Response to Denise Minger 1: Scrupulous
Monday, March 26, 2012 at 11:52PM
Plant Positive

Response to Denise Minger,
Part 1: Scrupulous

It may seem odd that I made four videos attempting to defend Ancel Keys. After all, he died in 2004. I have no personal connection to him at all. He wasn’t a vegan or a vegetarian.

He was certainly fine with milk, eggs, and meat in 1952, provided the overall diet was not high in fat.

Even after he figured out that saturated fat raised cholesterol, he still gave a green light to plenty of meat in the diet. No, he definitely wasn’t a vegan, so that’s not why I defended him.

I’m interested in Keys because he was an incredibly productive scientist who made important contributions on a hugely important subject. I also admire him for his willingness to adjust his views as he learned more. Even though he wasn’t a vegetarian himself, by the end of his career he seemed to be receptive to the idea of it. For someone who had once recommended people eat calf livers and Canadian bacon, this is a pretty fair-minded quote. He wanted the Mediterranean diet he introduced to America to be understood as a nearly vegetarian diet. Now that’s progress.

This is the man who has been portrayed as a fraud by the low carb fringe. Even when one of their apologists, Denise Minger, represents herself as the one who will finally give the man his due, she still suggests he was less than scrupulous as he pursued an agenda. She really shouldn’t go there.

Ms Minger has expressed her intent to go to graduate school.

Before she goes, she should familiarize herself with the concept of academic dishonesty.  George Washington University says it is dishonest to represent another’s work as one’s own.

Stanford has a similar policy. says that if a source for your research is central to your work, you should summarize its importance and main ideas. This is because an honest person would not want anyone to think he or she was pretending to have thought of those ideas independently.

For this blog post about Ancel Keys, Minger says she was only “inspired” by my videos.  Rather than give me credit for my research, she simply says I somehow glossed over something in my look at Ancel Keys.  She is not in any way saying she is basing almost all the content of her blog on my work.  Rather, she implies she is actually correcting my work.  This takes some chutzpah.

After all, my video was date stamped December 1, 2011.

Her comment proving she learned about the lies the low carbers tell about Ancel Keys is stamped December 17 for the whole world to see.

And her blog post about Ancel Keys is stamped December 22, only five days later.

Maybe she thought she could get away with this because not many people watched my video at the time. Knowing that few people had seen it, Minger could have chosen to demonstrate her honesty by citing my properly. She did not.

The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes. Instead, she received the praise of her commenters without any indication of reservation. They think her analysis was brilliant, incredible, and awesome.

Many have criticized my videos as ad hominem critiques of individuals, including Minger. I was criticized in this manner for simply quoting Minger’s own words recounting her biography. Some seem to think it is ad hominem to say someone lacks appropriate training in a field. Pointing out Minger’s failure to cite me properly here could be called ad hominem by her fans, too, I suppose, but credibility matters. I can’t devote all the time it would take to fact check every faulty argument appearing on a blog somewhere. It is actually a more efficient use of my limited time to explain why the opinions of some should be taken with a grain of salt.

Eventually, she did give me some form of credit in her comments section for what she had represented as her own discoveries. She says she really appreciates me pointing out frequent misunderstandings about Keys. I think it is more accurate to call them frequent libels rather than misunderstandings, as she says. Yet she still doesn’t say to which content of mine she is referring. Ms Minger, I would really appreciate you giving me due credit and representing my work fairly if you use it for your blog. Your personal appreciation alone is not worth anything to me.

Someone I really appreciate is this commenter, who pointed out how bad all this looks. Thanks, Richard.

I am not going so far as to say I was plagiarized by Minger. After all, I pointed out how easy it was to find out that Yerushalmy and Hilleboe found animal protein to be more problematic than fat based on this data. But I am not aware of anyone calling out the cholesterol denialists on this matter before me, and Minger clearly took advantage of my work without citing me properly. She pretended she was the one busting a myth perpetuated by the low carbers, and this was clearly not so. She says we all got it wrong about Ancel Keys in her title. The degree to which she is demonstrating that is the degree to which she is using my work. I think that is plain.

Maybe Minger will say she has contributed fresh content about this affair. Let’s look for that. She says she is busting a myth and revealing the truth. Here she summarizes the truth as she sees it. In the first paragraph she distinguishes the Seven Countries Study from earlier work of Keys. This is in my videos. She mentions a 1955 WHO conference at which some were dubious of his findings. Read her link and you’ll see this is at best a footnote to history of little consequence. There is no myth out there among low carbers about a meeting in 1955.  Next she points out that that paper actually found a stronger correlation with animal protein, something the low carbers fail to mention.  This, of course, was central to my videos. This isn’t new from her, either.

This was the slide I showed to make that point, along with textbook references.

I don’t see what she has come up with that busts a myth. All that is interesting here was already in my videos.

That paper about the 22 countries was written by two men named Yerushalmy and Hilleboe, and here she summarizes her main points about it. First, she says Keys cherry-picked. I’ll show you why this probably isn’t true, and even if it is, it’s beside the point. Next, she says animal food consumption correlated to income. I made this point repeatedly in the Primitive Nutrition Series. This is the food ladder concept and it is common knowledge. Next, she says that many countries referenced in the Yerushalmy and Hilleboe paper failed to keep accurate records of the cause of death back then. Not only did I demonstrate this, even Uffe Ravnskov, the author whom I was criticizing, said as much. Next, she says the food consumption data used at the time was inaccurate. It’s true that I didn’t mention this one. I didn’t because I didn’t think it was a serious point.

She thinks she has identified an issue that should render Keys’ observations useless.  Keys was using data indicating the available fats in the food supply, not the fats that were directly consumed by people.  He didn’t factor in food waste.  Therefore his estimates of fat consumption were exaggerated.  I’ve seen this same criticism of Keys from others as well.

For example, Uffe Ravnskov raised this very point in The Cholesterol Myths. He said some fat was wasted or eaten by rats or mice. Apparently rats like fats more than carbs or protein. Keys was comparing different nations to each other, so unless Ravnskov could demonstrate that there were important differences in food waste among the six countries, this shouldn’t affect the comparison. Is he saying that in the US no one was recording how much fat was actually consumed, but in post-war Japan they were carefully monitoring this somehow? Is he saying that the US had more mice, rats, and dogs eating up all the extra fat than in other countries? Is this not absurd? I didn’t include this because it seemed so ridiculous.

Moreover, Keys himself was aware of the inaccuracy of this data due to waste back in 1953. That’s what the paragraph to the left is all about. Minger didn’t correct Keys or bust a myth here, either.

Keys reasonably concluded that the amount of fat in the food supply would bear some correlation to the amount fat consumed. Remember, Keys was making a comparison between countries. As long as fat was measured with the same methodology in each country, their consumption relative to one another should track closely with their usage.

That raises the next issue. What shall we make of the criticism from Yerushalmy and Hilleboe that this wastage would be less in countries less rich than the United States? People with less wealth would be less wasteful.

It seems to me this complaint is negated by a later argument of theirs.  Here they say, and Minger concurs, that the amount of animal fat and protein consumed increases as countries become wealthier. Again, this is the food ladder. I talked about this. As countries become richer they eat more animal food. I think this argument creates a contradiction for Minger and for Yerushalmy and Hilleboe.

1.) One should not compare the fat use in these countries because wealthier nations waste more fat. Fat in the food

supply does not reflect fat consumed.

“… it does mean the fat intake (as well as total calories)

for wealthier nations may be overestimated.”

                - Denise Minger

2.) As per capita income increases, so does the

consumption of animal foods and fat.

“Intake of fat and protein—particularly from animal

sources—is usually a proxy for a country’s development.”

                - Denise Minger

They have established two opposing ideas.  Wealthier countries waste more fat because they can afford to.  But wealthier countries eat more animal fat because that’s what wealthy people do.  So which is it and what exactly is the point that is being made here? 

And if fats were being wasted, which fats were more likely to be wasted?  Would vegetable oils have been conserved more than animal fats?  I would guess that wealthier nations would have been more likely to waste vegetable oils, not animal fats, so they would have been wasting those fats that lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and they would have been conserving the ones that raise cholesterol and cause heart disease. Animal fats were more expensive, in lower supply and consequently less likely to be wasted. Do you see the problem here?  To the degree that food waste was an issue, this factor probably adds further support to the link between saturated fat and heart disease.

Additionally, instead of cherry-picking, as Minger claims, it is more likely Keys was doing his best to compare apples to apples when he chose his countries.  I’ll come back to this weak claim of cherry-picking later.

Lastly, she repeats “correlation isn’t causation” as if she is writing on a blackboard during detention. This is as cliché as it gets, so again, nothing new here.

So what is the original content she has dug up that I missed? She later says I didn’t discuss what she thinks were the important points in the Yerushalmy and Hilleboe paper. The first is the food waste issue, already discussed. Next, she says I left out the fact that the consumption of animal foods is higher in wealthy nations. This is the issue of the food ladder and its affect on so-called diseases of civilization, something I discussed in video 40 …

Here we can see what Hilleboe thought in his  own words.  The association between cardiac death and diet is stronger for animal protein.  Now he does go on to say that non-cardiac death is inversely related to animal protein, but this is explained by the difference between diseases of poverty and diseases of affluence.  I’ll  talk about this in Playing Games with your Heart.  Hilleboe’s overall point here was simply that the definition and causes of heart disease were hard to nail down, which may have been true in 1957 but is far less true now.

As well as in video 37.  This is my script.  I did mention this.  I said, “Now he goes on to say that non-cardiac death is inversely related to animal protein, but this is explained by the difference between diseases of poverty and diseases of affluence.” I raised this point while discussing another paper.  I just didn’t think the Yerushalmy and Hilleboe paper was worth more discussion.

Here's another problem with using that data for 22 countries to argue against the Seven Countries Study, if that’s really what the confusionists insist on doing.  As I said, that data came from a statistical compilation by the FAO.  That was not data used in the Seven Countries Study.  The Seven Countries Study was a prospective cohort study. Researchers were dispatched within the seven countries to collect their own data using uniform standards.  Individuals were studied prospectively, or over time, so they were considered cohorts.  This study was not created by merely crunching someone else’s data, which is what Yerushalmy and Hilleboe did.  Keys was working with far better and more useful data than those two.  I'll give you an example of a problem with their data...

- Plant Positive

She is ignoring one of my main points in my Keys videos.  Here is my script at the beginning of video 38.  Some of the data for the 22 countries was too poor to be usable. Think about this. She thinks I should have spent more time on the Yerushalmy and Hilleboe paper because she thinks it’s so great…

Even as she says the data was poor herself.  For example, she says Mexico lacked a death certificate system in the ’50s.  Maybe this is the fresh and original observation in Minger’s blog!

Moreover, when they were recorded, the accuracy of the cause of death was notoriously unreliable there.

In 1958, it was known that these factors made the determination of rates of mortality from heart disease very difficult there.  Keys didn’t have such enormous problems with his data, but Yerushalmy and Hilleboe did.

- Plant Positive

Here’s my script from video 38 talking about this very issue.

Here’s a slide I displayed.  It’s about Mexico and their death data. It’s amazing to me she would criticize me for missing this even as she takes the idea from me. Put yourself in my place. How would you react to this? Do you see why I am concerned with her credibility?

Ms Minger wants to portray Yerushalmy and Hilleboe as the good guys here, and Keys as the sloppy, agenda-driven crusader. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this is an overly simplified – you might say glossed-over – portrayal. That’s next.

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