Search This Site!
Nutrition Past and Future

13 The Journalist Gary Taubes 13: The Taubes Filter

Gary Taubes says he uses expert quotations to add credibility to whatever point he is trying to make at a given moment. He says we should understand that when he borrows that credibility from an expert, we shouldn't take that to mean that that expert agrees with his big arguments. He is only relating his or her belief concerning the particular point under discussion. Taubes has given himself as much license as he can to misrepresent the views of others but even this very liberal standard is not loose enough to defend his flagrant abuse of his references. Let me show you what I mean.

He says that Ancel Keys deserves the lion's share of the credit for convincing us about diet-heart and the lipid hypothesis. If by “us,” does he mean anyone reading his book after its publication date in 2007? I ask because as much as I admire Ancel Keys and his work, I have to say that he was not the one who made the biggest difference in educating the world about cholesterol's dangers. The world was convinced by trials demonstrating the effects of lipid-lowering drugs...

And by the trailblazing research of the Nobel Prize-winning duo of Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein. You will hear a lot more about them in this video series, but you won't see very much of them in Mr Taubes' books. I have noticed that very few cholesterol deniers wish to tangle with the body of research related to their work. I think that’s because they have no way of criticizing that science without sounding like fools. As you will see in my Brown and Goldstein video, that hasn't stopped at least a couple confusionists from taking pathetic stabs at their work anyway. Gary Taubes knows better than to head down that path. Brown and Goldstein first described the LDL receptor of our cells and they explained the basic way the cell regulates its cholesterol content. They proved that high cholesterol in the blood was dangerous, and their work paved the way for the drugs millions use today. Despite his historic importance, Michael Brown makes only one appearance in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Joseph Goldstein appears one other time.

Here is the other mention of Goldstein, giving the impression to the reader that he believes high triglycerides should be more of a concern than high LDL cholesterol. Taubes says that he found that high triglycerides were “considerably more common in heart-disease victims than was high cholesterol.” But notice that Taubes is referencing the Joseph Goldstein of the 1970s. Joseph Goldstein's views did not remain frozen in time.

Here is the paper and the passage Taubes used for that quote. You see that Goldstein speculated that high triglycerides may be as important a risk factor as cholesterol. Taubes simply left out the part about cholesterol because he didn't like that part. It is interesting that Goldstein himself does not appear to have cited this paper of his after 1975. Did Goldstein’s views change?

Now is not the time for me to discuss the work of Brown and Goldstein, but here is one example of their opinions stated in writing that Mr. Taubes might have included in his book had he been interested in conducting himself like a real journalist. They wrote, “If the LDL-receptor hypothesis is correct, the human receptor system is designed to function in the presence of an exceedingly low LDL level. The kind of diet necessary to maintain such a level would be markedly different.'' Skipping ahead. “It would call for the total elimination of dairy products as well as eggs, and for a severely limited intake of meat and other sources of saturated fats.” You can believe what you are seeing. Gary Taubes isn't filtering Dr. Goldstein for you now.

Unfortunately, Brown and Goldstein did not see this as a realistic dietary paradigm for the general public in those days. Such an approach would lead to severe social and economic consequences, they said. I'll point out that developed nations are facing rather severe consequences in their finances today because of the crushing burden of medical care. They speculated that other diseases might arise from such plant-based diets. Today we know that this is not true. Vegetarians are usually healthier than their counterparts. They said Americans just wouldn't eat like that. Well, they definitely won't if we don't explain to them what the science says. Lastly, they said that people vary genetically so not everyone is equally vulnerable. All these years later, we are still waiting for genetic screening to tell us who doesn't have to worry about heart disease. Don't hold your breath on that one. Unsurprisingly, in this article they put their faith in drugs instead of plant foods.

Fortunately, Michael Brown at least has taken a stronger stance on diet since that time. You'll hear from him in later videos.

Taubes references the famous heart surgeon Michael DeBakey just after he makes his ignorant claims about autopsy results. He gives us the distinct impression here that DeBakey was a skeptic of the cholesterol hypothesis. Before I get into this, is Taubes now suggesting that high cholesterol doesn't matter? Why then was he trying to imply that saturated fat doesn't raise cholesterol, with all those anomalies? If he doesn’t think cholesterol matters, why would those anomalies have mattered? What is his position, exactly? He can't keep himself straight on the cholesterol-raising effects of saturated fat. Now he wants us to doubt that cholesterol matters at all. This is pure obfuscation.

Here is the abstract for the paper he referenced for DeBakey. It is from 1964. It says that patients undergoing heart surgery had cholesterol levels that were within an accepted normal range for Americans. For Americans. Get it? Can you guess the problem?

“Normal” in this paper was a score of 300. 300 is not normal, and I don't really care if you believe in American exceptionalism.

On the right, you see the segment of the cholesterol spectrum that was least represented in this paper was those with cholesterol of 150 or less. Look how many more had cholesterol above that level. Does this table not suggest that low cholesterol is protective? Why didn't Taubes point that out? And realize we are looking only at patients as they appeared for surgery for their heart disease. This is made clear on the left. This paper had an obvious sampling problem. We don't know what their cholesterol had been over the long term so that we can see what effect their illness had on their lipids. This is the very same problem we saw with the autopsy studies. This is the same confusionist trick being recycled yet again. Also, there is absolutely no information about the age distribution of those cholesterol scores in this study. Chances are that many here had falling cholesterol because they were old and/or they were falling to pieces.

Clearly, the word “normal” is the problem here. What was normal in 1964, near the peak of the heart disease epidemic? Let’s be clear that there were no government recommendations on this until 1988.  “Normal” means nothing here. Taubes knows that.

When guidelines were at last given, “normal” was defined as 200 or less.

The expert panel that came up with that number was adjusting for age, though. When you do that, the correlation between cholesterol and death from coronary disease is rather clear. Do you think Gary Taubes can decipher that relationship here? I think I can make it out.

DeBakey later wrote that most of his heart surgery patients had higher cholesterol. Why didn't Taubes use this paper instead? Why did he give us the impression that DeBakey agrees with his cholesterol denialism?

In this later paper, DeBakey did write that atherosclerotic heart disease occurs in many individuals who have low cholesterol. He mentioned a 79-year old here, but this reinforces my point about age and illness. He was a heart surgeon. He was operating on sick people. His patients' cholesterol was almost certainly lower than it had been because they were old or sick or both. I'll have much more on this in my first Cholesterol Confusion video. Later on in this excerpt, DeBakey does mention a younger patient, but we don't know that patient's medical history.

In 1987, DeBakey was said to stress that dietary cholesterol was an important risk factor in atherosclerosis in this New York Times article. All he was saying beyond that back then was that there were other risk factors and that there was more to be learned about cholesterol levels among those with heart disease. Mr. Taubes, he was not skeptical of the cholesterol hypothesis. You did not represent his beliefs accurately. There was some dispute back then about what the appropriate cholesterol level was, as you can see at the bottom of this slide.

The Times article included an astute observation. Claude Lenfant said, “I don't think that surgery patients are a good model for understanding atherosclerosis.” This doctor understood that these were patients in failing health. DeBakey was a heart surgeon, which didn't make him an authority on lipids. Taubes misrepresented his views, and his views weren't that pertinent anyway.

Mr Taubes, DeBakey was clearly a believer in the lipid hypothesis and he was clearly a supporter of the work of Ancel Keys. Just look at his book and you'll see what he believed.

He said that high LDL was a problem that should be addressed through changes in diet. Mr Taubes intentionally misrepresented his views by posing as a historian of diet-heart. He wants all this to read like a story, a story mired in the ignorance of the past. By referencing DeBakey's old views only, Taubes showed us that he is a journalist who is not interested in telling the whole truth, and he is certainly not interested in the health of his readers. Don't expect Gary Taubes to pick up your medical bills for you when your luck runs out, low carbers.

In this passage on page 58, Taubes mentions Michael Oliver, perhaps the most famous cholesterol skeptic in history. He says that Oliver claimed that the wisdom of a cholesterol-lowering diet could not be established from drug trials. I mentioned Oliver in my Yudkin video. Michael Oliver represents a rare and important case in the history of cholesterol denialism.

He was a skeptic who publicly changed his mind and endorsed the scientific consensus. In 1995 he acknowledged that the perception of heart disease had recently changed radically. He said that health policy should change as well, although he was selective about which populations should be affected by this change in policy.

Notice he came to believe that the LA Veterans Study was convincing, along with various drug trials. Mr. Taubes, do you see how he included a diet trial with drug trials in the same sentence? He thought they all argued for cholesterol lowering. Like most other health professionals, he assumed that people wouldn't follow heart-healthy diets, so drugs were needed instead to control their cholesterol. Once again, if the people who understand the science are silent about diet, and if the people like Taubes who ignore or obfuscate the science are vocal, that leaves the public without the knowledge they need to protect themselves so that they won't need those drugs.

This paper marked the transformation of Michael Oliver from skeptic to supporter. It raised a lot of eyebrows back when it was published because it was of historic importance. Unfortunately but predictably, it didn't make the cut into Gary Taubes' version of history.

Now I’ll show you the very worst misuses of quotations that I found in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Mr. Taubes tells us about Pete Ahrens. “Pete” was his nickname. He published as Edward Ahrens. Taubes says he was considered the single best scientist in the field of lipid metabolism in his time. I think it is quite clear that the best researcher in the field was Ancel Keys, but hey, we are all entitled to have our favorites. Edward Ahrens definitely did good work, too, which is why Taubes should have ignored him if he wants to be an apologist for saturated fat. So what old paper of Dr. Ahrens did Taubes dig up? Taubes tells us it was Ahrens who introduced the concept of carbohydrate-induced lipemia. Taubes says, “When he gave lectures, Ahrens would show photos of two test tubes of blood serum obtained from the same patient – one when the patient was eating a high-carbohydrate diet and one on a high-fat diet. One test tube would be milky white, indicating the lipemia. The other would be absolutely clear.”  This lipemia represented fat in the blood in the form of triglycerides, and that condition was created after eating carbs. Taubes has shown us that long ago Edward Ahrens knew that carbs created an excess of fat in the blood. This was the belief of the very best researcher in the field.

Before we look at the old writings of Dr. Ahrens, let's address the substance of this claim directly. If you've seen my Primitive Nutrition Series, you know that under controlled conditions pure carbohydrate in the form of glucose was demonstrated to reduce lipemia in a dose-dependent manner in normal people. This study was done in 1990 so Taubes has no excuse for not telling you about it.

He also could have told you that fat ingestion increases lipemia in a dose-dependent manner. Once again, it is obvious that Taubes is trying to misinform us.

It's rather surprising that Taubes would reference the work of Ahrens. One of the true cholesterol deniers of history, George Mann, called Ahrens “one of the originators of the diet-heart hypothesis.” Are you starting to see why I like Dr. Ahrens?

One of Mann's complaints against Ahrens was his concern regarding triglycerides such as those in that test tube, which this hero to cholesterol deniers did not share. Yes, Mann rejected concerns over triglycerides just as he rejected concerns over cholesterol. The cholesterol deniers don’t seem to agree on much beyond the fact that they are all smarter than the scientists and doctors in the mainstream.

Ahrens did not only present his test tube photos at lectures. He also published such a photo in a journal article. Here you see the two samples of serum Taubes recalled, the one on the left thick with triglycerides. You can see the caption calls this “carbohydrate-induced lipemia.” This is what Taubes wants you to focus upon. This paper was from 1961.

Ahrens started this article by talking about how it was common knowledge that fatty meals also cause lipemia. He mentioned a patient for whom fats were clearly demonstrated to be the cause of lipemia. “When a fat-free formula was fed with glucose isocalorically replacing corn oil, triglyceride levels dropped dramatically and the fasting plasma became non-lipemic,” he wrote. He, too, found that glucose could reduce lipemia, and he said so in this very article.

Taubes tells us that Ahrens believed that those who became lipemic after consuming fatty meals were the minority. He says Ahrens thought that even rice would cause lipemia should carb totals not be kept low enough.

Ahrens certainly didn't get everything right back then. For example, in 1957 he was uncertain of the effects of trans fats on lipids, but he believed they were nutritionally equivalent to their natural precursors. I doubt even Gary Taubes would agree with that.

So what was Ahrens actually observing in this carb-induced lipemia he described? Do you remember his quote referencing corn oil? Ahrens had been using liquid-formula diets while researching the effects of various fats on cholesterol. He was not observing the effects of real foods.

Because these were purified diets, they were more likely to cause high triglycerides. I will talk about this subject more in my Evolved Fuel System videos.

Another very important factor was that Ahrens was a doctor working with a handful of people with compromised metabolism. In this excerpt from a paper published three years after the paper showing those test tubes, Ahrens was starting to realize that what he had been seeing an artifact of the prediabetic state, which we know today is associated with abnormally high triglycerides and a broken carbohydrate metabolism.

It is believed now that type 2 diabetics are exposed to high triglycerides throughout the day.

Ahrens says here, “This evidence suggests that carbohydrate-induced hyperglyceridemia is in some manner allied to the prediabetic state in maturity-onset diabetes.” In other words, carb-induced lipemia is not normal. Why did the award-winning journalist Gary Taubes not add this important twist in this story? Did he simply miss this? Believe it or not, this is not the worst abuse of Ahrens in Mr. Taubes' book.

Taubes quotes Ahrens as he objects to the idea that, as he puts it, all animal fats are “bad” fats, and all “good” fats are in plants or perhaps fish. Taubes wrote, “As Ahrens suggested in 1957, this accepted wisdom was probably the greatest 'handicap to clear thinking' in the understanding of the relationship between diet and heart disease.” Notice that phrase, “handicap to clear thinking.” I am about to show you that quote in context.

It came from this paper. Immediately before that phrase appeared, Ahrens was discussing the effectiveness of vegetarian diets in lowering cholesterol. Here he informs the reader that it had been demonstrated that strict vegetarians, or what we would call vegans today, had lower cholesterol than vegetarians who consumed eggs and dairy. This slide is just to give you an idea of the flavor of the preceding section to this quote.

Here is the quote in its full context. You'll find it at the top right. I suggest that you pause the video and read this whole passage, but I’ll describe it for you now. At the top left he is referring to reports of cholesterol-lowering diets that were viewed with skepticism. This is a reference to reports of vegetarian regimens radically altering lipids, as you just saw. It must have been hard to believe for some back then that plant-based nutrition was so powerful. He then goes on to suggest that vegetarian diets may have provoked skepticism because of what he called the “fetishism” associated with them. I think that is still the case today, although I wouldn't word it that way. It's still hard for some to take vegetarianism seriously because of the common stereotypes of vegetarians, as you will see in my Anti-Veg video. Then Ahrens says the greater, not greatest, handicap to clear thinking was the industrial practice of only calling fats “animal” or “vegetable.” Note the word “industrial,” please. He compared this lack of precision in language to failures to distinguish between hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated fats. He then mentioned the evolution of Ancel Keys' ideas about dietary cholesterol. Keys seemed to be modifying his position on this subject, he wrote. The next section is his main point. Fats should be distinguished by their degree of saturation and their effects on serum lipids.

He went on to name the saturated fats that raise cholesterol the most. This is the straightforward science of the day that still applies now. Saturated fats are the culprits. It doesn’t matter whether they come from animal or vegetable sources. Now let's look at that Taubes passage again.

Notice where Taubes inserted the word “saturated.” He is clearly trying to give the impression that Ahrens had some doubts about whether saturated fats were bad, as he says. Now do you think he represented Ahrens' views honestly? Did he tell you the context for that quote was that Ahrens thought that pure vegetarian diets are amazing at lowering cholesterol or that he was specifically complaining about industry labeling practices? He didn't even use the word “greatest.” Is it possible to abuse a quote even more than the journalist Gary Taubes abused this one?

Look at his last line here. ''The attribution is accurate and reflects their beliefs.'' Was that attribution accurate and did it reflect Dr. Ahrens' belief about the relevant point under discussion? What does it say about the strength of his argument that Taubes felt it necessary to distort this quote beyond any recognition?

That wasn't the only time Ahrens referenced vegetarianism. Here in 1957 he said that vegetarianism is effective at lowering lipids.

In 1985 he wondered why official diet recommendations didn't give due consideration to vegetarian diets as an option for those who were at risk of heart disease. Notice the word “feasible.” Vegetarian diets must have seemed reasonable to him.

Here are the practical recommendations on diet that Ahrens made in 1959 for those at high risk of heart disease. The number one recommendation? “Strict avoidance of all meats, eggs, and dairy products, except as rare treats.” Gary Taubes, have you seen this? This was a rather cutting edge endorsement of a nearly vegan diet to fight heart disease considering that this was fifty years ago, don’t you think?

Ahrens was one of the best scientists in the business back then, right Mr Taubes?

Unfortunately, Ahrens was rather conservative in his advice for those not at greatest risk. In 1957, he thought that much more information was needed to understand diet-heart and that widespread dietary changes were not warranted. He thought answers weren't far away. However, he thought it may have been reasonable to recommend cholesterol-lowering diets to those at the greatest risk of heart disease.

Here you see how conventional his ideas were in the late 1950s.

Yet you can see that he was still very well-informed for that time, realizing that saturated fats are the fats that raise cholesterol. Let's not judge harshly. This was a long time ago and we didn't know then what we know now.

Fast forward to 1986. We can see that Ahrens closed out his career as a believer in the lipid hypothesis, as he published early research into LDL-apheresis, a radical procedure to lower LDL in the blood.

In the next video, I'll show you how despite his repeated pattern of holding back important information from his readers, a pattern that should leave him completely discredited, Gary Taubes has an easy time selling his message to the gullible.