Soda mapped vs. diabetes-Michael Pollan on the deeper story & a proposal for taming corporate power

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 08:00


Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore has a diary. "Soda Consumption vs. Diabetes" with some interesting maps--generated from the government's a new online interactive food atlas--particularly these two:


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One of the most pernicious ways in which corporate well-being conflicts with human well-being is clearly visible in these two maps, the larger contours of which--the ways in which corporate food makes us sick--were discussed by Michael Pollan on Democracy Now! last week, here.  He said a lot of good stuff, but here's what struck me most:

MICHAEL POLLAN: Of the money we spend on healthcare, about $2.3 trillion, three-quarters of that goes to treat chronic diseases that are preventable. Now, they're not all food-related, but most of them are. You've got smoking and alcoholism in there, and I don't know where you want to count alcoholism. But, you know, upwards of $500 to $750 billion we are spending to deal with the consequences of this diet. It's remarkable it's not a more central part of the conversation.

Actually, it's not remarkable.  Nothing related to fundamental solutions can get anywhere near the conversation, because everything related to fundamental solutions is a threat to corporate profits, which makes it a target for corporate power.  And corporate power likes nothing better than a pre-emptive strike.

Paul Rosenberg :: Soda mapped vs. diabetes-Michael Pollan on the deeper story & a proposal for taming corporate power
What's remarkable, I suppose, is what a complete stranglehold corporations have on America today.  It's a major part of what I call the American conservative welfare state, and I was going to write a big diary about it this weekend, but my "Conservative condescension" series sort of moved that idea back a week.  Still, I wanted to say something about it, and this seems like the perfect concrete example of what I'm talking about.

The market theory is that corporations make money by meeting human needs, and the more needs they meet, the more money they make, so corporate profitability is a social good.  This theory is at least 100 years out of date.  Corporations don't make money by  meeting human needs--or at least the ones with decent-sized ad budgets don't.  They make money by creating human needs, and by meeting these manufactured needs.  And often as not these manufactured needs actually conflict with inherent human needs--as when the food that makes corporations the most money is not really good for people to eat.  And Pollan said something directly about that, too:

MICHAEL POLLAN: .... I came up with a rule to avoid all these schemes, which is, don't buy any food you see advertised on television. That is the only way to avoid their marketing cleverness. And that rule captures most processed food, because two-thirds of ad budgets go to heavily processed food. Only about five percent of ad budgets go to, you know, prunes or walnuts or real foods. So I'm hoping that your common sense will not-you know, will allow you not to tar them with the same brush.

Now for the wide-angle shot:

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, step back for a second. What is it that you mean by the "nutritional-industrial complex"?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, there is a very kind of cozy relationship between nutritional science, as it's practiced in the universities and in the government, and the kinds of advice that emerges from that research, and the food industry, which does a very good job of taking any shred of new information like, oh, maybe fiber prevents colon cancer, and then go to town with really dubious health claims about it. A lot of the research is very tentative and it's changing, because people really-I mean, the great open secret about nutritional science is it's a very young science, to put it charitably. They really don't know a lot. They still haven't gotten straight whether we should worry more about fats or carbohydrates with regard to heart disease. So, but whenever they come out with a new finding, the industry uses that to sell more food to people.

And so, the great example in our own time is the low-fat campaign, a big public health campaign, really begun by the government in the 1970s under Senator George McGovern's leadership at-he was chair of the Select Committee on Nutrition. And they thought they were doing something really good, which was telling people to eat less meat and cut down on saturated fat. But this was seized on by the industry, which took what had been a critique of what they were doing and turned it into a very clever new way to sell new food. So they reengineered the whole food supply to have less fat, but more carbohydrates. And so, people binged on low-fat foods, like Snackwells was the great example. Remember that line of-you know, it was basically no-fat junk food that Nabisco came out with, and it was all over the supermarket for a few years there in the '80s. And people felt, well, if one of these is better for me, a whole box is even better! And so, people binged on low-fat food.

And since the low-fat campaign started, we have gotten an average of eighteen pounds heavier. So it hasn't worked. And the reason it didn't work was-well, there are two theories. One is, maybe the science about fat was wrong, which is increasingly becoming clear, not certain, but clearer. Or, maybe whenever you demonize one nutrient, you're giving a free pass to another, and you're allowing the industry to come up with what it always wants to do, which is another "eat more" message. And they did. They're really clever.

We really need to get corporations back under control.  There is really no other way we can have a functioning democracy or a functioning economy that's not riddled with as many "bads" as "goods".

Right now, people who are high up in corporations hear this kind of talk, and they hear it as an attack on them.  But here's a secret:  poor people may be sicker, and may eat more junk food, but plenty of folks high up in the business world are living sicker and/or shorter lives than they have to because of the corporate food they eat.  And that's only one way that corporations make life worse for people including top corporate executives.

I'm a big believer in over-determination and multiple-causation, which makes me a general unbeliever in magic bullets.  But that doesn't mean there aren't partial solutions out there that can make a huge difference in moving us toward a total solution.

When it comes to corporate power, one such partial solution is incredibly simple:  Require for-profit corporations to provide a public benefit, the same way that non-profits do.  This will do two things:  First, it will give corporations a conscience.  As things stand now, the only thing corporations are supposed to do is make money for their shareholders.  Require them to provide a public benefit, and profit-making will become subordinate to providing that benefit--which, according to the market theory I alluded to above, should not be all that onerous for them, since since providing a public benefit is what they're already doing in theory.

Originally, for-profit corporate charters were based on a such a model--if not explicitly so.  Corporations were charted for specific tasks requiring more money than a single individual could reasonably raise themselves--tasks such as building a canal, or a bridge.  We need to get back to that sort of model--but one that allows for more abstract forms of public benefit, the way that non-profits now do.

This brings us to the second thing that such a proposal would do:  It would prevent the growth of corporations trying to do too many different things that really don't fit within a unified mission to provide a form of public good. How this would work depends on how my idea is implemented, but the basic point is this:  When a business is well-defined in its purpose, that purpose can be kept in focus, and fulfilling that purpose can be kept foremost, with profitability resulting from achieving the purpose.  When the purpose is not well-defined, then profitability alone will inevitably tend to encroach on all else.

So that's my big thought to go with this diary.  And now for a couple more maps from the atlas, that I generated while playing around there.
The first shows the relative concentration of farms that sell direct to consumers--farms with the least impediment between themselves and consumers. The second shows the relative concentration of people who don't have a car, and live more than a mile from a food store--people who have the greatest impediment in obtaining food.  The impediments are different, of course.  But it's interesting to note how much the concentrations tend to be complementary rather than overlapping:


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(sp) - please spell Pollan's name right. (0.00 / 0)
in your header.

Interesting data correlation - and I say this even though I personally am an exception - I have adult-onset type-2 diabetes and drink virtually no soda.  

(Of course, if I wanted to be like Fox News I could say this "proves" you're wrong.)  :-)


sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


Fixed (4.00 / 1)
And I would just turn around and say that you were a "phony diabetic"!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Blog diaries are changing (0.00 / 0)
Yes. It is true. Blog diaries are changing. They are getting better. They are being written with the expectation that their readers are engaging in rational thinking.

They begin with a thesis. They follow a few simple steps that used to be taught in introductory English courses under the category of "essays."  The introductory paragraph includes a simply stated thesis. For example, "The sky is blue." Each following paragraph introduces a supporting idea. All assumptions are clearly stated as assumptions. All statements of fact are supported with one or more references. The summary or ending paragraph confirms the thesis. In other words, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.

Newspapers are in a lot of trouble because they do not do what you just did. And I'm guessing that within a few years, cable news will be in similar trouble for similar reasons.

Because blogs and other Internet content are becoming my preferred watering hole for facts and general information, I'm on the verge of giving up my cable entirely and using my TV to watch DVDs and online movies and nothing else.

Thanks, Paul.

P.S. I also cannot help but notice that all my favorite blogs are unrelentingly comment trolled these days. That's actually a good thing. It shows that you're having an impact.


[ Parent ]
It's Amazing What Feedback Can Do, Eh? (0.00 / 0)
Funny thing about conservatives.  They believe in feedback, so long as it happens in the marketplace.  Otherwise, not so much.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
yes and maybe not quite (4.00 / 1)
There are a few inconsistencies in the soda vs. diabetes maps that might bring into question a complete 1:1 relationship. It could also be that people who consume large quantities of soda are more likely to have other behaviors that contribute to diabetes.

That said, high fructose corn syrup is insidious stuff, and despite "independent" studies that indicate otherwise, I think there's an extremely high probability of a direct relationship with type 2 diabetes.


Well (0.00 / 0)
(a) It doesn't have to be a perfect match to be a pretty good correlation, and it obviously is.

(b) Of course correlation is not causation, but come on.  "Other behaviors that contribute to diabetes"? Oh, like opening the cans!


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Can we have the correlation in numbers, pls? (0.00 / 0)
Such graphical evidence can be very misleading. For instance, by looking at this, I can only conclude that the reason for high rates of diabetes in North-Eastern Arizona is that people don't have a car and no store nearby distance at the same time. Uh, how does this combination produce diabetes? Is walking long distances in hgh temperatures coming with such a risk? Or is this related to public transport in any way, do they offer free chocolate bars in busses, or something? Whateve it is, those folks have no high consumption of sodas, so there isn't a correlation at this place. And that's only one outlier. Really, imho the correlation isn't as high as you believe. Maybe the picture would improve if candy consumption would also be considered, dunno.

Hmm, btw, since the problem is actually sugar, and especially fructose, wouldn't it be better to look at a map that covers this? Soda is only one part of the problem...  


[ Parent ]
You Can Download Data From The Atlas Yourself (0.00 / 0)
How many times do I have to say I'm a dyed-in-wool believer in multiple causation?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"multiple causation", indeed. (0.00 / 0)
Look at the map below. Again, only graphical evidence, but this may provide an explanation for some outliers.

[ Parent ]
On second thought... (0.00 / 0)

No car, and no store nearby? In Arizona, where you can't get anywhere without a car? Wait a momeent, that's a reservation there!

http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra/documents/resmap.htm

So, the diabetes outbreak there may have genetical reasons. I don't think those poor folks have much money that they can spend on candy and such stuff.



[ Parent ]
Indeed, genetical reasons (4.00 / 1)
Genetic background is a determining factor in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. In both the Choctaw Indians and the Pima Indians, the more full-blooded individuals were found to have the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes, as compared with those of more mixed heritage.1  In Pima Indians, diabetes rates were found to be highest in children whose parents developed diabetes at an early age.1

Although the specific genes responsible for the inheritance of type 2 diabetes have not been located, NIDDK scientists studying the Pima Indians have identified a gene called FABP2 that may play a role in insulin resistance. More recent studies have shown that a variant in the PPPIR3 gene that is more common in Pimas than Caucasians is associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.


http://www.diabetesmonitor.com...

[ Parent ]
What's the matter with Lincoln County, Nevada? (0.00 / 0)
Hardly any indians there (1.7% of the small population), no suspiciously high soda consumption, and still a high diabetes ratio? This shows why:

Persons 65 years old and over, percent, 2008 29.6%

http://quickfacts.census.gov/q...

High percentage of old people = high percentage of old age diabetes

The prevalence of diabetes mellitus (DM) increases with age and 20% of the elderly population has DM.

http://www.mediscuss.org/diabe...

[ Parent ]
Got data? (0.00 / 0)
For instance, by looking at this, I can only conclude that the reason for high rates of diabetes in North-Eastern Arizona is that people don't have a car and no store nearby distance at the same time.

I doubt you could even survive in NE Arizona without a pickup truck. That is some pretty desolate sparsly populated territory.

On the other hand a glance at this somewhat crude but charming map drawing tells you all you need to know:
http://library.thinkquest.org/...

That's the Navajo Nation.


[ Parent ]
Okay the One Mile to Store (0.00 / 0)
argument has some plausibility. Until you correct it for geography. In the areas indicated it is typically more than one mile to anything at all. These are areas where you can easily see a sign 'No services for the next 120 miles'. Until you have driven through the real West, the area bounded by the Colorados, the Sierras/Cascades and the Colorado River, it is difficult to grasp how empty it is. Beautiful in its own way, just have some good maps and some extra gas and water. In this area the difference between being one mile and fifty miles from a store makes little difference, instead of talking driving distance in minutes or miles you might more often hear it in terms of hours: "oh about a three hour drive". Which wouldn't phase a westerner at all.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I already had the same idea... (0.00 / 0)
..when thinking about people who have no car and still live in rural areas where shops are sparse. Pls check the map I posted above. Imho that shows that the high diabetes areas in the west (and probably some in the east, too) correlate quite closely with indian reservations. And, sadly, it seems to be true that those folks have a much higher genetic risk for the desease.  

[ Parent ]
Insidious. (4.00 / 3)
You've probably seen the ad where the exurban (healthy) white lady carries her grocery bags filled with corn syrup through her picket fence and says "They want to tax our soda! We can't afford that."  Americans are easily seduced by the sly corporate advertising and cling to their indulgences even when they are dying from them and throwing their money away at the same time.  

But the anti-fat campaign proves that they can actually change (sometimes not for the better).  The problem is the whole media apparatus is part of this process of seduction and addiction.  How many billions?  The drug companies and the hospitals don't do too bad either.  Our whole society is marbled with corporate greed.  The food industry is one of the most insidious since it is still considered wholesome by most of our politicians.  

Michelle Obama is growing an organic garden at the White House, bless her soul.  I dare the Administration to mount a major public awareness campaign to educate Americans about the value of fresh, local produce. Exposing this problem would go a long way toward a remedy.  (I can just imagine the mocking ads from the food corporations.)


[ Parent ]
Alas! (0.00 / 0)
Agribusiness--particular the pesticide side--has been pressuring and attacking her almost from the very beginning.

A very good case could be made that Michelle Obama's determination in continuing to grow her organic garden is the single most courageous thing the Obama White House has done.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Corrected. (0.00 / 0)
My wife just informed me that I need to try harder to keep up with Michelle's work and her anti-obesity campaign--which is much more than just her garden.  I wan't being sarcastic just uniformed.

[ Parent ]
Actually, no. That's been one of the critiques of her "Let's Move" (4.00 / 3)
anti-obesity campaign: that it lays responsibility on the shoulders of individuals rather than corporate policies.

[ Parent ]
POLLAN (0.00 / 0)
Michael Pollan is the correct spelling.

Bob Higgins Worldwide Sawdust

Fixed Already (0.00 / 0)
12 minutes before you posted your comment.

Refresh your browser, maybe?

Grrrr! Arrrgh!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
given the way the map looks... (4.00 / 1)
maybe it should be a map of "coke," or perhaps "pop," not "soda."

Seriously, great stuff.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.


Language side note (4.00 / 1)
As a California girl, I was blown away when I went to the East Coast my first year of college and heard people refer to "soda" or "soda pop" as "pop". I found that totally bizarre. And having grown up in the heart of one of the most culturally diverse places in the country, I was accustomed to all kinds of different accents and cultural differences. But that one floored me. Calling soda "pop"? You gotta be kidding me.

What was even more mind blowing was when I learned some places in the country use "coke" as the generic term for "soda" or, excuse me, "pop" :) The Coca Cola company has to absolutely love that. "Coke" as a generic term for all soda? How the hell does that conversation go?

customer: Yeah, I'll have the FatBurger with fries.
server: OK. You want a coke with that?
customer: Uh, yeah.
server: What kind?
customer: Pepsi.  


[ Parent ]
Soda tax (0.00 / 0)
Relevant to this diary is today's article in the New York Times examining the pros and cons of a tax on soda. Some advocates for the tax draw an analogy to how taxes on tobacco helped reduce the number of smokers:

"Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who promoted a soda tax when he was a health commissioner, sees further parallels between soda and tobacco: 'There are aspects of the food industry that are reminiscent of tobacco - the sowing of doubt where there's no reasonable doubt, funding of front groups, use of so-called experts, claims that new products which are safer for consumers are available, and the claim that they are not marketing to children.'

The public war against tobacco has worked, if imperfectly: Americans smoke at half the rate they once did, half of all smokers have quit, and the tobacco companies finance strong antismoking campaigns."




Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Horrible spin by that pro-Soda doc in the NYT story! (0.00 / 0)
Here's what that damn sellout to coke interests said:
"The overall governmental voice and investment in solutions required has been stunningly weak. They need to forcibly say, 'The fundamental issue is one of calorie balance, and here's what you need to do.' "

No, it's not a question of balancing your intake of calories somehow, it's about WHAT you eat and drink. Some calories are BAD, no matter what. And it's the sugar, especially frutose, that's bad. It's useeless to make people believe they only have to count calories and they'll be fine, because that won't work as long as they drink sugar drinks! The fructose part doesn't trigger the body functions that reduce appetite, so these people will remain hungry even though they reached their limit. That's what we learn from the excellent lecture Natasha linked here recently:
http://www.uctv.tv/search-deta...

So, that damn spindoctor in the NYT story is wrong! You can't balance the calories from sugar drinks. That stuff is bad, period. And the government shouldn't mislead people into useless calorie counting. That can't work when they drink Coke or Pepsi all of the time!


[ Parent ]
Yep, the calorie argument is specious. (4.00 / 1)
Always has been. No other culture in the world counts calories and bases their diet on that. Does anyone really think people in France or Japan, where obesity is much less of a problem and people in general are more healthy, spend any time counting calories and "balancing" nutritional units? Our food industry continues to make bogus arguments that we can guzzle soda pop and still make up for it, health wise, by having Total for breakfast and getting "all our nutritional necessities".

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Crap correlation (0.00 / 0)
In order to even indicate a link you need some explanation for the negative correlation.

Take the Diabetes map. The Southwest and Mountain West have several cases of the darkest green and more of the medium green yet score low on the soda map. Equally the Dakotas are marked by several more cases of dark and median green compared to Minnesota. Then if you look at Washington State you see one patch of median dark green along the Coast and another in Eastern Washington.

To anyone familiar with Western geography the real correlation jumps right off the map. The dark green is Indian Country, the medium green is where there are Indian reservations and populations but near enough to major non-Indian populations to offset it. What you have here, at least west of the Mississippi is a map of the Navajo Nation, the Sioux Nation, the Yakima Nation (E. Washington) and all of the various tribes of NW. Washington (Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Makah, Quielute (Twilight) etc.)

Native Americans have long been recognized at outsize risk of diabetes and this is generally attributed to a complex combination of genetics, poverty, and lifestyle. But little to none of this is because the roadsides in Indian Country are choked with 2 liter Coke bottles.

Or we can contrast NE Texas with Oklahoma. The former is marked by high levels of soda consumption but relatively low levels of diabetes, whereas the later scores relatively low on soda but has patches of high diabetes incidence. I don't know much about Oklahoma geography but I'll bet big that those also correlate with reservations in the former Indian Territory.

The situation is obviously different in the East, but a glance at that map tells me the correlation there is also with poverty and then possibly race. And finally the clincher for me is Northern Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, also home to significant populations of folk with significant Native American ancestry.

Color me unconvinced by the soda argument. This could be the poster child for "Correlation is not causation".


Not At All (0.00 / 0)
Metabolic diseases like diabetes are the utmost in the multiple causality realm.  You're pointing out that the geographical correlation is imperfect, and that precisely what one would expect.  In fact, if it were significantly more perfect, I'd be suspicious that someone was jimmying the data.

In fact, you're using the fact that the geographic correlation isn't perfect to argue that "This could be the poster child for 'Correlation is not causation'."  But that's an inconsistent argument, since you're actually questioning the correlation in the first place.

BTW, there's another hurdle to be overcome.  Just because there's a geographic correlation doesn't mean there's an individual correlation.  I'm very aware that scientific proof is a long, complicated, drawn-out process.  But given that we're essentially conducted a mass experiment on the health of hundreds of millions of people, it would only seem prudent to shift the burden of proof at the policy level, while we wait for the underlying science to be sorted out.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Well, I already noticed that, and posted a map... (0.00 / 0)
...that shows that indeed the indiaan reservations are the green and deep green spots on the map. Just look upthread, I'm wonderring how you missed that?

However, I'm sure that the correlation between soda consumption and diabetes would become much stronger if we subtract the known reservation areas from the diabetes map. What's left would be much more similar to the soda map.

It still wouldn't be perfect, since it seems that Hispanics and Aficn Americans also have a higher genetical risk for diabetes than caucasians (at least that's what some sources I read today say). So, a higher diabetes ratio in the South has to be expected. Even though this leaves me a bit wondering about California...


[ Parent ]
corporate power run amok (4.00 / 1)
Not on the soda/diabetes thread, but suggestion on taming corporate power.

The abuse of the public by food corporations is legion. Probably the worst imho is the frankenfoods (Genetically modified) being fed to the unsuspecting uninformed masses, daily in the U.S.

This and all the other abuses brought by corporations, which amount to the vast majority of what is wrong with america, can be best addressed by public funding of elections.

It is by this private funding mechanism that elected politicians are almost required to sell out the people for corporate campaigh contributions. And the origin of stonewalls to the obvious solutions for most of our problems....which cannot be even talked about, much less considered.

If we ever do get a progressive elected president, I think public funded elections should be our first goal.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR


Clean Money Elections (0.00 / 0)
already exist in a few places, I believe in some regions of AZ and Maine. I think the only way to get it nation wide is to continue fighting for it locally. See if there's an existing group in your area that you can work with, or if not, start your own if you can.


[ Parent ]
There's correlation and then there's "correlation" (4.00 / 1)
I think a lot of commenters on this diary are forgetting that the policies enacted to curb tobacco consumption were all driven by the research that showed strong correlation between tobacco usage and lung cancer. There never was any clinical proof showing causation between tobacco use and cancer because the correlation was so overwhelming and because you couldn't perform a clinical study ethically (couldn't make a control group smoke when you knew the results could be their demise). I think the high correlation of soda consumption and type 2 diabetes is pretty indisputable. Despite what the industry shills say.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Well, there WERE clinical studies, on animals,... (0.00 / 0)
...of both the consequences of smoking and of drinking soda, so that's strong evidence supporting the empirical evidence.

[ Parent ]
Very true (4.00 / 1)
I meant on humans of course. I think you and I agree on the facts of the matter. I just feel that sometimes people overplay the "correlation isn't causation" rejoinder. When the correlation is statistically very high, that's usually strong reason enough to effect policy.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
I rather support policy decisions that aren't ONLY based on empirics... (0.00 / 0)
...just because of the possibility that an unknown or disregarded factor led to a false reading of the data. Just like it happened with the 70s "no fat" hype, which was based on such a misguided reading of statistics, and nothing else. But in general, yup, I agree with you on the matter, indeed.

[ Parent ]
I mean, imagine this hypothetical possibility. (0.00 / 0)
Let's say that in the production of high fructose corn syrup the product is contamined by small amounts of a substance that has a negative impact on the way human bodies consume sugar, increasing the rate at which this is converted into fat. The empirical data would still show a correlation between the use of the syup and obesity. Only clinical tests, with pure fructose, can then raise suspicions about the validity of that reading of the data, and will lead scientists to look for an unknown factor!

Not that I think this is likely, just to point out that relying only on empirical data may lead to the wrong conclusions. Just as it haappend in that anti-fat study that didn't take the consequences of a higher consumption of high sugar soda into account.


[ Parent ]
Another example (4.00 / 1)
At the risk of refuting my own argument, the best example of mistaken causation that I can think of is when medical researchers concluded, based on strong correlation from surveys of nurses, that high estrogen intake among older women would reduce the incidence of breast cancer. Then they finally did an actual clinical study and found that the opposite was true. I guess one can make a case across a very broad range of variables, as you are doing. That's why we discuss.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Besides Which (0.00 / 0)
There's an excellent reason to be "conservative" in the pragmatic prudential sense.  If something new is to be introduced, it should be checked out to see if it's dangerous.  If evidence appears that it may be dangerous, prudence dictates that you take preliminary evidence seriously.  You don't put millions of people's health at risk just to be absolutely sure they're in danger before taking action.  That "first do no harm" stuff really does make a whole lot of sense.

Another, slightly different way to look at this is that strong correlations are themselves a probabilistic indication that a causal connection exists.  One can then multiply this probability times the magnitude of the resultant harm to get an estimate of risk, in exactly the same manner that insurance companies first started quantifying risk.   The magnitude of risk measured this way creates a very defensible measure for use in public policy.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
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