Vindicating Gary Taubes: A Smackdown of Seth Yoder

  This flawed early version of the article is no longer available

This flawed early version of the article is no longer available

Gary Taubes’s book The Case Against Sugar was the starting point for my interest in fighting the rising tide of obesity in the world. (See “A Barycentric Autobiography.”) Gary Taubes is so important to efforts to fight obesity that in addition to many of my posts that quote Gary, many posts are more directly about Gary. For example, see:

In these posts I have defended Gary’s substantive views, but have, on several occasions, criticized Gary himself. In particular, in “The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes” I write:

Seth Yoder, in his post "The Case Against the Case Against Sugar" fully convinced me that Gary Taubes displays a serious lack of reportorial honesty in his book The Case Against Sugar. And Seth somehow made reading through the trainwreck of how Gary Taubes routinely misquotes or otherwise misrepresents dead people's views perversely entertaining. 

Seth's devastating demonstration of Gary Taubes's lack of reliability as a historian means I need to examine places where I have relied on information from Gary …

and in “Against Sugar: The Messenger and the Message” I write: 

Gary Taubes has risen high enough that he is set up for a fall. And there is plenty of dirt. He has played fast and loose with some of his history, putting words in the mouth of long-dead scholars they said or meant, and pointing out that people he disagrees with were compromised by sugar-industry ties, but neglecting to point out that people he agrees with were compromised by other food-industry ties.

This post gives Gary Taubes’s side of the story, which I find fully persuasive. I retract the criticisms I have quoted above—and others I have made that are derivative from these two. I consider Gary Taubes vindicated, and will put notes in my earlier blog posts that criticize Gary linking to this post. 

I few days after I posted “Against Sugar: The Messenger and the Message,” sparked by the Wired article above[GT1] , I received an email from Gary Taubes about the serious inaccuracies in that article. Wired ultimately revised the article significantly to address errors. [GT2] As you can see above, they felt they had to change the title.

Since I was young, I have looked up to the authors of most of the books I read. So I was delighted to be in correspondence with Gary. I am also grateful that he has given me permission to share some of our correspondence, as it broadened beyond the Wired article. I have lightly edited for focus and continuity and minor corrections, and omit salutations.

Gary: I just read your latest blog post on the Wired article about me and NuSI as it was shared with me on twitter. 

Regrettably that article got, well, virtually everything wrong …

… we’re all on the same side here, I assume, trying to improve the health of the public and perhaps the relevant scientific communities …

Miles: I would be glad to publish anything you want to say in ongoing debates as a guest post. My readers are quite sophisticated. I would also be very interested in your reaction to any of what I have written on diet and health. Each Tuesday's diet and health post has links to all my other posts on diet and health. 

Gary: I wouldn’t have bothered doing this if I didn’t appreciate what you’re doing and think your readers are indeed sophisticated and thoughtful. Although I don’t think I’ll have time to go back and read (or read in some cases) your previous posts. I should be working on my next book. At the moment this is all more or less procrastinating. 

By the way, I was just searching your website and I noticed that Seth Yoder seems to have influenced your thinking on the quality of my reporting. I never read his review of TCAS because I had many discussions with him when he was doing his take down of GCBC. I estimate there are indeed maybe 200 errors in GCBC from misplaced ellipses in quotes to a few whoppers that still mystify me. That said, I found Seth's fact-checking to be third-rate at best. I could share that e-mail exchange with you, if you'd like. It ends with him asking me if we might want to hire him at NuSI and me suggesting that my former colleague Peter Attia has very little tolerance for sloppiness (mine included) and so I very much doubt he would get a job.  I never respond to these people publicly (the same goes for Guyenet and Freedhoff and Kokor) because life is short and there are more important things to do. I think the problem with blogging is that it doesn't have the requirement that journalism does that the writer/reporter go to the source to ask for comments. So had someone like you asked me about Yoder, I'd say, "give me some of his key points and I'll see what I can do" and then I'd see what I could do or tell you I'm too busy. As is, this slowly permeates through the blogosphere. I still don't think it's worth responding publicly to these folks (Yoder, after all, is just a young man with a grudge and too much time on his hands) but I do wish folks like you would reach out, just like a reporter would have to, and assure you're getting the story right. I realize this isn't what bloggers do. I'm just wishing here that it was. 

Anyway, if you have any questions in the future, feel free to ask. And if you'd like to give me a few of Yoder's main points about TCAS, I'll try to find the time to respond. 

Miles: Thanks! I'd love to do a blog post giving your response to Seth Yoder if you have material from your interaction with Seth Yoder that you could put on the record. I found that when I spoke highly of your work, people kept directing me to Guyenet and Yoder so I felt I had to take that seriously. I think Seth's accusations are much more serious than anything Guyenet says. So I would love to know how to answer what Seth says better. I can work with quite raw raw-material on that front. 

I am delighted to be in correspondence with you. I confess that I assumed too quickly that I was too much of a small fry for you to respond.   

Gary: As I said my earlier experience with Yoder was so discouraging that I lost interest in anything he wrote. … It wasn't just that his goal (as he admitted to me) was to dismiss the message of my books by nit-picking them as close to death as he could get them, but that he did a lousy job of nit-picking. …

Miles: I didn't think Seth was convincing when it came to any substantive scientific question. The one place I did take him seriously was in his claim that your characterization of the views of dead people often didn't adequately reflect the conventionality of their views. Few were sounding the strong anti-sugar note that your quotations sometimes make it sound as if they did. You made them seem more simply anti-sugar than they really were, when their views were quite complex and often quite muddy. This is consistent with what you said in the email you just sent: your books are needed precisely because a strong and clear anti-sugar message was not there before. But, other than Yudkin himself, I don't see that there was a golden age in the past when the anti-sugar message was sounded in a clear and strong way by researchers.  

I'd love to get your responses to these bits of Seth's blog post that worried me. What follow are seven quotations from Seth’s blog post, which in turn often have quotations from your book.

[Editing note: Between the two divider lines, the unindented words are Seth’s. The indented words are Seth quoting others. Gary’s response picks up immediately after the second divider line.]


1. [Seth quoting a source:]

Influential British and Indian physicians working in the Indian subcontinent had discussed the high and apparently growing prevalence of diabetes among the “lazy and indolent rich” in their populations, and particularly among “Bengali gentlemen” whose “daily sustenance . . . is chiefly rice, flour, pulses, sugars.”

“There is not the slightest shadow of a doubt that with the progress of civilization, of high education, and increased wealth and prosperity of the people under the British rule, the number of diabetic cases has enormously increased,” observed Rai Koilas Chunder Bose, a fellow at Calcutta University, noting that perhaps one in ten of the “well-to-do class of Bengali gentleman” had the disease.

Compare this to pages 102-103 of GCBC:

To British investigators, it was the disparate rates of diabetes among the different sects, castes, and races of India that particularly implicated sugar and starches in the disease. In 1907, when the British Medical Association held a symposium on diabetes in the tropics at its annual conference, Sir Havelock Charles, surgeon general and president of the Medical Board of India, described diabetes among “the lazy and indolent rich” of India as a “scourge.” “There is not the slightest shadow of a doubt,” said Charles’s colleague Rai Koilas Chunder Bose of the University of Calcutta, “that with the progress of civilization, of high education, and increased wealth and prosperity of the people under the British rule, the number of diabetic cases has enormously increased.” The British and Indian physicians working in India agreed that the Hindus, who were vegetarians, suffered more than the Christians or the Muslims, who weren’t. And it was the Bengali, who had taken on the most trappings of the European lifestyle, and whose daily sustenance, noted Charles, was “chiefly rice, flour, pulses and sugars,” who suffered the most—10 percent of “Bengali gentlemen” were reportedly diabetic.

The recycling of his own work notwithstanding, it’s a bit of a selective interpretation of the source material.(5) The following are some choice quotes that Taubes does not mention:

[The Hindus] generally eat more than is actually necessary for the maintenance of health, are more susceptible to diabetes than their Mohammedan or Christian brethren. It is difficult to state the part food plays in the production of diabetes, and what part gluttony supplies in the manufacture of sugar within the system. True it is that our diet chiefly consists of rice, flour, pulse, and cereals of diverse kinds; but so long as there does not exist the essential cause of diabetes, which Is still unknown, they exert little or no deleterious effects upon our health, and a man may continue to take carbohydrates and sugar lifelong, and still may not suffer from diabetes; he might suffer from temporary glycosuria. I do not agree with those who believe that carbohydrates are the only factors of diabetes, for meat-eaters are not immune against the disease.

[…]

The following articles of diet are recommended [for diabetics]: New rice, curd, flesh of animals living in swamps, fish, sweets, wines, vinegar, excess of oil, and onions. […] The following articles of diet are especially recommended, for they are considered to be very beneficial: Barley, flour of old wheat, Moong dal, Arabar dal, Chena dal (Bengal grain), fried rice, sesamum seeds, meat juice, old wines, old honey, whey, sparrows, pigeons, rabbits, snipe, peacock, venison.

[…]

And, although the carbohydrate excess in the food of the Indian is very great, still, just as in Europe, where the consumption of sugar, vegetables, and beer may be also in excess, the essential cause of diabetes must be present, or otherwise the factors mentioned will not determine the disease. So it is in the East.

[…]

Exercise, as a rule, is disliked by the gentlemen class of Bengal after a certain age, and members of this service form no exception. Further, in addition to sedentary habit, excessive mental labour, often in over crowded court-rooms, and ingestion of heavy, fatty, starchy, and saccharine meals, seem to be no unimportant factors in the causation of the disease among this class of highly useful Indian public officers.

If we take the whole of the text into account, we find that these Bengali gentlemen not only consume starches and pulses, but also heavy fatty foods, and they consume it all in excess. Additionally, they don’t like to exercise according to these physicians. Might these lifestyle factors play a role in diabetes? Moreover, the physicians themselves make it clear that they do not think sugar and carbs cause diabetes since diabetes can also be present in those that do not eat carbs and be absent in those that consume a lot of carbs. If these physicians thought carbs promoted the development of diabetes they would not be prescribing diets that included honey, flour, rice, sweets, and wine in the treatment diets. Why doesn’t Taubes mention this?

2. 

Continuing… Taubes claims that this point about Indian diabetics was “singularly compelling” to an influential diabetes specialist named Frederick Allen.

Allen found this point singularly compelling. These early Hindu physicians, after all, were linking diabetes to carbohydrate consumption and sugar more than a millennium before the invention of organic chemistry and its revelations that sugar, rice, and flour were carbohydrates and that carbohydrate “in digestion is converted into the sugar which appears in the urine.” “This definite incrimination of the principal carbohydrate foods,” Allen wrote, “is, therefore, free from preconceived chemical ideas, and is based, if not on pure accident, on pure clinical observation.”

First, there is no evidence that Allen found this “singularly compelling.” Secondly, unlike Taubes, Allen discusses evidence both for and against the theory that carbohydrate consumption is associated with diabetes.(6) Let’s look at the full quote (emphasis mine):

This definite incrimination of the principal carbohydrate foods is, therefore, free from preconceived chemical ideas, and is based, if not on pure accident, on pure clinical observation. But Bose himself, with a more modern viewpoint, states that he does not know how much the heavy carbohydrate diet and the gluttony of the Hindus may have to do with the great prevalence of the disease among them; but unless the unknown cause of diabetes is present, a person may eat gluttonously of carbohydrate all his life and never have diabetes.

Having the full quote changes Allen’s tone, wouldn’t you say? Let’s look at what else Allen wrote immediately following the out-of-context quote:

Among the authorities on diabetes, von Noorden declares against any relation between the eating of carbohydrate and the incidence of the disease. […] A. L. Benedict considers that though some diabetics give a history of excessive eating of sugar or carbohydrates, many non-diabetics are guilty of equal excesses, particularly young girls who live on candy. Supporters of the sugar-theory call attention to the concomitant increase of diabetes and of sugar- consumption. But if sugar were a cause, diabetes should be more prevalent among the young, especially girls; and a larger proportion of case-histories should show sugar-excess. The products of carbohydrate digestion and metabolism are not toxic, and indigestion generally stops the excess before long. 

3. 

Relating back to the Prologue of this book, on page 100 Taubes describes the intrepid research of Emerson and Larimore:

By the mid-1920s, the rising mortality rates from diabetes in the United States had become the fodder of newspapers and magazines; Joslin, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and the New York State commissioner of health were all reporting publicly what Joslin was now calling an epidemic. When Haven Emerson, head of the department of public health at Columbia University, and his colleague Louise Larimore discussed this evidence at length at two conferences in 1924—the American Association of Physicians and the American Medical Association annual meetings—they considered the increase in sugar consumption that paralleled the increasing prevalence of diabetes to be the prime suspect.

But is this actually true? Was sugar the “prime suspect”? From the Emerson and Larimore article:

The food shortage expressed itself not so much in the lack of sugar and carbohydrates as in lack of fats, which should make one suspect that it is not the quality but the gross quantity of food (calories) that plays the chief part in development of a high diabetes death rate in a community where more food is eaten than is required. (1)

So, the sugar shortage, in effect, was the shortage of all foods. Sugar consumption was used only as a proxy. This is repeated in the text:

One index of the tendency of our people to use larger amounts of food is the record of per capita consumption of sugar, which is offered here not as an explanation of the increased death rates from diabetes in recent years, but more as a sign of the tendency to excesses in the use of foods of all kinds, beyond the needs of persons for foods in proportion to their expenditure of energy at the different ages of life, and in particular in the later decades.

If any prime suspect is fingered by the authors, it is the difference in physical activity between those that have diabetes and those that do not. This point is brought up many times in the text and is the closing sentence from Emerson.

4. 

In a series of articles written from the late 1920s onward, Bauer took up Bergmann’s thinking and argued that obesity was clearly the end result of a dysregulation of the biological factors that normally work to keep fat accumulation under check.

However, if one actually reads the series of articles, one might conclude that they are not exactly the ringing endorsement that Taubes claims:

The question of obesity has occupied the minds and pens of so many workers that it seems scarcely necessary to add another publication. Endocrinologists, especially, have taken a great interest in the subject, and as a result we find the literature filled with references to the relation between endocrine disorders and obesity. While we grant that endocrine dysfunction may be a cause of obesity we feel that these cases form a small, numerically almost insignificant part of the obese patients that present themselves in the clinic. It shall be the purpose of this report to review briefly the present concepts of the nature of obesity and to present a case that illustrates the dangers of an “endocrine diagnosis” in cases which, on careful study, reveal another, more likely, basis for the obesity. (17)

(bolding mine, italics in the original)

And what does Dr. Bauer recommend in treating obesity? Why low calorie diets and more exercise, of course! 

In no case should obesity be treated without the prescription, first of all, of a dietetic regimen. All other therapeutic procedures are secondary to this one. Not only a general quantitative reduction of calories should be instituted, but their quality should also be considered. […] The output of energy should be increased as far as possible by the prescription of greater muscular activity, in the form of walking and other physical exercises, with due regard to the patient’s cardiac state. (18)

5. 

Continuing on page 116, Taubes writes: 

By 1938, Russell Wilder, the leading expert on diabetes and obesity at the Mayo Clinic and soon to become director of the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, was writing that this German-Austrian hypothesis “deserves attentive consideration” […]

Interestingly, Wilder prefaces the above quote with “Even though one grants, as one must, that the caloric balance will determine in the end whether fat is deposited or released from storage in the body as a whole […]” (19)

Why Taubes excises this bit of text should be obvious to anyone paying attention. 

6. 

By 1940, the Northwestern University endocrinologist Hugo Rony, in the first academic treatise written on obesity in the United States, was asserting that the hypothesis was “more or less fully accepted” by the European authorities. Then it virtually vanished. 

I think it’s important to note a few things here. First, Rony did not claim it was accepted by “the European authorities” (Taubes also makes this mistake in GCBC by stating it was accepted “in Europe”), but rather that it was accepted in Germany. Minor point, but worth mentioning because Taubes clearly expands the acceptance from one country to an entire continent to make it seem more legitimate. Second, Rony also mentions a few things immediately following the “more or less fully accepted” quote that are less than charitable to the theory. Notably on page 174,

[T]he main elements of this attractive theory remain as hypothetical as they were thirty years ago. Thus, there is as yet no direct evidence that the fat tissues of obese subjects have an increased affinity to the glucose (and fat) of the blood. […] The results of glucose and fat tolerance tests made on obese and non-obese persons do not support the assumption that ingested glucose and fat disappear from the blood of obese subjects faster land at lower thresholds than from the blood of non-obese subjects. (Chapter VI). Neither is there any material evidence to show that the fat depots of obese persons resist fat mobilization at times of caloric need for energy consumption more than the fat tissues of non-obese subjects do. On the contrary, it appears from data concerning the basal metabolism and nitrogen output in undernutrition (page 72 and 149), that the fat of the fat depots of most obese subjects is more readily available for energy consumption than that of non-obese subjects. Furthermore, we have no valid proof that glandular or nervous system disturbances, in producing generalized obesity, act primarily upon the fat tissue. (20)

Emphasis mine. In fact, the entire Rony text is really devastating to Taubes’s theory, in that it fully supports what Taubes calls the “energy-balance theory” and effectively rejects the fringe theories like those Taubes promotes.

7.

On page 228 Taubes describes a visit to Africa by Dr. Hugh Trowell:

When Trowell arrived in Kenya, he would later write, hypertension and diabetes were absent. The native population was also as thin as “ancient Egyptians,” despite consuming relatively high-fat diets and suffering no shortage of food. * 

There’s also a footnote to this passage:

* During World War II, according to Trowell, the British government sent a team of nutritionists to the region to learn why local Africans recruited into the British Army could not gain sufficient weight to meet army entrance requirements. “Hundreds of x-rays,” Trowell wrote, “were taken of African intestines in an effort to solve the mystery that lay in the fact that everyone knew how to fatten a chicken for the pot, but no one knew how to make Africans . . . put on flesh and fat for battle. It remained a mystery.”

Let’s deal with the claims in the main text first. The source of these claims comes from a book titled The Truth about Fiber in your Food.(79) There is no mention of anything related to the Africans having a high fat diet. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Trowell claims the Africans were not eating enough calories:

During World War II, he was aware, a team of British medical experts had been formed and sent to Africa to advise the military authorities about army diets because Africans refused to eat the number of calories that nutritionists, and Trowell himself, advised. (79)

Emphasis mine. Related to this is Tabues footnote and the bottom of the page. What’s intriguing to me is the ellipsis that marks where Taubes omitted some words. Reprinted below is the full quote (again, emphasis mine):

“Hundreds of x-rays,” he [Trowell] recalls, “were taken of African intestines in an effort to solve the mystery that lay in the fact that everyone knew how to fatten a chicken for the pot, but no one knew how to make Africans eat their caloric requirements and put on flesh and fat for battle. It remained an unsolved mystery.”


Gary: My point was a simple one: when someone like Seth goes after my reporting, they have to get their facts straight. Credibility is everything in this business, which is why Seth was trying so hard to undermine mine. My reason for not taking him seriously is he couldn’t get his facts straight and his take on science is, well, let us just say ill-formed. It’s not his fault because no one ever taught him (it seems to be particularly absent at the U.W., where he got his masters, but that might be my own issue.)

For example, let’s talk about the kind of mistake I worry about because it's egregious and embarrassing and any journalist who makes this kind of error must, first, publicly apologize and then find a different career. In my book (and in the 2011 NYT Magazine article that preceded it) I noted that fewer than a dozen human trials were being funded “that might identify what happens when we consume sugar or high-fructose corn syrup for years, and at what level of consumption we incur a problem.” These would be trials that might vaguely teach us something researchers working in this field don’t already know. Now the NYT Magazine would have fact-checked this closely back in 2011 and I remember asking my fact-checker to do it again, so this was surprising to me that I could screw this up, let alone as egregiously as Seth suggested.  

Seth goes to clinicaltrials.gov, types in “sucrose OR fructose” as search terms and comes up with 450-plus hits of which 79 might be on-going in the U.S. at the time. So now I’ve seriously done our government a disservice and readers: I said less than a dozen. Looks like I was off by almost an order of magnitude, and Seth lets me have it in full sarcasm mode.

I just re-did Seth’s exercise and you can do it, too. It will take maybe 20 minutes. I typed in “sucrose OR fructose” as search terms in clinicaltrials.gov, and then went through the first 100 of the 539 hits that came up. Maybe two of the 100 at most were relevant to the question we want answered—long term sucrose consumption and our health—and arguably only one. Virtually all the rest, as you can see if you do this yourself, were on subjects in which the word “sucrose” appears -- most often for using sucrose as a pain reliever for babies or in studies of "iron sucrose" whatever that is. Seth didn't see the need to do this kind of basic exercise. (When you're trying to publicly assassinate someone's character, apparently you don't want to waste time doing your homework).  

So do this yourself: go through some subset of all the hits that come up with those search terms – you can ignore whether they're ongoing—and count up how many are relevant to sugar consumption and chronic disease risk. That’s the issue this book is about.  As I said, it should take you all of 20 minutes to get a feel for whether we’re talking hundreds, many dozens, or fewer than a dozen as I wrote. Think of it as calibrating Seth’s reporting and research skills, which is what I have always had to do with the academic researchers in this nutrition business. If they can get simple things so very wrong, what’s the likelihood they get the complex things right? Particularly in a case like this when their reason for existence is to demonstrate that someone else gets the simple things wrong.

Regarding the points below, I’ll get to them shortly.

Your evocation of Yudkin, though, reminded me of an interesting aspect of all this. For starters while I think Yudkin got sugar mostly right and arguably described metabolic syndrome twenty years before Reaven did, Yudkin also made a terrible mistake, which I discussed in GCBC. He insisted that low-carbohydrate diets work merely by cutting calories and he did so on the basis of two small ill-conceived experiments. He wrote two papers on it which the establishment thinkers then quoted as evidence to support their views. I did not mention this in TCAS, because it just wasn’t relevant although maybe I should have, as they are evidence that Yudkin could get things wrong. One way or the other, Yudkin got some stuff right, for which he gets credit, and some stuff wrong which I mention when relevant. Newburgh, too, turns out to have published two papers around 1920 on the efficacy of a very low carb, high fat diet for diabetes — a ketogenic diet, in effect, aka Atkins. In that he was almost a century ahead of his time, although it went nowhere. I didn’t know this when I wrote GCBC and it’s going to complicate my next book because having spent three books blaming Newburgh for the energy balance nonsense, I’m going to have to point out that he wasn’t always wrong. In this case, dietary therapy for diabetes, he got it right. The point is sometimes folks get things wrong and sometimes they get it right and it’s the author’s judgement how to treat these and why. Einstein famously didn’t like quantum physics and it gets brought up a lot — God doesn’t play dice and all that… — but it doesn’t mean he got relativity wrong. In a book on relativity, a science historian might not mention Einstein’s feelings about quantum physics because they might not be relevant. Context is everything. 

If you go back and reread my epilog of GCBC, I evoke the philosopher of science Robert Merton making this point: 

In science, as Merton noted, progress is only made by first establishing whether one’s predecessors have erred or “have stopped before tracking down the implications of their results or have passed over in their work what is there to be seen by the fresh eye of another.” 

That is, in effect, what I did in this book. If I’m right, no one got it 100 percent right and so often what I was doing was pointing out what others had passed over in their work or neglected to interpret fully because they were trapped in a particular perspective and I wasn’t. So Atkins, for instance, got much of this right for the time and deserves considerable credit, but he didn’t get it all and he got a lot of things wrong. Same with Yudkin. And Bauer and Pennington and all the rest. I took out what I thought was right and directed our attention to it and neglected to repeat what I thought was wrong or the particular authors being trapped in their paradigms. That is what I perceived my job to be, and I put in that Merton quote as a reminder at the end. 

You can think of what I did and what Seth did as antipodal approaches. Think of it as a murder case, for instance, in which investigators have different ideas who the murderer  is - say, suspect A and suspect B. Most investigators and the media think it’s A and they want to rush to judgment. But one investigator — the intrepid inspector Taubes -- thinks its B. So he goes through all the evidence and says, look, B is always at the scene of the crime and never has an alibi and there’s always at least some evidence implicating him. And the others say, yes, but so is A. The job of the investigator who thinks its B, our friend inspector Taubes, is not to rule out A, although would be nice if it could be done, but to convince his many colleagues that B is a suspect and has to be considered seriously. Maybe he should even be the prime suspect, as I’m saying in the sugar book. Seth sees it as his job to point out every time I don’t mention that A was also implicated. I disagree that it was my job. So in GCBC, I say this in the introduction: 

By critically examining the research that led to the prevailing wisdom of nutrition and health, this book may appear to be one-sided, but only in that it presents a side that is not often voiced publicly. Since the 1970s, the belief that saturated fat causes heart disease and perhaps other chronic diseases has been justified by a series of expert reports – from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Surgeon General’s Office, the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Health in the U.K., among others. These reports present the evidence in support of this diet-heart hypothesis and mostly omit the evidence in contradiction. This makes for a very compelling case, but it is not how science is best served. It is a technique used to its greatest advantage by trial lawyers, who assume correctly that the most persuasive case to a jury is one that presents only one side of a story. The legal system, however, assures that judge and jury hear both sides by requiring the presence of competing attorneys to present the other side. 

So what Seth is often doing in his critiques is saying, look this evidence that you say implicates suspect B also implicates suspect A, and you don’t say that. My counter argument is that 1) often I do — as I’ll discuss about a few of your points below — and Seth conveniently ignores it (glass house phenomena) and 2), my job, as I acknowledge in introductions to both books, is to present the case for suspect B. As I told Seth when we first exchanged e-mails, the first draft of GCBC was 400,000 words long and unfinished. My editor, bless his heart, read the whole thing because I was wondering if we could cut it into two books. He said, no, and then we got to work shortening it. His primary advice was that I typically gave multiple perspectives for every point: first the conventional wisdom, then the reason why the conventional wisdom was wrong, then the response of the establishment scientists to the evidence suggesting the CW was wrong, and then why that response was wrong. My editor said cut out the last two levels, and you can address those in the Q&A period of the lectures you’ll be giving on this topic. And that’s what I mostly did. Many of the mistakes made — specifically with references and citations — came about because of this process of cutting the manuscript in half. Much of what Seth accuses me of leaving out are simply judgment calls. Is it up to me to present the evidence for suspect A or reiterate why suspect A is being rushed to judgment, when my job in limited space is to argue that suspect B is very much a suspect, if not the prime suspect? 

In the case of the sugar book, the title and author’s note state what the book is about. The last sentence of the author’s note is this: “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” Seth and you seem to think I should be presenting the defense case for them as well. Ironically, often I do — and I’ve been criticized for that by some of my allies in the anti-sugar crowd -- but not always. 

Here goes:

Point one: This is about the 1907 BMJ report on the diabetes in the tropics issue. After the quotes that Seth thinks I should have used, Seth concludes: 

If we take the whole of the text into account, we find that these Bengali gentlemen not only consume starches and pulses, but also heavy fatty foods, and they consume it all in excess. Additionally, they don’t like to exercise according to these physicians. Might these lifestyle factors play a role in diabetes? Moreover, the physicians themselves make it clear that they do not think sugar and carbs cause diabetes since diabetes can also be present in those that do not eat carbs and be absent in those that consume a lot of carbs. If these physicians thought carbs promoted the development of diabetes they would not be prescribing diets that included honey, flour, rice, sweets, and wine in the treatment diets. Why doesn’t Taubes mention this?

But Taubes does, and at length. Here’s what I wrote on page 99 in TCAS, after the quotation from the conference: 

What was unclear was whether the dietary trigger of diabetes was all carbohydrates, just refined grains (white rice and white flour among them) and sugars, sugars alone, perhaps gluttony itself, or even some other factor that predisposed the well-to-do to diabetes and protected the poor. From the discussion at the British Medical Association meeting, it was apparent that poor laborers could live on carbohydrate- rich diets without getting diabetes, whereas well-to-do Indians (and even affluent Chinese and Egyptians, as was noted by physicians at the conference) who lived on carbohydrate-rich diets easily succumbed to diabetes and seemed to be doing so at ever- increasing rates. What was the difference in their diet and lifestyle? “Unless the unknown cause of diabetes is present,” wrote Allen, “a person may eat gluttonously of carbohydrate all his life and never have diabetes.” Some of the physicians at the British meeting had suggested this unknown cause was the mental stress or “nervous strain” of the life of a professional—a doctor or a lawyer— compared with the relatively simple life of a laborer (as the British physician Benjamin Ward Richardson had suggested as a cause of diabetes in his 1876 book, Diseases of Modern Life); others suggested it was the idle life led by the wealthy and their disdain of physical activity that brought on the disease. Still others thought it was gluttony, or maybe alcohol. Sugar itself, as Allen noted, was consistently raised as a possibility.

In the immortal words of our former president, “Come on, man…” Does that not make exactly the point? 

Point two:  

First Seth debates my use of the phrase “singularly compelling.” What I was referring to was precisely what I quoted: 

“This definite incrimination of the principal carbohydrate foods,” Allen wrote, “is, therefore, free from preconceived chemical ideas, and is based, if not on pure accident, on pure clinical observation.”    

I suppose Seth has an argument that I’m giving this observation too much emphasis to say “singularly compelling” but it’s only an opinion. That said, I never say Allen believed unequivocally that sugar was the cause of diabetes or that their views weren’t muddy, as you describe them. I say his textbook included a “lengthy discussion” and “he believed it had to be discussed for the obvious reason: “The consumption of sugar is undoubtedly increasing,” wrote Allen. “It is generally recognized that diabetes is increasing, and to a considerable extent, its incidence is greatest among the races and the classes of society that consume [the] most sugar.”

And then I discuss his discussion. Including this: 

Allen divided the European authorities into three schools of thought on a possibly causal relationship between sugar and diabetes. Some, like the German Carl von Noorden, author of several multi-volume textbooks on diabetes and disorders of metabolism and nutrition, rejected the idea outright; some, like the German internist Bernhard Naunyn (whom Joslin had visited as a young physician to learn about the disease), thought the evidence that sugar caused diabetes was ambiguous. These physicians wouldn’t blame sugar for actually causing diabetes, but did concede, wrote Allen, that “large quantities of sweet foods and the maltose of beer” favored the onset of the disease. Others, most notably the French authority Raphaël Lépine, were convinced of the causal role of sugar, and mentioned as evidence that diabetes was suspiciously common among laborers in sugar factories.

As Allen noted, however,  what physicians said about sugar and diabetes and how they acted were often disconnected (as is still the case today): The majority of these authorities seemed to think that sugar had little or no role in actually causing the disease, although they were “open to accusations against sugar” when it came to the possibility that it exacerbated diabetic complications. Virtually all these physicians, including these same skeptical authorities, told their diabetic patients not to eat sugar, suggesting that they did indeed think sugar was harmful. “The practice of the medical profession is wholly affirmative” of this idea, Allen wrote. If sugar could make diabetes worse, he noted, which was implied by this near-universal restriction of sugar in the diabetic diet, then the possibility surely existed that it could cause the disease to appear in individuals who might otherwise seem healthy.

What Seth does and you imply is that because I used the phrase “singularly compelling” in one context, that meant that I was implying Allen had embraced this thinking wholeheartedly. And then you ignore everything else I wrote about Allen’s discussion. Again there seems to be a glass-house problem here. What Seth says I leave out seems very much like the discussion I actually had, although my version is more complete. You can actually get Allen’s book on google books and fact check this one yourself. 

Point three. 

This is Emerson and Larimore. I’ve attached this paper. You can decide for yourself whether or not they thought sugar was a prime suspect or just a proxy for excess calories of all types. I’ve also attached a paper by Mills in 1930 citing Emerson and Larimore as the source of the argument that sugar causes diabetes. If you’d like I could dig out my copies of the early editions of Joslin’s diabetes to see if he makes the same point but as I say in GCBC, Joslin also cited Mills. That said, I suppose you could argue that Emerson and Larimore only considered sugar prime suspect along with “greater abundance or superalimentation”, and not the prime suspect as I wrote and you’d have a good argument. But the only charts they present in this section are of sugar consumption and here’s their section head for their discussion of the effect of food on diabetes: 

DEATH RATES FROM DIABETES IN RELATION TO VARIATION IN PER CAPITA CONSUMPTION OF FOOD, PARTICULARLY SUGAR

Again, I’d say it’s a judgment call and while Seth’s take that Emerson and Larrimore also believed that obesity itself was a cause (and so this superalimentation thing) is reasonable, it’s the defense attorney’s case, not the prosecutor’s.  

Point four.

Seth is just showing either his ignorance here or his refusal to actually read these papers closely. Unfortunately, his quote comes from a paper Bauer wrote with an American, Silver, in 1931 and I only have that in hard copy now in bins in my attic. I’m going to assume though that what Bauer and Silver meant by “endocrine dysregulation” is what Bauer meant in his 1941 review article by “endocrine disturbance” (page 985). These are cases “in which obesity develops as a result of a tumor or other pathologic process in one of the endocrine glands.” It was one of the problems with how endocrinology was studied in relationship to obesity. The authorities specialized in specific glands and the review articles were written about those glands—the site of the hormone secretion, not the target cells and tissues. So Bauer was differentiating between a structural abnormality or disease in the glands (see highlighted section page 987)—the “endocrine disturbance”—and the general tendency for fat accumulation which operates through the endocrine glands (as well as well as the nervous system). Just read the article and you’ll see. If you have further questions, I’ll answer them.  

That said, Seth is absolutely right that Bauer said the diet should be restricted in calories. As I point out repeatedly in my books (and in the version of my Why We Get Fat lecture that takes the historical perspective), though, it wasn’t until 1960 and the invention of the radioimmunoassay that endocrinologists could establish insulin as the regulator of fat accumulation and so carbohydrates as the likely trigger of excess fat accumulation. Hence, the dietary implications of this hormonal/regulatory hypothesis took until the 1960s. It would have been nice if Bauer was pushing carb restriction, and I suppose I could have put in a footnote to the effect that even though he didn’t think “overalimentation” was the cause, he still pushed underalimentation as a treatment. Still, what Seth is arguing here is bizarrely wrong. 

Enjoy Bauer’s article, he was a smart guy. 

Point five.

Seth has got me on this one. What he doesn’t say, though, (glass houses), is that his ellipses encompass almost an entire page. I’ve attached the article. It’s page 310. He implies that the sentence about caloric balance comes right before the sentence about attentive consideration. You decide if I did Wilder an injustice. Yes, Wilder also was a prisoner of his context. What was important to me was Wilder’s thoughts on Bauer and the lipophilia (hormonal/endocrine) hypothesis, not the fact that he, too, was confusing the correlation of positive energy balance with the cause. (Or maybe felt, as people often do, that he had to say it was all about calories just so folks wouldn’t get mad at him and stop reading.) Anyway, read Wilder’s discussion and you tell me whether I did him a disservice. Either way, it’s another judgment call, very much like the Bauer undereating recommendation. I could go through and include every point in which these folks agree with the CW and then discuss when they don’t, but I’d end up with a 400,000 page unreadable book. 

Point six. 

This is Seth going on about my treatment of Rony. Here is what he quotes me saying and then what he says: 

By 1940, the Northwestern University endocrinologist Hugo Rony, in the first academic treatise written on obesity in the United States, was asserting that the hypothesis was “more or less fully accepted” by the European authorities. Then it virtually vanished.

I think it’s important to note a few things here. First, Rony did not claim it was accepted by “the European authorities” (Taubes also makes this mistake in GCBC by stating it was accepted “in Europe”), but rather that it was accepted in Germany. Minor point, but worth mentioning because Taubes clearly expands the acceptance from one country to an entire continent to make it seem more legitimate. Second, Rony also mentions a few things immediately following the “more or less fully accepted” quote that are less than charitable to the theory. Notably on page 174,

Seth has me on the Europe vs. Germany issue. Although as he says, it’s a minor point. Here’s the full quote (page 173-4 in Rony’s book): 

The subsequent discovery that normal fat tissue is the site of considerable metabolic activity-especially glycogen transformation (page 41)—was looked upon by many as strongly supporting the theory, which is now more or less fully accepted, chiefly in Germany, by a number of leading investigators of metabolic diseases (Umber, Zondek, Richter, Falta, Bauer, Lichtwitz, etc.)    

Because Bauer and Falta are Austrians, I figured I could say Europe. Sue me. Virtually all the meaningful work was being done in Germany and Austria in any case. 

As for Seth’s other argument:

Second, Rony also mentions a few things immediately following the “more or less fully accepted” quote that are less than charitable to the theory

Yes, Rony was a good scientist. I make the point that they tended to be, the Europeans, pre-WW2. He didn’t see his job as selling anyone on the theory but discussing the evidence openly. Reading his book was refreshing in that sense. The fact that fatty acid mobilization is not slowed in obesity is a critical finding in the field and led Pennington to his theories and is still argued today. This was one reason why Rony evoked the terms dynamic and static phases of obesity. And it’s a long conversation, but the fact that Rony discussed the evidence that was absent in confirming the theory does not mean he didn’t think the totality of the evidence supported it. 

Seth gives a link for the Rony book on line. Read it yourself and tell me whether you think he believes it’s likely to be right.  

Point seven

This one took me a bit to figure out exactly what the problem was. He’s saying Trowell never said anything about the native populations “high-fat diet.” I don’t suppose Trowell ever did. The point is he was based in Kenya and the native populations he was discussing were pastoralists, primarily the Masai. They ate a high-fat diet. The point about no shortage of food was that Trowell commented they always had enough to feed their pets afterward. (Although now that I look at that quote, I suppose I should have said usually had enough, because of that clause “almost invariably, except in times of scarcity”.) Here’s the relevant paragraph from Galton’s The Truth About Fiber, which is the source of the Trowell quote:

He had noticed, too, that when he was entertained in African homes, almost invariably, except in times of scarcity, food was left at the end of the meal and fed to domestic pets.

So, yes, the “high-fat” was me filling in the details from what I knew about the pastoralist diet in Kenya. Seth may be right that I jumped to conclusions. Typically when nutritionists were talking about Kenyan populations it was the Masai or another pastoralist population whose name I forget at the moment, but there may have been many more that were agriculturalists.  

His point that Trowell thought this was a calorie issue is just irrelevant. Everyone did (outside of those pesky Germans and Austrians) and that’s not why Trowell was in the book. It’s an irrelevant comment. Although Seth is right, I often used ellipses to simplify things, which means cutting out parts of the quote that are irrelevant to the point I want to make. While Trowell may have thought the problem was getting the Africans to eat enough to get fat; I thought the observation of interest was that they couldn’t figure out how to make them fat, even though they seemed to have plenty of food. Seth is saying Trowell thinks its suspect A. I’m saying the evidence points to suspect B and pointing out that Trowell thought like Seth just complicates the text. Make sense?

I hope this helps. Once again I did this quickly. 

Miles: This is fascinating! What you have written in this email is precisely the sort of thing I'd love to have on my blog.  

Gary: …I do think you should take the time and read the articles. … One of the lessons in all this is you cannot trust anyone, not the authorities, not the self-appointed authorities (specifically Seth in this case, but me, too). …

… Seth tries so hard to assassinate my character …

Gary: I've been noticing other folks recently tweeting Seth's attack (I had to think of what the write word is there) on TCAS and my work. As such, that and the Wired article and some of Guyenet's latest, have me thinking that I should do my own blog post on all of this someday -- a discourse on the difference between blogging, web journalism and the journalism I grew up practicing (similar to science in that you really want to know, as do your editors, that what you think is so and hence what you write is really true). If I ever make time to do that, it would be easier for me if your blog post acknowledges my input and that you were in touch with me and what I wrote back. That might be easier for you to write in any case. If you do that and then I end up making some of the same points, I won't look like I'm plagiarizing you. I don't know how far along you are so how much of a pain this is for you, but I'd appreciate it if this works for you. If not, I'll understand and write around it. (Assuming, as I said, I ever get to doing this.) 

Let me know what you think and thanks for considering. 

Miles: Wonderful! I agree with your tentative decision not to just brush off Seth's attack as something that would remain mostly unknown if you don't talk about. I can just report again that more than one person mentioned Guyenet and Seth, and of course if you get to Guyenet you see his flagging of Seth.

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.

John Locke: The Public Good

   Image source   .  On the claim above about healthcare, see a counterpoint in the post “ Health Economics ”: one’s psychic enjoyment of not having other people in the nation be in bad shape is nonexcludable and nonrival.

Image source. On the claim above about healthcare, see a counterpoint in the post “Health Economics”: one’s psychic enjoyment of not having other people in the nation be in bad shape is nonexcludable and nonrival.

Paul Samuelson laid out the standard theory of public goods that is now taught to all economics students in their first economics class. Centuries earlier, John Locke used the phrase “the public good” in a way that doesn’t make its meaning fully clear. I noticed because in “The Social Contract According to John Locke” I say:

John Locke's version of social contract theory is striking in saying that the only right people give up in order to enter into civil society and its benefits is the right to punish other people for violating rights. No other rights are given up, only the right be be a vigilante.

This accords with the drift of most of John Locke’s “2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government, but in Sections 128-131 (in Chapter IX, “Of the Ends of Political Society and Government”) he adds another right that people give up. Let me slice this passage into two: first the part that is in line with my paragraph quoted above and then the part that seems to say something different. Here is the slice about giving up the right to be a vigilante and to do one’s part in authorized posses:

§. 128. For in the state of nature, to omit the liberty he has of innocent delights, a man has two powers.  … The other power a man has in the state of nature, is the power to punish the crimes committed against that law. … these he gives up, when he joins in a private, if I may so call it, or particular politic society, and incorporates into any commonwealth, separate from the rest of mankind.

§. 130. Secondly, The power of punishing he wholly gives up, and engages his natural force, (which he might before employ in the execution of the law of nature, by his own single authority, as he thought fit) to assist the executive power of the society, as the law thereof shall require: for being now in a new state, wherein he is to enjoy … the … assistance … of others in the same community, as well as protection from its whole strength; he is to part also with as much of his natural liberty, in providing for himself, as the … safety of the society shall require; which is not only necessary, but just, since the other members of the society do the like. 

§. 131. … but is obliged to secure every one’s property, by providing against those three defects above mentioned, that made the state of nature so unsafe and uneasy. And so whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any commonwealth, is bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by extemporary decrees; by indifferent and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those laws; and to employ the force of the community at home, only in the execution of such laws, or abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries, and secure the community from inroads and invasion. And all this to be directed to no other end, but the peace [and] safety, … of the people.

Here is the slice about being subject to a legislature for a wider range of purposes:

§. 128. For in the state of nature, to omit the liberty he has of innocent delights, a man has two powers.  The first is to do whatsoever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself, and others within the permission of the law of nature: by which law, common to them all, he and all the rest of mankind are one community, make up one society, distinct from all other creatures. And were it not for the corruption and viciousness of degenerate men, there would be no need of any other; no necessity that men should separate from this great and natural community, and by positive agreements combine into smaller and divided associations.  … Both these he gives up, when he joins in a private, if I may so call it, or particular politic society, and incorporates into any commonwealth, separate from the rest of mankind. 

§. 129. The first power, viz. of doing whatsoever be thought for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind, he gives up to be regulated by laws made by the society, so far forth as the preservation of himself, and the rest of that society shall require; which laws of the society in many things confine the liberty he had by the law of nature. 

§. 130. … for being now in a new state, wherein he is to enjoy many conveniences from the labour, assistance, and society of others in the same community, … he is to part also with as much of his natural liberty, in providing for himself, as the good prosperity … of the society shall require; which is not only necessary, but just, since the other members of the society do the like. 

§. 131. But though men, when they enter into society, give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of nature, into the hands of the society, to be so far disposed of by the legislative, as the good of the society shall require; yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property; (for no rational creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse) the power of the society, or legislative constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend farther than the common good; … And so whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any commonwealth, is bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by extemporary decrees; by indifferent and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those laws; and to employ the force of the community at home, only in the execution of such laws, … And all this to be directed to no other end, but the … public good of the people.

These two slices give very different pictures of the state: the first a mutual defense agreement, the second a mutual improvement association. Of course, the passage as a whole admits of the interpretation that by “the public good,” John Locke is only referring to peace and safety: national defense and control of crimes against the law of nature can certainly be considered “the public good.” The question is whether they are the only “public good” John Locke is referring to. The polar opposite interpretation is that John Locke was referring to more or less the set of things that Paul Samuelson later on called “public goods.”

My interpretation is that John Locke primarily wanted to emphasize national defense and control of crimes against the law of nature, but he didn’t want to make his theory implausible by entirely excluding the legitimacy of the state using its power for the sake of other public goods. But this passage does not make clear what, if any, other public goods he thinks the state could legitimately deploy its power for.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 


Jo Craven McGinty: Basic Facts about US Paper Currency

There are some basic facts everyone should know about US paper currency: 

  • Most of the value of US paper currency is $100 bills.

  • The fraction of the value of US paper currency that is $100 bills is increasing.

  • Most US paper currency—in particular $100 bills—is abroad.

Here is how Jo Craven McGinty lays it out in her July 6, 2018 Wall Street Journal article: 

Last year, according to figures published by the Fed, $1.6 trillion was in circulation, including $1.3 trillion in $100 bills, or 80% of the total. In 1997, $458 billion circulated, including $291 billion in $100s, or 64% of the total.

For at least two decades, the value of circulating currency has increased an average of 6% a year. Even when adjusted for inflation, the total value has more than doubled since 1997, and the total value of $100s is nearly triple what it was then. 

...  the bulk of U.S. cash sent abroad is in the form of $100 bills.

 

Up to two-thirds—or as much as $1.07 trillion—is held abroad. About $80 billion is held domestically by depository institutions. And the rest—as little as $453 billion—is in the hands of domestic businesses and individuals. 

 

For related posts, see the links in "How and Why to Eliminate the Zero Lower Bound: A Reader’s Guide."

Which Nonsugar Sweeteners are OK? An Insulin-Index Perspective

In my view, one of the greatest steps forward for public health would be for people to get the message that sugar is very bad—worse than many other foods that people worry about. (See “The Trouble with Most Psychological Approaches to Weight Loss: They Assume the Biology is Obvious, When It Isn't” and the posts listed below under the heading “Sugar as a Slow Poison.”)

Given the dangers of sugar, it is natural to ask whether any nonsugar sweeteners are OK. One part of the answer is that sweetness itself tends to make you think about food, and thinking about food can make you hungry. This is called the cephalic response. It is like the effect of walking past a restaurant. The cephalic response getting your body prepared for food is OK if you are just sitting down to eat anyway, but it could be a big problem if you are, say, drinking diet sodas between meals, since it will make you hungry when you weren’t otherwise going to eat.

Are there any nonsugar sweeteners that are OK other than the cephalic response of making you think about food and getting your body prepared for food? The excellent article flagged above, “The Skinny on Sweeteners” by Adam Nally, gives this answer, which accords with my own views:

I’ve been using ketogenic diets since 2005.  In that time, I have found personally, and clinically with the patients in my practice, that combinations of Stevia, chicory root and erythritol, when used in baking, seem to provide adequate texture and remove any aftertaste that may be found when using them individually.  These combinations also have no effect on weight loss, weight regain or adverse metabolic changes when used with a ketogenic lifestyle.

These sweeteners are equally OK when used in other ways than in baking.

Bad Sweeteners

Adam has a nice paragraph about insulin:

… weight gain and weight loss are controlled by 30 different known hormones, the master hormone being insulin, our overall goal is to lower the insulin levels in the blood stream. Glucose (a carbohydrate in its most simple form) stimulates insulin to rise.   A Low carbohydrate diet works because insulin levels are significantly lowered throughout the day.  Elevation in cholesterol, elevation in triglycerides and production of uric acid occur because of insulin surges. The presence of glucose  (from carbohydrates or sugars) is the most common stimulus for insulin to rise.

This is in line with what I say in “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon.”

The following forms of sugar all raise insulin levels:

… white and brown sugar, fructose, succanat, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, cane juice, cane syrup, rice syrup, barley syrup, maple syrup, molasses, turbinado, agave, monk fruit and fruit juice concentrate.

Adam has this additional useful caution:

Beware of products that contain “no added sugar” because they will often contain sugar concentrates in the form of concentrated grape or apple juice.

Fructose is sometimes promoted as a suitable sweetener for patients with diabetes or people who are wanting to follow a low-carb diet; however even though it does not cause a significant insulin rise on its own, it is rapidly absorbed by the liver and converted into glycerol which leads to increased insulin level a few hours later, as well as raising triglyceride and cholesterol levels. 

In addition, relying on the article above, experiments indicate that the following nonsugar sweeteners raise insulin levels:

  • acesulfame potassium (Ace-K™, Sunette™)

  • saccharine

  • maltitol

  • sorbitol

  • xylitol 

  • sucralose crystallized by being bound to dextrose or maltodextrin, as it is in Splenda™— sucralose is only OK in its liquid form)

Adam is not entirely clear about lactitol and hydrolyzed starch hydrolysates (HSH), but reading between the lines, he seems to be saying that are not as bad as maltitol, sorbitol or xylitol, but he doesn’t recommend them.

Cyclamate is banned in the United States because it causes bladder cancer in rats; otherwise Adam describes it as similar to sucralose: any dextrose or maltodextrin it is combined with will raise insulin.

Aspartame does not seem to raise insulin, but has a different downside:

… because of recent evidence demonstrating the effect of aspartame on the gut bacteria, changes in brain mitochondria with prolonged exposure, and stress responses effecting gluconeogensis (glucose regulation) in the liver, [Adam Nally] recommends avoiding this sweetener or using it with great caution in the short term only.  

If you think an effect on gut bacteria is no big deal, I hope you will think otherwise after reading my post “Anthony Komaroff: The Microbiome and Risk for Obesity and Diabetes.”

OK Sweeteners

Let me summarize by quoting short bits about the sweeteners that are OK—except for making you think about food because of their sweetness:

  • Stevia in the liquid form is a non-caloric natural sweetener which contains no carbohydrate. It is derived from a South American shrub and has been widely available for use in Asia for many years. 

  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) … are actually short chain fibers derived from inulin. … They are commonly derived from chicory root, bananas, onions, garlic and the blue Agave. … A great option that Dr. Nally recommends for use in cooking is a combination of FOS with erythritol called Swerve 

  • Erythritol is absorbed and excreted unchanged and appears to have no insulin response (Food and Chemical Toxicology, Dec 1998, Volume 36, Issue 12,  Pages 1139-1174). 

Adam’s article is the best article I have seen so far on nonsugar sweeteners. I have read elsewhere things matching what is in this article, but I don’t know of any other evidence on nonsugar sweeteners beyond what seems to be represented in Adam’s article.

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography."

Less is More in Mormon Church Meetings

The degree of deference by other Mormon Church leaders to the President of the Mormon Church is great enough that the views and actions of a Mormon apostle who becomes President of the Mormon Church by seniority and so has no one above him to defer to can be surprising. My July 22, 2018 post, “New Mormon Prophet Russell Nelson Shakes Things Up” reported several big changes approved by Russell Nelson, who became President of the Mormon Church only in January 2018.

Major changes continue in the Mormon Church. The biggest is the reduction in the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two hours. Sunday School and the sex-segregated Priesthood Meeting/Relief Society period will now alternate Sundays, while the everyone-(including young children)-together Sacrament Meeting will continue to be held every week.

The official reason given for the change is to free up time for religious instruction and study at home: “It is time for a home-centered church,” Russell Nelson said.

The most intriguing aspect of the change is that it seems to have been spurred in part by social-science research. Quoting from the article flagged above:

Leaders also considered a study that found that individual scripture study and prayer did the most to help young Latter-day Saints feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, Elder Cook said.

Here, if I were a Mormon Church leader, I would worry that the research was based only on a correlation and was not causal. The sort of person who has the right psychological profile for feeling powerful subjective spiritual experiences might well be more attracted to scripture study and prayer to begin with. A broader range of psychological profiles might lead people to show up at church on Sunday. Making efforts to convince Mormons to spend more time on individual scripture study and prayer may get the desired effect more than having Mormons spend an extra hour in church on Sunday.

Intervention studies provided some evidence of satisfactory effects:

The church had been testing the new curriculum in congregations around the world with success, Elder Cook said. One pilot program was in Brazil and others were reported in Iowa and Tooele.

The big empirical issue here is the Hawthorne effect: doing an experiment that makes the people in the experiment feel special often gets a good effect, regardless of what the intervention is. Of course, many Mormon Church leaders have been businessmen who are used to changing things up in order to use the Hawthorne effect intentionally. (Russell Nelson himself was a heart surgeon rather than a businessman. He performed heart surgery on my grandfather.) But cutting the Sunday meeting times down to two hours from three is much bigger than the size of change one would make if one was only relying on the Hawthorne effect.

The other change is a continuing attempt to get those outside the Mormon Church not to call it the Mormon Church any more, but to use its official name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The choir formerly known as “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir” is now officially “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” Despite these efforts, I plan to continue to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “Mormon Church” on this blog.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

The US Military Needs to Beef Up Its Artificial Intelligence and Cyberware Capabilities

                                                         Link to the article shown above

                                                      Link to the article shown above

Artificial intelligence is becoming more important to warfare. The US, China and Russia are all working on their military artificial intelligence capability and other computer capabilities. In their March 2, 2018 Wall Street Journal article "The New Arms Race in AI," Julian E. Barnes and Josh Chin give a very useful rundown of some of the things happening in this area. The sheer growth in computing power is a key driver:

Fueling the AI race is processing power, an emerging area of strategic competition between China and the U.S. Chinese state media reported in January that researchers with the National University of Defense Technology and National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin had made a breakthrough in building a conventional supercomputer at exascale—10 times faster than today’s supercomputers—scheduled for completion by 2020. “That’s a revolutionary, generational leap up,” said Dr. Cheung.

Distinct from raw processing power is the rise of quantum computing. For now, the low-hanging fruit from quantum computing is its value in breaking codes, and for itself enabling unbreakable encryption:

In the city of Hefei in eastern China, work began last year on a $1 billion national quantum-information-sciences laboratory. Slated to open in 2020, it will build on research already under way nearby in the lab of physicist Pan Jianwei, who led the team that launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite. The project propelled China far ahead of others in transmitting information with essentially unbreakable quantum encryption.

But quantum computing could be important in the long-run for sheer processing power. My intuition for the power of quantum computing comes from the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Quantum computing has the potential to harness a multitude of copies of a computer in close-by alternate universes that are still entangled and haven't fully separated yet. 

Here are some of the things artificial intelligence could do on the battlefield, as described by quotations from Julian Barnes and Josh Chin's article:

  • ... scan video from drones and find details that a human analyst would miss—identifying, for instance, a particular individual moving between previously undetected terrorist safe houses.
  • The F-35, one of America’s most advanced jet fighters, uses AI to evaluate and share radar and other sensor data among pilots, expanding their battlefield awareness. AI stitches together information and highlights what is likely most important to the pilot.
  • The U.S. Army is working on tactical augmented reality systems—sort of a Google Glass for war—using goggles or a visor that could display video from drones flying above, current position and enhanced night vision. AI-powered computing could add information about incoming threats, targets and areas that have to be protected.
  • AI also could vastly improve the effectiveness of airstrikes, ... launch a cluster of missiles at the target. ... China is developing similar technology. In January, the country’s military TV network broadcast footage of researchers testing such “swarm intelligence,” which could eventually link dozens of armed drones into an automated attack force.
  • AI could speed up warfare to a point where unassisted humans can’t keep up—a scenario that retired U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen calls “hyperwar.” In a report released last year, he urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to step up its investments in AI, including creating a center to study hyperwar and a European Darpa, particularly to counter the Russian effort. ... In hyperwar, the side that will prevail will be the side that is able to respond more quickly,” Gen. Allen said. “Artificial intelligence will collapse the decision-action loop in a very big and very real way.”
  • Russia is investing in AI as well. Moscow has focused on creating autonomous weapons powered by AI and hopes in the coming decade to have 30% of its military robotized, which could transform how it fights. Russia’s sophisticated drone development lags behind the U.S., but it has exceptional expertise in electronic warfare, and AI technologies could boost it further.

The US has great expertise in computer hardware and software in the private sector, but many private companies are leery of being involved in military research. 

In addition to the role of artificial intelligence and other computational capabilities in kinetic warfare, cyberespionage and cyberwar that attacks the internet itself or spreads computer viruses and worms is a great danger. I'd like to see the US government devote more resources to addressing all of these threats.

 

Don't miss these other posts on national security:  

 

Best Health Guide: 10 Surprising Changes When You Quit Sugar

Even clickbait can sometimes be on target. Here are the 10 points in the article above, “10 Surprising Changes When You Quit Sugar”:

  1. Your teeth improve.

  2. You feel more energetic.

  3. You lose weight.

  4. You reduce your diabetes risk.

  5. Food tastes better.

  6. You get smarter.

  7. You reverse a range of health problems.

  8. Your heart health improves.

  9. You sleep better.

  10. You extend your lifespan.

If you can quit sugar, it will be one of the best things you have ever done for yourself. I have some tips on quitting sugar in “Letting Go of Sugar.” And I have written about some of the arguments against sugar in many of the posts flagged below.

Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography."

John Locke: Defense against the Black Hats is the Origin of the State

In “The Social Contract According to John Locke” I write:

John Locke's version of social contract theory is striking in saying that the only right people give up in order to enter into civil society and its benefits is the right to punish other people for violating rights. No other rights are given up, only the right be be a vigilante.

But why would people give up even that right? John Locke explains in Section 123 of his 2d Treatise on Government: “Of Civil Government” (in Chapter IX, “Of the Ends of Political Society and Government”):

§ 123. IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, to have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.  

Note here his definition of “property” as “lives, liberties and estates”; the ordinary meaning of property was enough different in the 18th century that the Declaration of Colonial Rights used the phrases “life, liberty, and property,” and the Declaration of Independence famously included close to the full range of things that enter people’s utility functions by the expansive phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the absence of some sort of mutual protection association, many things people care about are endangered by bad guys.

What does it take to restrain bad guys? Here is John Locke’s answer:

  • clearly stated rules

  • impartial judges

  • the brute force needed to enforce sentences

Why are these needed?

  • people are reluctant to admit they have transgressed

  • the desire for revenge makes people want to go too far in punishing offenses against themselves

  • lack of caring makes people not want to go far enough in punishing offenses against others they are not emotionally close to

  • punishing bad guys is hard.

Here is how John Locke makes those points:

§ 124. The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. To which in the state of nature there are many things wanting. First, There wants an established, settled, known law, received and allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide all controversies between them: for though the law of nature be plain and intelligible to all rational creatures; yet men being biassed by their interest, as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of it to their particular cases. 

§ 125. Secondly, In the state of nature there wants a known and indifferent judge, with authority to determine all differences according to the established law: for every one in that state being both judge and executioner of the law of nature, men being partial to themselves, passion and revenge is very apt to carry them too far, and with too much heat, in their own cases; as well as negligence, and unconcernedness, to make them too remiss in other men’s. 

§ 126. Thirdly, In the state of nature there often wants power to back and support the sentence when right, and to give it due execution. They who by any injustice offended, will seldom fail, where they are able, by force to make good their injustice; such resistance many times makes the punishment dangerous, and frequently destructive, to those who attempt it.  

There remains the question “Why are people willing to subject themselves to actual, imperfect rulers?” The basic answer is that there are bad guys out there who are worse than the rulers:

§ 127. Thus mankind, notwithstanding all the privileges of the state of nature, being but in an ill condition, while they remain in it, are quickly driven into society. Hence it comes to pass, that we seldom find any number of men live any time together in this state. The inconveniences that they are therein exposed to by the irregular and uncertain exercise of the power every man has of punishing the transgressions of others, make them take sanctuary under the established laws of government, and therein seek the preservation of their property. It is this makes them so willingly give up every one his single power of punishing, to be exercised by such alone, as shall be appointed to it amongst them; and by such rules as the community, or those authorized by them to that purpose, shall agree on. And in this we have the original right and rise of both the legislative and executive power, as well as of the governments and societies themselves.

When the rulers become as bad as the worst of the bad guys, then people will often take their chances rejecting any authority of the state over them, or will try to form alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that can be seen as the rudiments of an alternative state.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

On Guilt by Association

During the September 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Orrin Hatch said this:

Let's at least be fair and look at facts or the absence thereof," Mr. Hatch said. "Guilt by association is wrong. Immaturity does not equal criminality. That Judge Kavanaugh drank in high school or college does not make him guilty of every terrible thing that he's recently been accused of.

My reaction is that it depends on what “guilt by association” means. Certainly, you should be able to associate with any other human being, no matter how bad they are, without there crimes tainting you—unless through your association you gain knowledge of awful crimes it would be useful for the police or other constituted authorities to know, that you fail to share. If there was a rape culture at Georgetown Prep, and Brett Kavanaugh knew about it and did nothing, that is a serious black mark against him.

Note here that while attorney-client privilege is close to absolute, even therapists are required by law to report any suspicion of sexual abuse. So whatever privilege one thinks should extend to loyalty to what one’s friends tell one in confidence, it should not extend to helping one’s friends conceal sexual assault. Part of the test is whether someone could tell, and let themselves be moved by the fact, that sexual assault is an awful crime.

It seems it should be possible to determine by investigation whether there was such a rape culture at Georgetown Prep and whether Brett was in the in-crowd to such an extent that it would have been hard for him not to know about it. For a juvenile to know about and do nothing about such wrongdoing may not be worthy of jail time (whatever the statute says), but it should be disqualifying for a seat on the Supreme Court, even 35 years later, short of a forthright renunciation of such inaction in one’s past. We want to have on the Supreme Court folks who were straight arrows as kids—or who have admitted wrongdoing—whether by action or inaction—and turned over a new leaf.

Of course, Brett Kavanaugh may be guilty of worse than inaction. But even in that case it may be easier to prove that he didn’t lift a finger to stop the rape culture of friends.

John Ioannidis, T. D. Stanley and Hristos Doucouliagos: The Power of Bias in Economics Research

Unfortunately, I couldn't find an ungated version of this article. But the abstract above says a lot. In case it is hard to read the image, here it is:

We investigate two critical dimensions of the credibility of empirical economics research: statistical power and bias. We survey 159 empirical economics literatures that draw upon 64,076 estimates of economic parameters reported in more than 6,700 empirical studies. Half of the research areas have nearly 90% of their results under‐powered. The median statistical power is 18%, or less. A simple weighted average of those reported results that are adequately powered (power ≥ 80%) reveals that nearly 80% of the reported effects in these empirical economics literatures are exaggerated; typically, by a factor of two and with one‐third inflated by a factor of four or more.