Politics Muddling Science

Posted on 30th December 2003 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

The Food Industry and The Food Pyramid

At the time I am writing this, obesity is becoming the most significant health problem in the United States, and is about to replace smoking as the number one cause of preventable diseases. With Federal Health organizations targeting this mounting epidemic, and an informed public being the best defense against health problems, scrutiny is gathering around one of the American Government’s most well-known health-guides: The Food Pyramid.

USDA Food Pyramid

Designing a nutritional guide is not an easy task. The Pyramid must explain extremely complex nutritional requirements in as simple a manner as possible. Balancing ease of comprehension with comprehensive explanations. Not only does the pyramid fail to simplify its suggestions, it outright gets many things completely wrong.

Here are just three examples:


The Pyramid correctly distinguishes between complex and simple carbohydrates, but draws the line at the wrong place. It lists bread, cereal, and pasta as complex carbohydrates, but most nutritionists consider refined grains, such as these, simple carbs. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate. Fruit Loops is a simple one.


If the Pyramid errors on the side of not providing enough information on specific food groups, it also errors on the side of making a “serving” too complex. 1 Slice of Bread equals 1 Ounce of Cereal equals 1/2 cup of Pasta. 3 Ounces of Meat equals 1/2 Cup of Beans equals 2 Tablespoons of Peanut Butter. This is far too much to think about in meal preparation and turns off many people… at least it turns me off. Compare this to Bill Philips’ solution: a serving is the size of your fist.

Lean Meats

Steak, Veal, and Pork Chops are at the top of this list. Chicken and Turkey appear below them, although chicken and turkey are the two leanest meats. Legumes, or Beans, the leanest of all protein sources and is also rich in fiber, does not appear in the list at all.

How do so many gross distortions enter the equation? How do brand name, “junk-food” cereals get the same status as basic oatmeal? How do beef and veal top turkey? Not by listing them alphabetically. How did veal get listed as a nutritional protein source and not legumes?


Take a look at the value of the industries that provide these foods getting equality with or priority over far more healthy options. Who benefits from Americans consuming excessive quantities of carbohydrates and meat? Who has the most influence over the body that defines the Food Pyramid, who influences the USDA? There is a conflict of interest at work here.

Imagine if we reduced the food pyramid to three food groups: protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. No fat. No cholesterol. The Dairy industry would flip out. The Beef industry would spread commercials denouncing the Government across the airwaves.

Is this conspiracy? As far as the Food Pyramid is concerned, I leave that to you to decide and have provided some links, food for thought if you will, to help you:

Food Politics






…but let’s look into the past and see how another industry affected what we knew about another scientific debate.

The Tobacco Lobby and Cancer Research

Public Relations campaigns disguised as Science

The “Surgeon General’s Warning” on the packs of Marlboro’s I smoked for ten years read: “Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in
Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight.” We used to joke that we were safe from cancer so long as we continued smoking the “pregnancy” cigarettes. There are many other ways the Tobacco industry gets around and suppresses public knowledge their product’s dangers.

For instance:

Philip Morris used public relations firms and lawyers to develop a “sound science” program in the United States and Europe that involved recruiting other industries and issues to obscure the tobacco industry’s role. The European “sound science” plans included a version of “good epidemiological practices” that would make it impossible to conclude that secondhand smoke-and thus other environmental toxins-caused diseases.

Suppressing Unwanted Results

On May 12, 1994, nearly 4000 pages of reports, memorandums, and letters generated by Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation and the British American Tobacco Company over a thirty-year time span surfaced at UCSF thanks to an employee at the company. For a year, the data was analyzed, compiled, and finally published in the July 19, 1995, issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). The results were instantly devastating to the Tobacco Industry as the documents revealed:

  • Research conducted by tobacco companies into the deleterious health effects of tobacco was more advanced and sophisticated than studies by the medical community.
  • Executives at Brown and Williamson knew early on that tobacco use was harmful, nicotine was addictive, and decided to conceal these facts from the public.
  • The industry sent research data through their legal departments in order to establish lawyer-client relationship privileges and hide their research from the courts.
  • Despite demonstrated knowledge to the contrary, the industry’s public position was that the link between smoking and ill health was not proven, that they were dedicated to determining whether there was such a link and revealing this to the public, and that nicotine was not addictive.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Outspend Them

When the largest European study on second-hand smoke, conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), demonstrated a 16% increase in the point estimate of risk in lung cancer for nonsmokers, Philip Morris, fearing increased restrictions on smoking in Europe, launched a three-pronged attack on the study through industry-directed scientific studies, a media campaign to shape public opinion, and governmental lobbying effort to prevent legislation that would restrict smoking in public places. The IARC study cost $2 million over ten years; Philip Morris planned to spend $2 million in one year alone and up to $4 million on research.

Sources Cited:

Constructing “sound science” and “good epidemiology”: tobacco, lawyers, and public relations firms.
Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0130, USA.

Environmental tobacco smoke. The Brown and Williamson documents.
Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA.

Lawyer control of internal scientific research to protect against products liability lawsuits. The Brown and Williamson documents.
Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, USA.

Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study.
Cardiovascular Research Institute, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 94143-0130, USA.

Further Reading:

Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, University of California, San Francisco

National Cancer Institute: Cancer Control Research

Industry and Global Warming

Our Invisible Problem Child

There is a simple chemical reaction occurring in automobile engines, power plants, industrial complexes, and even campfires around the world. The carbon collected by living organisms in the form of wood, oil, and coal is being combined with oxygen molecules and put through a combustion process to release their stored energy. The process is often imperfect, resulting in a chemical byproduct:

C + O2 –> CO2

Carbon Dioxide, CO2, is a very important component of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is transparent to light energy, but not to thermal and infrared energies. In other words, it allows light energy to hit the Earth’s surface, where it is converted to heat energy, and then prevents the heat energy from radiating into space. Without CO2, the Earth’s mean temperature would be 20 Degrees Celsius below the freezing point of water.

At present levels, CO2 keeps the Earth’s mean temperature at 13 Degrees Celsius above zero. When these levels increase, more thermal and infrared energy gets trapped. Many factors are helping to increase CO2 levels in our environment: burning fossil fuels, agricultural burning, and cutting down trees, which remove CO2 from the air to make wood. Data suggests these elevating levels of CO2 are raising the mean temperature of the Earth. This is the basis for Global Warming Theory, around which a debate that affects the entire human race is being waged.

The Facts So Far

  • “CO2 concentrations have increased from about 280 ppmv in pre-industrial times to 358 ppmv in 1994. There is no doubt that this increase is largely due to human activities, in particular fossil fuel combustion, but also land-use conversion and to a lesser extent cement production. ” (IPCC WGI (1996, p 14))
  • “The mean global surface temperature has increased by about 0.3 to 0.6°C since the late 19th century and by about 0.2 to 0.3°C over the last 40 years, which is the period with most reliable data.”
  • “Seven of the ten warmest years in the 20th century occurred in the 1990s.”
  • “mountain glaciers the world over are receding; the Arctic ice pack has lost about 40% of its thickness over the past four decades; the global sea level is rising about three times faster over the past 100 years compared to the previous 3,000 years; and there are a growing number of studies that show plants and animals changing their range and behavior in response to shifts in climate.”
  • Droughts, Floods, Storm Systems and extremes of temperature into both hot and cold are all increasing, just as Global Warming Theory predicts.
  • These facts are supported by a “consensus of 2,500 scientists – including eight Nobel Laureates – who comprise the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

The Unknown Variables

When speaking of climate change, we must acknowledge that we are attempting to predict trends in a system so complex as to make it chaotic. We cannot forget the infinitesimal effect of the butterfly’s wings. On the future of Global Warming, there are additional effects that will have indeterminate positive and negative feedbacks.

As the Earth warms, more water will evaporate into the atmosphere, generating greater cloud coverage. Clouds reflect more light back into space, which will reduce the warming of the Earth. Another negative feedback is that greater production of CO2 will promote additional plant growth. Plants strip CO2 from the atmosphere, combating greenhouse gases.

At the same time these effects may take place, the polar ice caps will recede. The ice caps reflect light back to space, so without them the Earth will absorb more light and convert it to thermal radiation. Also, as the Earth warms, more water vapor will enter the atmosphere. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, having a positive feedback on Global Warming.

Both of these are known unknown effects, but there are also many unknown unknowns. Bogs, for instance, contain large quantities of methane gas from decomposing organic matter in their depths. As the Earth warms, this methane production may increase. Methane is a greenhouse gas. This variable was only discovered in recent years. What else don’t we know about?

The Skeptics

While there are many critics of Global Warming Theory motivated by a healthy Scientific Skepticisms, there are also many who object to the costliness of solving the problem due to profit motivations. In 1989, for instance, 46 corporations and trade associations established the Global Climate Coalition to push a multi-million dollar advertising campaign against the Kyoto Protocol and fund studies on the economic costs of mitigating climate change. The conservative think tank George Marshall Institute publishes numerous reports downplaying the severity of global climate change, including one report that was very influential in the Bush Sr. Administration’s policies, which claimed variations in the sun’s intensity would offset the effects of global warming.

The Western Fuel’s Association directly funded the Greening Earth Society and is connected with Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide & Global Change. Both of these organizations work tirelessly to push the meme that CO2 emissions are good for the planet and that coal is the best energy source available.

In September 2002, the Bush administration removed a section on climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual air pollution report, even though the climate issue had been discussed in the report in each of the preceding five years. In June 2003, the White House tried to make a series of changes to the EPA’s draft Report on the Environment. The EPA report stated that human activity is contributing significantly to climate change. The entire section on climate change was ultimately deleted from the version released for public comment.

Outspend, omit, and deluge with spurious studies… Sound familiar?

Fighting for a Stalemate

The tactic being employed by these groups is not one of proving that global warming does not exist, or even disproving the scientific results. They employ media relations campaigns, heavy advertising, spurious scientific studies. Their deluge of memes drown out the voice of Scientific Consensus.

All these opponents do is to raise doubts. You only have 150-thousand years worth of climate data to base your theory on. You can’t know for certain that this isn’t just a natural warming trend. You don’t know that negative feedback variables in the Earth won’t reverse Global Warming.

In order to subvert the dominant Scientific Conclusions, the interested party simply muddles the argument, introducing an endless stream of factors unaccounted for in studies in order to prevent action. They aren’t seeking to win the argument, merely to stalemate it. Keep the proponents of Global Warming Theory on the defensive to prevent any action from taking place.

Proponents admit that there exists a tremendous number of variables unaccounted for in Global Warming Theory, but the possible consequences of Global Warming mean we cannot leave this debate in limbo. If the positive feedback variables outweigh the negative feedback variables, the Earth’s climate could reach a “snapping point,” where Greenhouse Gases reach a runaway state and the environment transforms into something else entirely. We already know what such a state would look like by observing our closest neighbor, Venus, where an overabundance of greenhouse gases have rendered the planet a near-molten soup, completely uninhabitable.

Sources Cited:

Sagan, Carl. “Ambush, The Warming of the World,” Billions and Billions, 1997, Ballantine Books.

IPCC WG I, 1996. Houghton, J. and others.

Observed Climate Trends

Responding to Global Warming Skeptics
— Prominent Skeptics Organizations

Climate Change Research Distorted and Suppressed

Countering the Skeptics

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