Noakes and vaccination: if it quacks like a duck…

herd immunity

On November 29, Professor Tim Noakes was interviewed on the Gareth Cliff Show. Much of the interview focused on his new book, and his reasons for co-writing it (with Marika Sboros). I’ve previously described some of this book’s inaccuracies and falsehoods in respect of its mentions of me, including the assertion that I’m part of some conspiracy against him.

Today, I’d like to briefly focus on a more worrisome theme – vaccine scepticism – that Noakes has tweeted about in the past, and one that he returns to in this interview with Gareth Cliff. The relevant segment’s audio is transcribed below, and embedded at the end of the post. It takes place between 44m07s and 45m37s of the full interview.

Continue reading “Noakes and vaccination: if it quacks like a duck…”

Lore of Nutrition – Prof. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros

One good thing about the just-released  “Lore of Nutrition“, documenting the campaign (allegedly) orchestrated by myself and others against an A-rated Professor with thousand of citations, hundreds of articles, many books, regular international speaking gigs, and constant (fawning) media coverage is that it leaves you in no doubt as to who the victim is (spoiler alert: it’s the celebrity scientist). Continue reading “Lore of Nutrition – Prof. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros”

Vaccines and false balance

As anyone who reads Synapses would know, I’m a proponent of scientific skepticism. What that means is something along the lines of “the practice or project of studying paranormal and pseudoscientific claims through the lens of science and critical scholarship, and then sharing the results with the public (from Daniel Loxton’s 2013 essay, “Why is there a skeptical movement?).

Skepticism should not be conflated with hyperskepticism, as Caleb Lack and I argue in our book on critical thinking. So, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean believing in chemtrails, or Big Pharma deliberately poisoning you, or your cellphone making you infertile (it’s a bit of a pity that that one isn’t true, actually). Continue reading “Vaccines and false balance”

The #NoakesHearing, and social media ethics for (medical) professionals

Last Tuesday, I gave a talk at the UCT medical school on the ethics of social media for medical professionals, which focused in part on the Health Professions Council hearings with regard to the ‘unprofessional conduct’ of Prof. Tim Noakes.

While I’ve presented a half-dozen or so talks on the philosophy and ethics of science for dietitians in the last couple of years – usually for continuing professional development (CPD) points – this one attracted more than the usual amount of attention, thanks to the imminent resumption of the Noakes hearings. Continue reading “The #NoakesHearing, and social media ethics for (medical) professionals”

Free speech issues: NECSS disinvites Dawkins; Gareth Cliff update

My title is intentionally misleading, as there are aspects of both the cases mentioned therein that are not a free speech issue at all.

As I pointed out in my previous post on the Gareth Cliff saga, M-Net are, to my mind, perfectly entitled to promote a certain brand image, and this entitlement is compatible with saying that Cliff doesn’t fit that image, and that they are therefore not renewing his contract. Continue reading “Free speech issues: NECSS disinvites Dawkins; Gareth Cliff update”

HPCSA Hearings regarding Prof. Tim Noakes resume

As those of you who are following the discussions and arguments regarding “Banting” or the LCHF diet would know, the hearings with regard to Professor Tim Noakes’ giving “unconventional advice” on Twitter resumed (after convening for one day, in June) on Monday.

I attended much of the first day, and the morning of the second, and hope to return for much of the rest. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a couple of embedded interviews I gave on Monday.

The full set of my posts on Prof. Noakes are here, and Banters coming here to proselytize should at least read my Quixotic note regarding Noakes, lest they end up missing the point of my interventions. For serious reporting from the hearings, read Rebecca Davis at the Daily Maverick, rather than cheerleader sites like BizNews.

So, in summary: Noakes is being characteristically savvy in leveraging these hearings into an opportunity to present the case for the LCHF diet (or “lifestyle”, if you’re a devotee). His legal team are ruthless and very well-prepared, in complete contrast to the floundering of the HPCSA team, who constantly need to be corrected on procedure and the like.

But that’s not what the hearings are meant to be about – they are meant to be about this tweet, and whether it constitutes unconventional or inappropriate advice:

As I said in my previous post on the hearings, while I think it’s unconventional, I don’t think it’s significantly problematic, in that it’s no different to the sort of advice we hear regularly on radio shows, or see suggested in other media.

I don’t think it’s reasonably interpreted as a “prescription” to a patient, and I think that it’s ambiguous enough to allow for a moderate interpretation, for example breast-feeding for 6 months before gradually converting your child to Banting (and perhaps introducing them to Jesus at the same time, while you’re at it).

So, the hearings are to my mind a huge waste of time and money, and will serve only as a PR opportunity for Noakes. The actual charge can be dispensed with in half an hour, and should be – the hearings are backfiring on the complainant in that Noakes is going to emerge stronger, in the sense that a win will validate his and his supporters feelings of martyrdom and being the victims of conspiracy.

All the worst aspects of the psychology of devout Banters have been on display – from the bullying and often condescending (arguably sexist) treatment of the initial complainant by one of Noakes’ legal team, to Marika Sboros following said complainant around to get photos of her in distress, others referring to her “falling apart”, and the ridiculously partisan nature of what’s being reported by those tweeting in support of Noakes.

As I was saying in a few of my occasional tweets from the hearings, if you want to play a game of fallacy-bingo, these hearings – and especially the input from van der Nest (acting for Noakes) were a goldmine. The conversations around medical ethics were absurdly superficial also – and if you add to that the manifestations of character I mention above, it’s really a frustrating thing to witness.

Arguments can be had here, and as objective readers (including some Banters) know, it’s those arguments I’ve been trying to air over the years. This isn’t a “trial” or a persecution, even though it might be a waste of time or even misguided, as I say in the interview with John Maytham below.

Just as Noakes is, in my view, utterly sincere about what he says (whether or not he’s right or wrong), the complainant in this case is sincere also, as the witnesses are in general, I imagine. For all talk of “science” the Banting crowd engage in, it’s a pity that their actions seldom manifest the careful, objective deliberations that science demands, preferring instead to perceive and/or provoke rather demeaning personal squabbles and character assassinations.

You can science too – it’s easy!

mouse-801843_1280If you’ve always wanted a career in science, but never got around to studying biology, physics or whatever it is that you’re interested in, don’t fear – being (treated as) an authority is easier than you might think.

First, find a conclusion you like. Let’s say, for example, the claim that sugar is addictive. Then, find a study that supports that conclusion, and publicise it:

In this study, conducted on rats, we are told that sugar is addictive – a line that Prof. Tim Noakes repeats with some regularity. It’s of course more complicated than that, but let’s not be negative – this is a post about how easy science is, after all.

Next, what you need is a way to discredit studies that say things that don’t support your conclusions. Don’t worry about being consistent at this point – it’s fine if you apply one standard to research that supports your conclusion, and another standard to research that doesn’t.

A mouse model shows that eating high-fat diets during pregnancy might ‘program’ your baby to be fat? Rubbish – mice are not women!

There’s a mouse study that shows high-carb diets lead to as long and healthy a life as any other diet? Rubbish – mice are not men!

(Some of you might, upon reading confounding studies, be tempted to think that science is complicated, and rarely – if ever – suitable for justifying dogmatism. Eliminate that negativity – there’s no place for it in sciencing!)

Now, what do you do when someone praises you as a lifesaver, but in doing so, also endorses avoiding conventional doctors, seeking out naturopaths, regarding “almost all” drugs as “toxic” and vaccines as “highly dangerous”?

natureboyrr_2015-Jul-15

Well, you retweet them, of course (while perhaps reciting your mantra that science is not religion). And if someone calls you out for endorsing vaccine quackery, do not fear – dismiss their question with an insult and an appeal to authority:

Like Ms. Child, I’m also not an expert on immunology. And no, I haven’t read the book, which apparently “needs to be read by everyone with an opinion on vaccination debate”.

But why would one read this book when a cursory Google search results in extensive, well-referenced accounts of (at least) 11 flat-out misrepresentations of data in that book?

Or, when you discover that the only places the author is taken seriously is sites like quack-central Mercola? If you’re still not convinced that you’d be wasting your time reading it, what if you learned that the author is sympathetic to homeopathy?

You’d think of her as a quack herself, I’d wager, and you’d certainly not endorse her as an authority. Unless, of course, you have a conspiracy story to tell about big pharma and the medical establishment colluding to sell you drugs, while hiding “the truth” from you.

But let’s imagine you ignore all that instead. Now, you know that the public are rather upset to hear anti-vaccine messages – after all, didn’t around 170 people get measles just this year (so far) in the USA, mostly thanks to being unvaccinated?

Also, you’ve been in trouble for appearing to endorse anti-vaxx messages before, when tweeting a link to a video featuring Andrew Wakefield on how the CDC arranged a cover-up of evidence relating to vaccines and autism.

(Maybe, you also think of that pesky HPCSA hearing coming up later this year, and how it might complicate things for you to appear to be supporting a viewpoint that is widely believed to indirectly kill people, especially babies.)

So, let’s just deny that the book is anti-vaccination, instead calling it something more grand, like a “unique historical analysis”.

Except, how do you square that with the publisher’s own description of the book, which tells us that the book argues that vaccines are not “responsible for the increase in lifespan and the decline in mortality from infectious diseases”, or accounts of her work like this one, from Dr. David Gorski?

I suppose you just hope that people take your word for it. While, perhaps, reciting your mantra that science is not religion, and calling anyone who disagrees with you a “troll”.

If you are happier and healthier on LCHF, great, I’m happy for you. But you can, and should, expect more from those who you take as your authorities on diet and more importantly, the scientific method.

As I’ve said before, I think the jury is out on the diet questions. It’s not out on vaccinations, and hasn’t been for quite some time now.

It’s shamefully irresponsible to suggest otherwise, and disingenuous to pretend that this isn’t what you’re doing in recommending books like those of Humphries.

Postscript

Noakes is asking “have you read the book?” to anyone challenging him on this on Twitter. You don’t need to read the book – there are many interviews with this author available online, including an outline of the arguments in the book on sites like Mercola’s.

Asking if you’ve read the book is mostly serving Noakes as a way to refuse to contemplate the dereliction of common-sense that is anti-vaccination endorsement on this scale. But even if he refuses to contemplate that, you nevertheless can.

Here’s something else that might interest you, on the author in question, linking to various other strange views she holds.

Saturated fat not exonerated in 2015 US dietary guidelines

I’m traveling back from giving a talk to a room full of dieticians about their social responsibilities, in which I emphasised that one of their important tasks is to try to beat back the surge of hyperbole and exaggeration coming out of the Banting and LCHF camps.

There are plenty of posts here on Synapses on the topic, many dealing with Professor Tim Noakes and how his confirmation bias has led him to re-tweeting false and potentially dangerous claims. You’d recall him “just asking questions” on vaccines and autism, or spreading the (false) idea that Sweden had become the first nation to “officially” adopt LCHF as their diet.

imagesAs I’ve said many a time, and repeated at the talk last night, some of the ways in which we can aid the spread of scientific literacy is through simply reminding people of the virtues of not overstating the evidence we have for our claims, and also through encouraging people to be consistent in their judgements – if something is wrong in one case, it’s usually wrong in similar cases also.

A recent example of salesmanship trumping science arrived in time to include in my remarks, and I also want to note it here for folks who have been following the topic. Yesterday morning, Prof. Noakes tweeted

The text of the tweet is a quote from the linked post, so not Noakes’ words, but I am fairly confident that he endorses the sentiment seeing as he’s frequently said similar things. Many times, they have in fact been described as “tipping points”, which makes one wonder how many tipping points are necessary before whatever it is actually gets around to tipping.

Anyway – if you go read the post that is linked to in the Tweet, you’ll find that it’s a smug “I told you so” by Dr Malcolm Kendrick, author of “The Cholesterol Con”. What he wants to gloat about is that he was right all along, and that in short, “cholesterol is healthy, saturated fat is healthy, salt is healthy and sugar is unhealthy”. Speaking of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DAG) report, he says:

The entire report, I believe, stretches to about a bazillion pages. However, here are four of the highlights.

Cholesterol is to be dropped from the ‘nutrients of concern’ list. [I love that phrase ‘nutrient of concern’].

Saturated fat will be… ‘de-emphasized’ from nutrients of concern, given the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease.’ [Whatever de-emphasizing may be. Pretending you never said it in the first place, I suppose].

There is concern over blanket sodium restriction given the… ‘growing body of research suggesting that the low sodium intake levels recommended by the DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) are actually associated with increased mortality for healthy individuals.’

And… ‘The identification and recognition of the specific health risks posed by added sugars represents an important step forward for public health.’

The entire report does indeed stretch to a bazillion pages, or close enough at 571 pages. I presume that’s why Kendrick hasn’t read it, and therefore goes on to substantially misrepresent what it says.

To say that “cholesterol is healthy” is misleading because while dietary cholesterol has been de-emphasised, the DAG has not concluded that cholesterol in the blood is unproblematic – contrary to what Noakes’ journalist has reported.

To say that saturated fat will be “de-emphasised” is literally false, as that line comes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who (this press release is even pasted in Kendrick’s post) say that they support “the DGAC in its decision to drop dietary cholesterol from the nutrients of concern list and recommends it deemphasize saturated fat from nutrients of concern” (my emphasis).

So, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say to DGAC “good work, but you could do better” (on their model, of course). But the report does not say what Kendrick says it does, and the US Guidelines will continue to warn against overconsumption of saturated fat. If you read it, or even do a simply word-search for “saturated”, you’d know that, because you’d read that they recommend “less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat per day”.

I didn’t read up on the sodium commentary, and agree that added sugars are problematic (while not being addictive), so will say nothing about those last two bullet points, except to quote the report in saying “the DGAC also found that two nutrients—sodium and saturated fat—are overconsumed by the U.S. population relative to the Tolerable Upper Intake Level set by the IOM or other maximal standard and that the overconsumption poses health risks.” Go figure.

But before wrapping up by giving you a few quotes from the DGAC report’s conclusions, I’d like to note the double-standards at play in endorsing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ comment to the report, as Kendrick does and Noakes would likely do also, seeing as he’s explicitly told us that saturated fat is not a concern.

When the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) decided to report Noakes to the Health Professions Council for “unprofessional conduct”, he and his supporters had a field day on Twitter looking at ADSA’s list of sponsors, and then dismissing ADSA’s case on the grounds that they had had financial dealings with Kelloggs and other (allegedly) evil corporations.

Why is the same standard not applied to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who have been the subject of a Senate enquiry thanks to their pharmaceutical connections, and who have a list of sponsors and funders a mile long, including Sarah Lee (makers of evil carb products!), Coca Cola (so very evil!) and evil Monsanto (the Great Satan!).

It can’t simply be because they say the right things, can it? Because that’s not how science works, as the Doctor and Professor surely know.

Lastly, seeing as the Noakes’ echo chamber on Twitter is in full swing with “see, he’s vindicated!” types of comments following the release of the DAG report, I’ll leave you with this quote from it. Make up your own minds as to whether it supports Banting, or whether it’s largely the same advice as ever.

The dietary patterns associated with beneficial outcomes for cardiovascular disease:

Dietary patterns characterized by higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and seafood, and lower consumption of red and processed meat, and lower intakes of refined grains, and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages relative to less healthy patterns; regular consumption of nuts and legumes; moderate consumption of alcohol; lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and richer in fiber, potassium, and unsaturated fats.

The dietary patterns associated with beneficial outcomes for obesity:

Dietary patterns that are higher in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; include seafood and legumes; are moderate in dairy products (particularly low and non-fat dairy) and alcohol; lower in meats (including red and processed meats), and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains; higher intakes of unsaturated fats and lower intakes of saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium.

Dietary patterns in childhood or adolescence that are higher in energy-dense and low-fiber foods, such as sweets, refined grains, and processed meats, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages, whole milk, fried potatoes, certain fats and oils, and fast foods are associated with an increased risk.

(But the diet’s not for everyone, only for the insulin resistant!) The dietary patterns associated with beneficial outcomes for Type 2 diabetes:

Dietary patterns higher in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and lower in red and processed meats, high-fat dairy products, refined grains, and sweets/sugar-sweetened beverages.