Friday 8 February 2013

Aseem Malhotra on the telly again

I could tell Aseem Malhotra was a wrong 'un from his very first Guardian article. As I have said in previous posts, he has all the characteristics of a say-anything, do-anything prohibitionist on the make.

Malhotra's rise to semi-notoriety can be put down the fact that if he didn't exist, the public health lobby would have to invent him—a man who plays fast and loose with the evidence, who treats unproven theories and outright quackery as facts and who has a Johann Hari-esque ability to quote from unverified conversations with people who happen to prove his points. Few are prepared to use the term 'Big Food' without a hint of self-consciousness, let alone explicitly equate the food industry with 'Big Tobacco'. Malhotra does it all the time and he ramps up the hyperbole every time he appears in the media.

His latest appearance was on Irish television. You will seldom see such a blatant example of slippery-slopery as in his open remarks here, as he tries to flatter the Irish government into taking unspecified legislative action to change people's diets.

He congratulates the Irish on being the first country to bring in a smoking ban and then says:

"It took fifty years from when the links between smoking and lung cancer were raised to actual regulation that had an impact. Think about how many millions of lives could have potentially been saved if this had happened earlier. And what's quite sad is we see the food industry adopting the same dirty tactics as the tobacco industry to avoid regulation, planting doubt about their products being particularly harmful, confusing the public and even denial."

This argument is entirely bogus. It is not even an argument in any recognised sense.

Leaving aside the obvious differences between food and tobacco, which are colossal  there is no reason whatsoever why the link between smoking and lung cancer should have led to a ban on smoking in 'public' places fifty years earlier. The justification for the smoking ban came from the (admittedly flimsy) evidence about passive smoking that was published several decades later. Granted, there was an unspoken goal of making smoking so inconvenient for people that they would quit, but that was not the given reason. In any case, the ban did not lead to smokers quitting. In Ireland, the smoking rate increased while in the UK the smoking rate flat-lined. Some "impact".

There is simply no parallel between the smoking ban and Malhotra's plans for 'obesity control'. The only reason he cites it—as he has before—is that it is the prime example of a government acting in an illiberal and draconian manner on the basis of feeble evidence as a result of lobbying from monomaniacs like himself. His justification for using the force of the state to change eating habits is that the state already uses force to change smoking habits. This is the 'domino effect' logic in a nutshell.

The food industry should let people like this starve.


Ivan D said...

The excessive use of MUST and SHOULD on his twitter feed is really disturbing. I believe that he probably needs help. I would say that he is deserving of our pity but that would be a mistake because people like him have a dangerous amount of influence in our society. He is an obsessive, unbalanced extremist but that has not stopped Stanton Glantz so far.

Unknown said...

"...The food industry should let people like this starve..."

The food industry should 'accidentally' make a few dozen Malhotra burgers, who'd know?

nisakiman said...

Malhotra lasagna, perhaps? With a touch of oriental spice?

Ivan D said...

I note that the hypocrite Martin McKee appears to be a fan of Malhotra. McKee is a far more dangerous proposition because he is unethical, dishonest and manipulative but hides behind a facade of respectability.

He does so at our expense of course, from an ivory tower at LSHTM. I think that you covered his appalling article on "denialism" a few years ago.

JohnB said...


It just doesn’t stop (particularly under this current Labor/Greens government).

Government could control taste of cigarettes, raise taxes in battle against smoking

And right there, slap bang in the middle of the article, is the Chapman Trick. For those not familiar with the trick, see comments by “magnetic01” at:

JohnB said...

Australia is an excellent example of how utterly dominated a government health bureaucracy can become by zealots and vested financial interests (e.g., Gigantic Pharma). The fanatics/zealots/extremists in Australia (e.g., Crapman, the Daubster) must have regular belly laughs at how all too easy it’s been to bamboozle politicians/media/public into antismoking conformity, particularly this current lot of Labor/Greens politicians.

JohnB said...


“…… particularly this current lot of Labor/Greens politicians.”

should read

“…..particularly this current lot of half-wit Labor/Greens politicians.”