as "the fruit" of reptiles) arguing that the word translated "moving thing" in 9:3 means "reptile," but not the flesh of reptiles or of any other class of animal.

In light of the above discussion, it is interesting to note that some modern advocates of a plant-based diet argue that some of the problems associated with aging are actually produced by diet.  The Forks over Knives movie certainly contains interviews with patients who, using a completely dietary approach (no drugs) not only reversed serious cardiovascular symptoms but also problems such as arthritis.  

Separately, professional Ironman triathlete and vegan Brendan Brazier says on pages 46-47 of his book Thrive that cooking foods (which is generally mandatory for eating meat, particularly if you are trying to eat "flesh" but not "flesh with the blood thereof, the life thereof") can directly lead to problems associated with aging:
Food cooked at a high temperature can also cause inflammation in the body.  As well as destroying enzymes and converting essential fatty acids into trans fats (a dangerous compound that I discuss in detail in Chapter 5, page 143), high-temperature cooking creates advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.  The body perceives AGEs as invaters and so its immune cells try to break down AGEs by secreting large amounts of inflammatory agents.  If this natural process is called on too often, the result will likely be diseases commonly associated with old age but which actually have more to do with toxins created by high-temperature cooking.  Less elastic skin, arthritis, poorer memory, joint pain, and even heart conditions are often attributable to inflamed tissue.
This debate is interesting on many levels (and it is clearly not just an academic matter, but one with serious consequences for human health).  What is quite amazing, and often not discussed when this topic is examined, is the evidence that the ancients -- and especially the priests of ancient Egypt and those non-Egyptians who appear to have learned some of the secrets of the Egyptian priesthood -- appear to have come down on the side of a plant-based diet many thousands of years before the researchers highlighted in Forks over Knives.

Were the ancient Egyptians right?  Is a plant-based diet best for human health and longevity?  And, if so, how did they know it?  The scientific knowledge of the ancients continues to anticipate the "discoveries" of later millennia -- and it seems to continue to do so right up to the present day.

note: John Anthony West devotes considerable time in his excellent book Serpent in the Sky discussing the apparently advanced medical and health sciences of ancient Egypt -- other important aspects of Serpent in the Sky are discussed in previous posts such as this one and others linked inside that post.

Powerful video from Dr. Terry Wahls, "Minding your Mitochondria"

Above is a powerful video of a TEDx talk given on November 11, 2011 by Dr. Terry Wahls, entitled "Minding your Mitochondria."

In it, she describes how she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, and transitioned to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2003. In the video, she discusses radical changes in diet she began implementing in 2007, which she believes to be directly related to her amazing recovery, a recovery that started within a month of implementing the dietary changes.

The video discusses the importance of our diet, examining the problems with the "modern" or "western" diet, and providing some thought-provoking recommendations about foods and proportions that she selected primarily for their impact on mitochondrial health and myelin production, but which may have other beneficial impacts on overall health and may more closely correspond to the diet we were designed to eat (or, as some believe, that we evolved to eat).

She recommends daily consumption of three cups of green leaves or leafy vegetables, three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, three cups of colorful vegetables and/or fruits, and daily consumption of grass-fed meats or wild fish. She also recommends weekly consumption of organ meats. One notable point in these recommendations is that there is a host of other literature which points to the importance of all of these items -- none of the food groups recommended should really be too controversial. Writers from Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto, as well as many other works, who recommends fewer "seed-based" foods and more "leaf-based" foods) to Sally Fallon (author of Nourishing Traditions, which was mentioned in this previous blog post, and which contains an entire section on organ meats and a discussion of their health benefits and value in almost all traditional diets) have argued for the value of the foods that Dr. Wahls discusses in the video above.

We have seen in previous blog posts such as this one and this one that some analysts believe that the cholesterol hypothesis, which undergirds many of the recommendations pushed by government food "allowances," may be dangerously flawed. As Sally Fallon says in the cookbook linked above (published in 1999):
Many of our grandparents will remember the days when liver was served once a week. Establishment nutritionists now recommend we discontinue this healthful practice in order to avoid cholesterol! page 299.
This example illustrates the importance of examining the theories which are handed to us by the establishment, theories which are often prefaced with the words, "Scientists have now proven . . ." Dietary theories are a powerful example of the importance of examining the assumptions and the analysis that underlies the theories that inform our thinking, because diet really is an area in which we all can see that "faulty theories can hurt you." I would argue that theories about the ancient history of the human race are also vitally important, and that faulty theories in that department can also be quite harmful. The same can be said for geological theories as well.

We should all wish Dr. Wahls the very best with her ongoing fight for her own health, as well as with her courageous work in conducting clinical studies to learn more about the interaction of diet and chronic disease and to share this knowledge with the world, all of which is intended to help others.

A series of other related videos is available at Dr. Wahls' website here.

Big "hat tip" to Graham Hancock Message Board member "Ratcho," who shared the link to this video in a Message Board discussion here.

Video "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" with Robert Lustig MD

Worth watching is the (fairly long) video above, in which Robert Lustig, MD, discusses the evidence that the decades-long campaign against eating fat and cholesterol was based upon shoddy analysis, primarily that of Ancel Keys (1904 - 2004). Dr. Lustig believes that much of the danger attributed to the consumption of fat should actually be attributed to the consumption of sugar (particularly in the forms of sucrose and fructose as opposed to glucose alone), and that studies that were interpreted as showing the dangers of high fat in the diet were actually measuring the dangers of excessive sugar in the diet (the consumption of the two often go together).

The video presents compelling evidence that the entire modern approach to weight loss (based upon counting "calories in" and "calories out," without much examination of the different types of "calories in") is flawed, and that it ignores the different ways that the body processes and stores the calories that come in, some of which are stored in ways that are not harmful, and some of which are stored in ways that can be very harmful over time.

These arguments are consistent with the arguments presented in books we have mentioned on this blog before, such as Nourishing Traditions (discussed in this post) and Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You! (discussed in this post). Interested readers might also want to check out this previous post, entitled "Faulty theories can hurt you."

While Dr. Lustig's discussion is primarily centered around the prevention of obesity and specifically the rise of childhood obesity, the chemistry he is talking about impacts everyone, and is very important to consider carefully. It is likely that the factors he is discussing are a large part of a bigger problem which also includes a shift to different types of fats for cooking (discussed at greater length in the books and blog posts mentioned above) and other major changes to the food supply, especially in the years following the Second World War.

This subject illustrates the importance of good analysis and the dangers of uncritical acceptance of "conventional wisdom" around subjects that the general public believes have "been proven" and require no further examination.

Hat tip to my good friend Mr. D. Y. for bringing the above video to my attention (all the way from Japan)!

Faulty theories can hurt you

Steven Malanga, the senior editor of City Journal and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has just published an article entitled "The Washington Diet: Following the government's nutritional advice can make you fat and sick."

He cites extensive evidence that the arguments for a connection between cholesterol and heart disease are based on very scanty evidence, and possibly on erroneous interpretation of ambiguous studies. Similarly, he cites studies involving 350,000 subjects which found absolutely no connection between consumption of saturated fats and heart disease (although not from lack of looking for such a connection). The article even cites evidence that lowering levels of cholesterol could lead to an increased vulnerability to disease, including cancer.

This is exactly the type of evidence that Uffe Ravnskov discusses in his books and scientific articles, as we discussed in this earlier post on the subject dated May 9. Dr. Ravnskov argues that the scientific consensus is absolutely wrong on this very important, life-and-death question over what to eat and how to prevent heart disease.

While the question of what to eat and whether cholesterol actually causes heart disease (or if it is in fact part of an important defense system in our bodies that helps prevent diseases including cancer) is beyond the scope of the Mathisen Corollary (which examines the connection between a theory of a cataclysmic global flood within human memory and the extensive evidence of an advanced ancient civilization not taught in conventional historical timelines of mankind's past), the entire issue is a perfect illustration of the way a "scientific" consensus can take on a life of its own and drown out alternative theories, even if it may in fact be based on incorrect analysis. Dr. Ravnskov also gives examples of the ways the defenders of orthodoxy tend to attack and ridicule individuals who challenge the ruling paradigm, rather than discussing the arguments based on the merits of the evidence (see the previously-mentioned post and Dr. Ravnskov's descriptions of his books being publicly burned by those who wanted to marginalize his arguments).

This new carefully-argued and well-documented piece from Steven Malanga of City Journal serves to reinforce the points we made earlier this month. It also does an excellent job of focusing on the real danger in faulty theories: they can have very unhealthy repercussions in society and in the lives of individuals.

We have argued in the past that the question of mankind's ancient history is not simply an esoteric question for debate between specialists, akin to the famous struggle over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. On the contrary, if we hold a completely incorrect view of our collective past, based on incorrect analysis, it has major ramifications for the way we see ourselves and the questions we ask at this important juncture in history. It impacts very real aspects of our everyday life -- including what we eat (just look at how many diets are based upon Darwinian assumptions of man's origins which may in fact be completely wrong).

Ignorance of our past can also have a deleterious impact on our ability to avoid a slide from technological prowess into outright barbarism. The human record indicates that such a fall has taken place in mankind's past on a scale far beyond the supposed transition from classical Rome into the "Dark Ages," on a scale in fact that would parallel a fall from modern civilization into widespread cannibalism and violence. However, if we don't even recognize that such a fall took place, we cannot ask ourselves how or why it happened or how it could have been avoided.

These questions are every bit as important as the question of whether eating saturated fat or foods high in cholesterol are bad for you or not. In many areas of modern life, faulty theories can hurt you. It behooves every one of us to become engaged in these matters, and to learn to examine such things carefully for ourselves and our families.

What do you think about cholesterol?

The tectonic theory is an example of a theory that was rejected and ridiculed for many decades before being accepted in the second half of the twentieth century and then coming to dominate geological thinking. If you were to walk into a university today and declare that you thought the tectonics theory was wrong, you would face severe criticism.

However, just because the prevailing orthodoxy has lined up decisively behind a theory does not make it true. In fact, there is extensive evidence (see for example the discussions here and here) that the theory of plate tectonics is incorrect. It may appear to explain the evidence, but the actual underlying explanation may be quite different.

Erroneous theories based upon incorrect interpretation of the evidence can lead to serious consequences. To use an example that may be even more familiar to readers, imagine that instead of walking into a university and declaring your opposition to the theory of plate tectonics, you were to walk into your doctor's office and declare: "I think fat and cholesterol are actually good for me, and all the medical literature that says it causes heart disease is based on flawed interpretation of the data!"

This is in fact what some detectives are concluding after looking at the evidence (these outside voices of course are ridiculed and marginalized by the "authorities," in exactly the same way that Sherlock Holmes or the gang from Scooby Doo are resented and marginalized by the authorities in crime fiction).

For example, Uffe Ravnskov (who is an MD and a PhD) has written numerous books challenging the theory that consumption of cholesterol and fat in the diet is responsible for atherosclerosis and heart disease. His numerous books, articles and research pieces, some of which are listed here, argue that the data in the studies during the twentieth century which led to the adoption of the hypothesis that atherosclerosis and heart disease are caused by cholesterol was wrongly interpreted. His examination of the evidence is quite detailed and extensive, and his conclusions are convincing.

Dr. Ravnskov argues that cholesterol is not the cause of the atherosclerosis and blood clotting that can lead to heart disease and death, but rather that it is found near such atherosclerosis and clots because it is part of the body's defense against the real culprit, which is microbial infection and arterial inflammation. The body sends LDL cholesterol to fight the symptoms of the microbial attack, and the cholesterol that is being blamed is actually beneficial: it is the microbial invaders that the current theory overlooks which are the actual problem.

Dr. Ravnskov outlines this theory in his book Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You! In the introduction to that book, he explains the attacks that his arguments have endured:
When the cholesterol campaign was introduced in Sweden in 1989 I was very suprised. Having followed the scientific literature about cholesterol and cardiovascular disease superficially I could not recall anything in support of the idea that high cholesterol or saturated fat should be harmful to human health. I became curious and started to read more systematically.

Anyone who does that with an open mind soon discovers that the emperor is naked. But I also learnt that my critical comments were met with little interest from the editors of the medical journals or with mocking answers from the reviewers. [. . .]

My first book on this subject, the Cholesterol Myths, was published in Sweden in 1991 and in Finland in 1992, and has since then been translated into five languages. It made little impact. In Sweden the science journalists usually lost their interest in the subject when they, after having read the book, consulted the researchers or health authorities that I had criticized. In Finland the book was actually burnt in a television show after having been denigrated by some of the Finnish proponents to the cholesterol campaign.
Sadly, this kind of ridicule and marginalization often characterizes the response of those who uphold the prevailing theory (as stated above, the currently-popular tectonic theory was subjected to exactly the same kind of treatment). Instead of trying to silence dissenting voices, alternate views should be welcomed and the arguments and evidence brought forward by those with a different interpretation should be examined on their merits.

Dr. Ravnskov typifies this approach in his own work: he states that his explanation is only a hypothesis, and invites his readers to examine the data and decide for themselves. In the same book cited above, he tells his reader: "remember, my idea is only a hypothesis, just as the idea about good and bad cholesterol is a hypothesis. I may be wrong, and most doctors and researchers who have been accustomed to the cholesterol hypothesis for many years will probably shake their heads uttering: It is high cholesterol, stupid! but if you have an open mind and if you are willing to spend a little time by following my arguments I think that it will be very difficult for you to find anything in conflict with my hypothesis" (193).

Other medical doctors have reached similar conclusions, such as Dwight Lundell, MD, who argues that inflammation in the arteries is the problem and that it is not caused by cholesterol. Others have put forward the possibility that the oils used to fry and cook food, which changed significantly during the twentieth century due to a variety of social factors and medical theories, are the real problem, rather than the foods themselves.

The point of this discussion is not who is right in the topic of diet and heart disease, which is outside the scope of this particular blog about mankind's ancient history. The point is that in one very important topic, open examination of the prevailing theory is not permitted, and even contrary opinions put forth by sincere professionals and backed up with extensive evidence are mocked and even burned in public. Since the cause of heart disease is an actual matter of life-and-death, uncritically accepting what "the authorities" say can lead to serious consequences if their theory is wrong, and individuals would be advised to conduct at least some level of due diligence on their own.

The question of mankind's ancient history is perhaps not as immediately important to human health, but it does carry important implications for the health of a society. Following the wrong theory about history and origins can lead to societal "heart disease" over long periods of time.

Because these issues are so important, we should be alert to those whose response is to ridicule or even burn contrary opinions or conflicting evidence. We should adopt the attitude expressed by Dr. Ravnskov in the quotation above, which freely admits that his hypothesis and the prevailing hypothesis are each only hypotheses, and that individuals should be encouraged to examine the evidence for themselves.

Dr. Brown adopts the same attitude in his books on the hydroplate theory, and suggests that teachers should say to students: "Don't be concerned with what I believe. What matters in this class is how thoroughly you examine the scientific evidence on both sides of this issue" (7th edition, 285).

It may turn out that the current cholesterol theories are incorrect, based on what was originally a sincere but misguided interpretation of the evidence. I would argue that the tectonic theory may in fact misinterpret the evidence in much the same way.

While the original errors may have been based on sincere misinterpretation, I would further argue that the more the defenders of an interpretation use ridicule and marginalization instead of honest examination and argument to protect their position, the more we might suspect that their theory is in need of the attention of a Sherlock Holmes or a Scooby Doo.