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Catalyst says consensus wrong on cholesterol – but unquestionable on climate

Posted By Joanne Nova On October 26, 2013 @ 1:20 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

On the ABC program Catalyst this week, Dr Maryanne Demasi slayed a few dietary myths–like, cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease.

She described how medical science was distorted for decades by the influence of money, and how one key researcher networked his way to the top of an influential association, casting ad hom insults at his competitor, ridiculing him, and calling his rival theory about sugar “quackery”. The personal attacks and name-calling worked, and for fifty years people have been paranoid of cholesterol, and scoffing corn syup instead, while study after study showed that that approach was not working.

Everything said about the processes in this tale could be equally well said about climate science: Correlation is not causation.  Weak, flawed studies can be cherry picked while good studies are ignored.  Associations can be taken over by one activist. Large financial interests distort science.

So the consensus was wrong about cholesterol, but is untouchable on climate? (See Witchcraft on Catalyst — Scary weather is coming, it’s all our fault, be afraid!)

Will it take 50 years for Catalyst to stop repeating the verdict of associations, and start investigating the evidence? The big lesson of the Enlightenment is that data and evidence are the highest authorities, not humans.

How myths in dietary science parallel climate science:

(I’m a hopeless optimist, I thought I’d try to help Catalyst spot the repeated patterns.)

ABC Transcript

“Dr Michael Eades
Just because there’s a correlation, doesn’t mean that there’s causation.”

  • Correlation is the most compelling point IPCC climate scientists have, (after sheer bombast, and “tallies of scientists”). It’s not just weak reasoning, it’s a lousy correlation*. Skeptics have been pointing it out for years. Filed under “correlation is not causation”, see how Global Temperatures have a decent correlation with US postage Stamp Prices.

“Dr Ernest Curtis
The classic study by Ancel Keys is a textbook example of fudging the data to get the result that you want out of a study. And, unfortunately, there’s a lot of that that goes on.”

  • The Hockey Stick Graph relied on the wrong type of trees as a proxy. The growth of bristlecone pines, which dominate the graph, is CO2 limited, with little dependence on temperature–which is why the tree rings were collected in the first place. The technique to analyze the data produced a hockeystick shape even if it was fed pure random red noise instead of the tree-rings. Virtually none of the climate scientists who assert CO2 is a problem spoke publicly to condemn these unscientific practices, which tells us all we need to know about standards in the warmer side of the climate imbroglio.
  • Several studies later produced similar hockeysticks, but almost all of those studies were not independent, relied on bristlecones or foxtails, or on “Yamal 06″ (a single tree in Russia with an 8 sigma growth pattern — the most influential tree in the world.)


Science writer Gary Taubes says it’s all very well to have a theory, but in science you have to prove it. And they tried.”

  • The US Government spent $30 billion from 1989 – 2009 trying to prove that CO2 causes catastrophic global warming. So far there are no empirical studies that support major assumptions about upper tropospheric water vapor (the major feedback in the models) and net positive feedback from cloud cover–yet in the climate models, these factors cause about two thirds of the warming.

“Gary Taubes
And over the next 15 years, researchers did trial after trial. There were probably a half a dozen of them between 1960 and 1975. All refuted or failed to confirm the idea that you could live longer by either reducing the saturated fat in your diet or reducing the total fat in your diet.”


The American Heart Association was also reluctant to lend credence to Keys’ theory. But then he managed to score a position on the Association’s advisory panel, where he pushed for the acceptance of his ideas, and it wasn’t long before they had a change of heart.”

  • Climate change advocates were even luckier than anti-cholesterol researchers — by 1992, their major patron was the Vice President of the US.


Bad science can only be kept alive by a committee

When the science is really stupid, only a committee report can provide a big enough white-wash.

“Gary Taubes
Instead of the data not being good enough to claim that dietary fat was a cause of heart disease, they concluded that the data were good enough, and, therefore, all Americans over the age of two should go on low-fat diets.”

  • Pro-warming Climate scientists didn’t need to infiltrate an association. Right from the start, a special UN body was established specifically to help them. Climate science was so bad, it needed it’s own international (unaccountable) committee. Who audits the IPCC? (Volunteers).

As the idea gained widespread acceptance with the public, science was left to catch up. Two ambitious trials, costing over $250 million, involving hundreds of thousands of patients, both failed to prove that lowering saturated fat could lower your risk of dying from heart attack.”

  • 28 million weatherballoons searched to find support for the missing hot spot (to show models were right). They found no warming at all, and no increase in humidity either (Paltridge 2009), thus condemning the CO2 theory to irrelevance in a rational world. This vast amount of data was called “spurious”.


“Gary Taubes
The way the authorities responded to this was to claim that they must have done the study wrong.

  • Climate scientists point out there are uncertainties in weather-balloon data (which is true, and also true of all climate data). They don’t point out that there are far larger uncertainties in global models, instead they say that because they are less sure of radiosondes, they are more sure of the models — 95% certain.

“I approached the National Heart Foundation for further evidence. They said the data was complex. They cited one study which showed only certain types of saturated fat could raise bad cholesterol, but it also raised good cholesterol. In the end they concluded – ‘We agree that we are limited by the evidence base, available at this time.’

  • “Climate Science is complex” (see 135,000 google-hits) [eg CSIRO, SMH,etc ]

In the ’60s, British physician John Yudkin challenged Keys’ theory, claiming that sugar was the culprit in heart disease, not saturated fat. But Keys was politically powerful, and publically discredited Yudkin’s theory.

  • Whole websites have been set up by specialist marketing teams to discredit senior scientists with decades of experience. (See DeSmog, set up by James Hoggan and Associates). Naomi Oreskes is a specialist at creating and selling “doubt” about expert critics – she is The Merchant of Doubt who resorts to 20 year old misrepresentations. Who knew statistically correct statements about passive smoking could disprove a NASA satellite?

Gary Taubes
By the early 1970s, Ancel Keys was ridiculing John Yudkin and his theory in papers and just on the basis of that sort of personality and political struggle, the nutrition community embraced this idea…

  • When skeptics pointed out problems with IPCC statements on the Himalayas (that turned out to be correct) the head of the IPCC said skeptics practice “Voodoo science”.

Dr Maryanne Demasi
This widespread publicity meant that Keys’ theory went from weak hypothesis to medical dogma…

  • Dogma? In the world of climate if you ask for evidence, or even just the data, you’re a “denier”. Sometimes you get sacked, or even stripped of email and emeritus status. Psychologists even study the strange phenomenon where independent scientists dare to doubt the conclusions of international committees. They conclude the questioning of gross errors and grand failures must be politically driven, since many of those who doubt, also “strangely” don’t want to vote for the same political parties which call them deniers. How could it be?


Hundreds of articles refuting the cholesterol hypothesis have been published in the world’s leading medical journals, but they rarely get noticed by mainstream media.”

  • 1,100 peer reviewed articles (and counting) support skeptics. Has Catalyst reported any of them? Are Catalyst viewers even aware that assumptions about water vapor, not carbon dioxide, cause two thirds of the projected global warming?

“Gary Taubes
So, what you do in bad science is you ignore any evidence that’s contrary to your beliefs, your hypothesis, and you only focus on the evidence that supports it.”

In 1977, the US government stepped in. Senator George McGovern, an advocate of Ancel Keys’ theory, headed a committee hearing to end the debate once and for all.”

  • The IPCC meets every 5 to 6 years and ends the debate every time.

“Dr Michael Eades
“And they are the ones who really have put us in the nutritional mess that we’re in now, because based on virtually zero science, they decided that a low-fat diet was the best thing for us all.”

  • If the IPCC favored climate models overestimate global warming by a factor of 6 (as empirical evidence suggests), almost all the money spent trading carbon, sequestering it, and installing wind farms and solar panels has been utterly wasted. $176 billion dollars was drawn out of the productive economy to trade carbon in 2011.  $243 billion was invested in “clean energy” in 2010. Is that as influential as the US corn industry? We think it might be. Has it killed as many people? That’s up for debate.

“Eminent scientists at the time disagreed with the report.”

Eminent scientists disagreed in 1990 and still disagree with the hypothesis of man-made global catastrophe.

  • Prof Richard Lindzen Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Prof. Lindzen is a recipient of the AMS’s Meisinger, and Charney Awards, the AGU’s Macelwane Medal, and the Leo Huss Walin Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.
  • John Christy distinguished professor of atmospheric science, and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
  • Roy Spencer – Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2001. Formerly he was a Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
  • Christy and Spencer developed the first global temperature data set from satellites and were awarded NASA‘s Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, and the American Meteorological Society‘s “Special Award.”
  • Plus 31,000 scientists, including 9,000 PhDs, 4 Apollo Astronauts and 2 Nobel Physics prize winners.

Is that enough?

“Dr Stephen Sinatra
Cholesterol is really not the villain. I mean, we need it to live. The problem is cholesterol is involved in a repair process. Look, cholesterol is found at the scene of the crime, it’s not the perpetrator.”

  • CO2 is not really the villain. It is true it is high when temperatures are high (as Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth). What Al Gore did not say was that two years before he made his movie, Caillon et al definitively showed CO2 rises 800 years after temperatures. It’s just Henry’s Law at work. The warmer the ocean, the more CO2 it releases. CO2 has scored the blame, but it is not the cause…

Being strictly logical

Naturally, parallels in propaganda, money or politics prove nothing about the climate. This skeptic would never say climate scientists were wrong because they were paid $79 billion dollars to find a crisis. They were wrong because the evidence goes against them, and they reason with logical fallacies.

Comments from readers

Readers have also noticed parallels, Reader Turtle of WA wrote in with a long list, including many above plus these:

  • Political interference at the highest level (McGovern). -
  • The appearance of the issue on the cover of Time Magazine.
  • The sale of certain products based on the theory.
  •  ’confirmation bias’ in the research (Dr Johnny Bowden)
  • A failure of the establishment to question it
  • ‘Far too many exceptions’
  • Media mythmaking
So the question is obvious. Why haven’t they noticed that the same arguments all hold when made against anthropogenic climate change theory?” — Turtle

As Peter a reader wrote to me:

“As I watched the program I thought that everything they were saying about how the scientific consensus on cholesterol developed and has been promoted could easily be replaced with the consensus on CAGW.  Even down to having a senior US politician pushing the consensus line – but in the cholesterol case it was a Republican (Sen. Goldwater).  And they had comments from an AMA rep supporting the cholesterol hypothesis – reminding me of CAGW support from many scientific organisations.  How the Catalyst Team could have not noticed this delicious juxtaposition of their views on the two topics when it was so obvious to me (and my wife) amazes me.  Basically they are saying – consensus A (CAGW) is true because we agree with it, while consensus B (cholesterol artery blockage link) is a crock because we don’t agree with it.”

Ian in comments on Thursday

October 24, 2013 at 11:14 pm ·
“The parallels between the resistance to the debunking of the “cholesterol causes heart disease” mantra and the doubts that “CO2 from human use of fossil fuels causes global warming” are so similar…. those who promote the theory cholesterol causes heart disease refuse to recognise the existence of data that refutes that theory. Now isn’t that just like the climate scientists …

Derek wrote to Catalyst:

“… I have written to “our ABC” pointing out this disparity and suggesting that Dr Demasi be tasked with researching and presenting the evidence for and against on this vexed question in the same admirable and unbiased fashion…. I wonder if she and they will rise to the challenge?”

Too little too late

As for the diet info, almost everything the show revealed was discussed in the new media, or books 15 years ago. That’s why I rarely watch Catalyst. I’ve known about the dangers of oxidized polyunsaturated fat, of raised insulin, of omega 6 imbalances, and the major role of inflammation, disadvantages of the low-fat diet, and trans fats since the late nineties. I was discussing nutritional research online back then. So while I congratulate Dr Demasi for doing a good job of busting myths that still abound, one that will score her criticism from some quarters (predictably, on the site that slavishly follows “authority” more than any other  – The Conversation), Catalyst could have been analyzing government and industry PR releases all along.  It’s a bit too little, too late.

Doesn’t she see how  most of the time, Catalyst simply repeats the press releases and perpetuates problems in science? It’s not the job of reporters to decide who is right on the climate, or in medicine, it’s their job to find the best arguments both sides can make and put them both forward. It’s to facilitate the public debate, and inform the public. On climate, Catalyst is part of the consent-manufacturing media force. It’s part of the problem.

The message for people who were surprised by the Catalyst episode: don’t wait for Catalyst to tell you. Start searching the new media or bookstores now.

(Be aware though that practically any new diet works for a while, it’s the longer studies that matter. The studies on mortality count the most, and the studies on epidemiology the least — they’re the studies that confound 400 factors by saying “people ate more X in fatland, so X makes you fat!” Ignore any site or book that says you should eat something because a committee says so. Cutting calories is the only thing that stands up to scrutiny.)


To see how much Catalyst propagate and protect bad science:


 * How weak is that correlation? Pathetic. It’s riddled with mismatches and exceptions. CO2 rose faster after WWII, but temperatures fell for 30 years ( they say it was aerosols). Lately CO2 emissions are “worse than expected” but temperatures are flatter than expected (apparently it could be the ocean this time — but why wasn’t it the ocean before?). A third of human emissions in all history have been from 1998, yet the pause in global warming has reigned since then. The peak decadal rate in the 1980s was not different to the 1870s, though there is a lot more CO2 (the “climate is complex”). Medieval times were just as warm, but CO2 was low. (The Medieval warm period didn’t exist, “see the hockeystick”).  There are always excuses, and if reporters are too lazy to question them, who will?

Only unpaid bloggers, apparently.


See The Evidence and the links above, plus:

Caillon, N., Severinghaus, J.P., Jouzel, J., Barnola, J.-M., Kang, J. and Lipenkov, V.Y.  2003.  Timing of atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic temperature changes across Termination III.  Science 299: 1728-1731. [Discussion, CO2science]

Paltridge, G., Arking, A., Pook, M., 2009. Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Volume 98, Numbers 3-4, pp. 351-35). [PDF]

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