Monday 27 June 2011

John Banzhaf: Ronald McDonald is just like Joe Camel

This is another one to be filed under "next logical step". In the video below, John Banzhaf, founder of ASH and now a prominent anti-obesity crusader, calls for McDonald's to drop their (admittedly creepy) mascot Ronald McDonald. Why? Because we have to think of the children, of course. According to Banzhaf, McDonald's sells "dangerous products" and the clown should go the same way as Joe Camel.

As the interviewer points out, McDonald's has bent over backwards to accommodate the food faddists in recent years, but, for people like Banzhaf nothing is ever enough. The interview soon turns into a slanging match (it's from Fox News), and neither side makes a very good case. In the end, Banzhaf resorts to gloating about how that he's "winning" (although all the lawsuits he has filed against McDonald's have failed).

Don't expect a reasoned debate, but scholars of the slippery slope will enjoy counting how many times the tubby legal vulture equates McDonald's with the tobacco industry.

On a similar note, I can't recommend this article by Trevor Butterworth strongly enough. ABC News recently attacked a biostatistician for casting doubt on the idea that soda is a major contributor to obesity. Unable to find fault with his research, obesity crusaders have made the usual lazy ad hominems against him for being funded by the food industry.

“But even though study after study have [sic] shown soda to be a significant contributor to America’s staggering obesity crisis, he says there is too little ‘solid evidence’… Allison has said such studies haven’t been rigorous enough to prove soda contributes to obesity, but critics say his skepticism stems from his financial ties to entities such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association, who, critics say, have paid Allison to poke holes in the scientific consensus.”

The problem, as Butterworth points out, is that "study after study" has shown nothing of the sort. Soda is no more fattening that fruit juice and the epidemiological evidence linking it to obesity is weak. If that weren't enough, it turns out that studies funded by the food industry are less biased than those funded by the state. This is an example of “white hat bias”, ie. distorting information to advance fashionable causes. It is perhaps the main source of bias in epidemiology today; certainly it is the most under-reported. We come across a lot of it on this blog.

When you piece all these elements together, the ABC news piece increasingly looks like journalists taking on the role of hitmen in an academic vendetta, one in which they are clueless about the underlying data but absolutely certain that the conventional wisdom is right.

And so, the result is that thanks to ABC’s totally misleading account of the evidence on sugared drinks and weight gain, Allison will almost certainly be removed from legitimate debate, tarred forever with the insinuation that he is merely a shill for industry.

The whole story of how this man has been vilified is fascinating and important. Please go read.


Anonymous said...

Actually, it would appear that Banzhaff being fat, ugly, and slimy may be concerned about being denormalised himself;

Anonymous said...

A side note but a nice headline!

EXCLUSIVE: U.N. World Health Organization Faces Plague of ...May 23, 2011 – WHO funding for the next two years is currently $3 billion short of ... WHO budgets over two-year terms and the organization expects to end ... plague-tightwads/

bwanamakubwa said...

Basically I couldn't give a tinker's cuss what any so-called "expert" tells me nowadays. Each and every one of them is driven by an agenda, the propagate half-truths, they cannot cite any real scientific data to support their alarmist views and they want me to believe them?
Get real.
I eat whatever appeals to me when I want it. And I will continue so to do.
End of story.

Anonymous said...

I think that the issue for Banzhaf is "the terrifying possibility that somewhere there are people enjoying themselves."

Gary K.

Anonymous said...

I watched the video and read the article by Butterworth.

The more I read about these studies, the more I feel that the studies are worthless.

I base this thought upon the following ideas:

1. Any study which shows a null hypothesis is boring. Do not publish it - file under 'boring'. I understand that this is called 'publication bias'. However, 'publication bias' would not be significant if the studies were still available to 'scholars' and taken into account.

2. ALL studies of human behaviour and human bodies make an assumption that all humans are the same. There is a 'standard' human behaviour and there is a 'standard' human body. Thus, it may well be true that smokers are more inclined to get Lung Cancer than others - but it is also true that, in the population as a whole, some people are more inclined to get Lung Cancer than others. Put the 'smoking' and the 'greater proclivity' together and you see an apparent tendency IN THE POPULATION AS A WHOLE which isn't actually there. Essentially, what I am saying is that there is no such thing as 'a standard human being'. Some of us have very strong genetic inheritance, but a few have serious (or not immediately evident) genetic weaknesses.

Day after day, we see studies which seem to indicate some sort of problem, as regards obesity, for example. But inevitably, these studies of individuals with problems are projected onto the population as a whole without justification.

Epidemiology used to be concerned with epidemics (as its name implies). Thus, Florence Nightingale discovered that more soldiers died from diseases than wounds; thus, malaria was discovered not to be 'bad air' but the result of bacteria injected into the blood stream by mosquitoes; thus, whatshisname discovered that cholera, in a certain area of London, originated from a certain water pump. THAT is epidemiology.

When epidemiology moved into the causes of cancer, it ventured into 'the great unknown'. Is 'the causes of cancer' a suitable subject for epidemiology? I have my doubts. Is a bullet through the heart the cause of death? be precise, the answer must be "No". The cause of death is the failure of the heart to beat (etc).

In the case of cancer, the predisposition of a person to cancer is very important. This 'confounding factor' must be accounted for, but I have seen nothing in epidemiology which indicates that it is.

If I am right, then all these extremely expensive epidemiology departments all over the world are useless. The only important thing is to find out what is the actual physical cause of cancer. It may well be that it is found that only a limited amount of intervention (a cure) is possible. When a person reaches the end of his 'physical tether', he dies.

James Higham said...

Soda is no more fattening that fruit juice

... and as fruit juice is laden with sugar, that brings in other issues.

Anonymous said...

Talking of slippery slopes: