Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Cherry Picking Data
It seems that some people following low-carbohydrate diets believe that Dr. Michael Greger "cherry picked" the studies he cited in his presentation "Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death."
Greger cited research showing that a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and ten other leading causes of death. Only if there existed a similar or greater amount and quality of data that a meat-based low carbohydrate diet could prevent and reverse these same diseases, we could justifiably accuse him of "cherry picking" the data.
Those who accuse Greger of "cherry picking" his research have or want to give the impression that Greger has presented only his personal interpretation of the evidence on human health and diet. However, the scientific data in favor of a plant-based diet began accumulating more than 100 years ago, and has increased in quantity and quality since then, with the result that all major public health organizations, such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Cancer Institute, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund, the American Heart Association, and the National Academies of Science in all industrialized nations have all recommended a reduced intake of animal flesh, fat, eggs, and dairy products and an increased intake of whole plant foods.
All of these organizations make these recommendations in favor of eating more plants (carbohydrates) and less animal products (fat and protein) because, so far, we don't have any high quality data supporting the claim that low carbohydrate, flesh-based diets have similar effects to plant-based diets. On the contrary, the preponderance of evidence, most of it produced by people who have not declared any commitment to animal rights, points in the direction of the conclusion that meat-based low carbohydrate diets promote the major causes of death.
I think the evidence stacks in favor of eating plants and against eating flesh because, like other primates, humans have a psychophysiology adapted by natural selection to plant-based diets. We have specific heritable characteristics naturally selected to improve our ability to acquire, digest, and metabolize plant foods, including sensory (e.g. color vision, sugar taste receptors), locomotive (e.g. plantigrade stance), digestive (e.g. grinding molars, salivary amylase), and metabolic (e.g. ability to convert carotene to retinol, inability to produce ascorbic acid) characteristics.
Further, we have some specific, heritable characteristics which actually make us maladapted to consumption of animal flesh, such as our lack of the uricase enzyme for metabolizing uric acid (a genetic mutation dating to about 13 million years ago) , our loss of immunological tolerance for Neu5Gc sialic acid (ingested from animal flesh) about 2.5 to 3.0 million years ago , and our stomach's inability to produce adequate acid to destroy pathogens delivered by flesh  resulting in the six to eight million annual cases of food-borne infections contracted from eating (mostly cooked) animal products that occur in the U.S. alone.
If you want to see what "cherry picking" looks like in practice, I suggest that you read Big Fat Fake at Reason.com to learn how the journalist Gary Taubes quoted out of context the words of experts he interviewed, in order to make it look like they endorsed low carbohydrate diets (when they did not) his New York Times article "What If Its All Been a Big Fat Lie?" RichieFruitbat also briefly discussed this in the following video:
For an in-depth look at some "cherry picked" research, watch the following four videos produced by Plant Positive, wherein he dissects the data in all of the studies that "Diet Doctor" Andreas Eenfeldt, M.D. picked and listed on his website as the best support for his recommendation to eat a low carbohydrate diet.