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y the physicist Max Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

The researchers identified more than 12,000 “elite” scientists from different fields. The criteria for elite status included funding, number of publications, and whether they were members of the National Academies of Science or the Institute of Medicine. Searching obituaries, the team found 452 who had died before retirement. They then looked to see what happened to the fields from which these celebrated scientists had unexpectedly departed, by analysing publishing patterns.

What they found confirmed the truth of Planck’s maxim. Junior researchers who had worked closely with the elite scientists, authoring papers with them, published less. At the same time, there was a marked increase in papers by newcomers to the field, who were less likely to cite the work of the deceased eminence. The articles by these newcomers were substantive and influential, attracting a high number of citations. They moved the whole field along.

A scientist is part of what the Polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck called a “thought collective”: a group of people exchanging ideas in a mutually comprehensible idiom. The group, suggested Fleck, inevitably develops a mind of its own, as the individuals in it converge on a way of communicating, thinking and feeling.

This makes scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error. Of course, such tendencies are precisely what the scientific method was invented to correct for, and over the long run, it does a good job of it. In the long run, however, we’re all dead, quite possibly sooner than we would be if we hadn’t been following a diet based on poor advice.

In a series of densely argued articles and books, including Why We Get Fat (2010), the science writer Gary Taubes has assembled a critique of contemporary nutrition science, powerful enough to compel the field to listen. One of his contributions has been to uncover a body of research conducted by German and Austrian scientists before the second world war, which had been overlooked by the Americans who reinvented the field in the 1950s. The Europeans were practising physicians and experts in the metabolic system. The Americans were more likely to be epidemiologists, labouring in relative ignorance of biochemistry and endocrinology (the study of hormones). This led to some of the foundational mistakes of modern nutrition.

The rise and slow fall of cholesterol’s infamy is a case in point. After it was discovered inside the arteries of men who had suffered heart attacks, public health officials, advised by scientists, put eggs, whose yolks are rich in cholesterol, on the danger list. But it is a biological error to confuse what a person puts in their mouth with what it becomes after it is swallowed. The human body, far from being a passive vessel for whatever we choose to fill it with, is a busy chemical plant, transforming and redistributing the energy it receives. Its governing principle is homeostasis, or the maintenance of energy equilibrium (when exercise heats us up, sweat cools us down). Cholesterol, present in all of our cells, is created by the liver. Biochemists had long known that the more cholesterol you eat, the less your liver produces.

Unsurprisingly, then, repeated attempts to prove a correlation between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol failed. For the vast majority of people, eating two or three, or 25 eggs a day, does not significantly raise cholesterol levels. One of the most nutrient-dense, versatile and delicious foods we have was needlessly stigmatised. The health authorities have spent the last few years slowly backing away from this mistake, presumably in the hope that if no sudden movements are made, nobody will notice. In a sense, they have succeeded: a survey carried out in 2014 by Credit Suisse found that 54% of US doctors believe that dietary cholesterol raises blood cholesterol.

To his credit, Ancel Keys realised early on that dietary cholesterol was not a problem. But in order to sustain his assertion that cholesterol causes heart attacks, he needed to identify an agent that raises its levels in the blood – he landed on saturated fats. In the 30 years after Eisenhower’s heart attack, trial after trial failed to conclusively bear out the association he claimed to have identified in the Seven Countries study.

The nutritional establishment wasn’t greatly discomfited by the absence of definitive proof, but by 1993 it found that it couldn’t evade another criticism: while a low-fat diet had been recommended to women, it had never been tested on them (a fact that is astonishing only if you are not a nutrition scientist). The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute decided to go all in, commissioning the largest controlled trial of diets ever undertaken. As well as addressing the other half of the population, the Women’s Health Initiative was expected to obliterate any lingering doubts about the ill-effects of fat.

It did nothing of the sort.
sugar  health  nutrition  diet  cholesterol  one  funeral 
7 days ago by ernie.bornheimer
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12 days ago by neerajsinghvns

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