Outstanding Critique of The China Study

(I’m probably the last blogger to arrive at this party, but just in case you’re not already aware of it …)

I frequently receive comments and emails from vegetarians who tell me that if I’d just read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, I’d see the error of my ways and start counseling everyone to live on a plant-based diet with as few animal foods as possible.  I usually reply that since Dr. Weston A. Price observed amazingly healthy people all over the globe —  most of whom lived on diets rich in seafood, animal fats, and animal protein — I don’t really care what The China Study says, especially since I’m not Chinese.

Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Neal Bernard also cite The China Study while exhorting their TV audiences to stop eating meats and animal fats.  Considering that I became leaner, stronger and more energetic after giving up grains and eating more animal fat (not to mention improving my blood-sugar and lipid profiles), once again, I don’t really care what The China Study says.  (And I’m increasingly convinced that Drs. Oz and Bernard are what Larry, Moe and Curly would describe as “intelligent imbeciles.”  They both, for example, seem to think hydrogenated trans fats and natural saturated fats are identical.)

I’ve read critiques of The China Study before, but a young blogger recently posted her own, and it’s a thing of beauty.  As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, my college physics professor told us, “Learn math.  Math is how you know when they’re lying to you.”  Denise Minger, who blogs about diet and nutrition from a raw-foods perspective, knows math — and that’s how she knows T. Colin Campbell is lying to us.

Okay, she’s actually too polite to call Campbell a liar.  And given her talent for number-crunching and logic, she doesn’t have to … instead, she takes the data from his own study and smacks him around with it.  She also drives home a point I frequently try to make on this blog:  associations are just that — associations.  They don’t necessarily tell us about cause and effect.

For example, Campbell cites statistics showing that people who eat green vegetables frequently have lower rates of heart disease.  His conclusion:  vegetables protect against heart disease.  Minger digs into the data and shows us that while eating vegetables frequently (especially year-round) is associated with a lower rate of heart disease, there’s no such association with simply eating a LOT of vegetables.  The difference, as she explains, is probably due to geography — the people who eat vegetables frequently live in the southern regions of China:

If green vegetables themselves were protective of heart disease, as Campbell seems to be implying, we would expect their anti-heart-disease effects to be present in both quantity of consumption and frequency of consumption. Yet the counties eating the most greens quantity-wise didn’t have any less cardiovascular disease than average. This tells us there’s probably another variable unique to the southern, humid regions in China that confers heart disease protection-but green veggies aren’t it.

Some of the hallmark variables of humid southern regions include high fish intake, low use of salt, high rice consumption (and low consumption of all other grains, especially wheat), higher meat consumption, and smaller body size (shorter height and lower weight). And as you’ll see in an upcoming post on heart disease, these southerly regions also had more intense sunlight exposure and thus more vitamin D-an important player in heart disease prevention.

Basically, Campbell’s implication that green vegetables are associated with less cardiovascular disease is misleading. More accurately, certain geographical regions have strong correlations with cardiovascular disease (or lack thereof), and year-round green vegetable consumption is simply an indicator of geography. Since only frequency and not actual quantity of greens seems protective of heart disease and stroke, it’s safe to say that greens probably aren’t the true protective factor.

That’s just one example.  She shreds several more of Campell’s leaps in logic, and uses his own data to show that some of healthiest people in China live in regions with the highest levels of meat consumption.  As other critics have pointed out, the only solid conclusion we can take away from The China Study is that rats who are fed a diet of nothing but casein (an isolated dairy protein) will become sick and die.  From this, Campbell indicts all animal products. 

I doubt the vegan true believers will read Minger’s critique, and I doubt their fat-deprived brains could comprehend it if they did.  No matter.  The next time you’re confronted by a vegan who tells you The China Study proves we should all be living on plant-based diets, send a link.  If nothing else, Minger’s logic may confuse the vegan into shutting up for awhile.

In the meantime, read Minger’s post for your own benefit.


96 thoughts on “Outstanding Critique of The China Study

  1. Flora

    What you ae doing is very important. That’s what this country is all about. Vigorous, interactive conversation, but for this site to reach all of the people it needs to, to inform and stimulate the critical thinking that will lead to informed personal choice, it needs to be safe for people to be able to respond without feeling like they are going to be ridiculed and attacked by someone calling them names. I’m open to all forms of dialog, as long as people respond with respect and hopefully, I’m not some religious zealot with a fixed mind.

    Kudos to someone who took the time to really read Campbell’s book with a critical mind.

    One little correction: 20% casein, not even 1/4th of the diet, was used for the rat’s chow in comparison with 5% casein, not 100%, as is being presented in this conversation by some. At 20%, all the experimental animals died of cancer. When this amount of casein was withdrawn, all of the tumors shrunk. When 20% was again offered, the tumors regrew. When withdrawn, they shrunk again. It seemed that the cancers only grew if the animals had first been seeded with aflatoxin from moldy peanuts. And this hypothesis was expanded to include similarly moldy grain, nuts, seeds, etc.

    No one yet on this site seems to have brought up another hypothesis that these diseases of afluence: cancer, diabetes, MS and AIDS are caused by parasites (the liver fluke) that migrate to three parts of the body when benzene in the thymus, wood alcohol in the kitneys or isopropyl alcohol in the liver cause degeneration. If it were true, this would have nothing to do with whether or not a person was a meat-eater or a vegetarian, and people could stop attacking one another’s choices and just love, welcome and respect one another’s choices.

    I teach a temporary (21 day) method of detox that a famous mentor of 22 plus years taught who saved tens of thousands of lives; however, I am not blind to the truth in other’s ways and am open to whatever works. I am aware that many of the things we feel and express are not from our own feelings but are from other sources. Since this is my first day reading all of this input on this site, I recognize this transferral and projection, which interferes with respectful interactions and sincerely hope that people can get past their biases to respectfully supporting this interchange of information and research.

    I am respectful of people who leave comments that are a true invitation to discussion and debate, whether they agree with me or not.

    But when they show up here with a religious-zealot mentality, demanding that I “leave the truth alone!!!” or attacking Debra Minger without actually disputing her math, or telling us we must believe Campbell because by gosh he’s got a PhD, or telling us the only reason anyone would dispute Campbell is to support big pharma or indulge a desire to eat “dead parts of animals,” then it’s neither a discussion nor a debate … it’s proselytizing by True Believers who are immune to evidence. I have no respect for True Believers, and I’m not going to pretend I do.

  2. Archie L. Tucker

    Personally, I think any reply to Denise Minger’s blind leap to criticize Dr. Campbell’s work is a wasted effort and risks lending undue credence to her baseless claims. However, I do have this to say: How can she even consider that she possesses the credentials, academic or otherwise, to challenge the findings of a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry and several decades of experience in labs and fieldwork in the area of nutrition? I suppose such research facilities as Cornell and Oxford should reconsider their acceptance of his research findings in support of someone who has absolutely no academic credentials in this arena. In addition, does she think all peer reviews of his work should be reconsidered just because she “likes to crunch numbers”? Please! Give the readers some credit for intellect and common sense.

    Archie L. Tucker
    Certified in:
    Biology, anatomy, health, and astronomy

    Once again, nothing more than a weak appeal to authority. He must be right because he’s so darned educated and has published studies. Well, a helluva lot of other researchers with MDs and PhDs disagree with his dietary conclusions and have also published studies, so I guess they cancel each other out … in which case you dispute Minger’s math, or not. The math is what the math is. I do give my readers credit for intellect, which is why I believe they’ll pay attention to the numbers and not academic degrees.

  3. gallier2

    It’s funny how the Campbell lickers all come to your blog. Even on Denise’ blog they are far between. Just a reminder for them Goebbels was right then, he had a Doctor title.

    Not sure why I’m getting all the zealots, either.

    1. redfoxglove

      Your site comes up when “Dr McDougall criticism” is googled. Those who have read Esselstyn find common ground with McDougall’s ideas. A possibility. The comments of Flora above me here are very similar to my feelings on the matter. Respectful commentary is appreciated. Name calling such as offered in the response by Mr. gallier2 is very destructive to the process of debate. The truth is too big for eny one person to have all of it.

      1. gallier2

        It’s only a matter of context. I had tried the rigorous and fact based conversation with vegans to only learn that it is a waste of time. Most of them are lunatics, or better said, zealots for a cause, absolutely not open to any argument. After a while, one can only get bitter as they only ever come up with the same old fallacious arguments: appeal to authority (that’s why I said that Goebbels also had a PhD), ad hominems and cherry picking. That’s why I often bluntly say what I think of them and don’t care if they like it or not, I am not on a mission like many of them.

  4. Lori

    There’s an article today at spiked-online by Brendan O’Neill titled “We’ll only listen to you if you’ve been peer reviewed.” In the article, book author Christopher Snowdon says about peer review,

    “I think peer review can act as a way of keeping out research that doesn’t fit the editorial line. It can act as a clique. I’ve heard from a number of scientists who have struggled to publish unfashionable or “unhelpful” research, despite being leading academics. And certainly a huge amount of rubbish gets published in peer-reviewed journals, especially in epidemiology, because there are too many epidemiologists chasing too few undiscovered associations. You only have to look at the health section of the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph to see that.”

    Favorite quote from the article: “[Peer-reviewed] is fast becoming the intellectual equivalent of being deloused.”

    Great quote. Uffe Ravnskov has been turned down numerous times by peer-reviewed journals for daring to say cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, so there’s definitely a gatekeeper effect.

  5. Lauren

    You mentioned Dr Oz and others….but what do other accomplished doctors say about this?

    Dr John McDougall
    Dr Dean Ornish
    Dr Esselstyn

    (Please note: The doctors above have taken the time to educate themselves in nutrition’s affect on health while the majority of other doctors know as much info as you can find in a ‘Self’ magazine).

    What does John Robbins say about this in ‘Diet for a New America’ and ‘The Food Revolution’?

    Dr Campbell’s research does not stand alone. Many accomplished and knowledgeable individuals have supported his data with their own research. Furthermore, the very researchers that promote eating a whole foods, plant-based diet for disease prevention, eat this way themselves.

    Plant-based, whole foods are REAL foods. There is nothing violent or hurtful about promoting a plant-based diet therefore the sarcastic, negative tone of the critics make this ‘argument’ seem unbalanced.

    I encourage you to further educate yourself on this topic rather than focusing on others’ critiques and opinions.

    Another appeal to authority. Nothing to dispute Minger’s math. Toss in a emotional appeal about not hurting animals. Is this supposed to be convincing?

    I have educated myself on the topic. That’s why I’m not a vegetarian anymore.

  6. Angela

    Dr, Campbell has already written a response to Denise Minger.


    Who do you trust? A Cornell trained scientist or some lady trying to get us all to eat more raw animal products?

    To me the choice is clear.

    Appeals to authority and attacking the opponent personally, both very weak debating tactics that have nothing to do with facts or evidence. Here, let me show you how it’s done:

    “Who are you going to trust? A gifted mathematician who publishes her work for all to read free of charge, or a hack scientist who declared his belief that animal products are bad for us BEFORE he conducted the study and is now hawking a for-profit book while trying to turn us all into vegans? To me the choice is clear.”

    Minger has written her own replies to Campbell’s response, which I’d wager you haven’t bothered to read. Unlike Campbell, she uses math and data to make her arguments instead of relying on “trust me, I’m a PhD” (so are many researchers who are critical of Campbell’s work) or insults such as “I doubt a young blogger working in her spare time could’ve done this math.”

    If you consider Campbell’s weak reply a “slapping down,” all it proves is that you’re a closed-minded vegetarian zealot who’s not interested in little annoyances like logic, math and evidence and will gladly accept any b.s. from Campbell that confirms your existing beliefs.

    The math is what the math is. If you disagree with Minger, show us where she got the math wrong instead of telling us Campbell must be right because he’s so gosh-darned educated. Plenty of educated scientists throughout history have been dreadfully wrong.

  7. Angela

    Oh yes, you’re right, let’s all listen to the 23 year old puppet master who has a degree in English and ignore the trained professionals with 50 years of experience in nutrition and scientific research. I don’t think he is trying to turn us all into vegans, he just presents the facts.

    I’m not a vegetarian or a zealot. I just think this whole discussion is a complete joke. Find someone who has some actual credentials to refute the whole study and I might pay attention.

    I saw Denise Minger’s response to Campbell’s response. I just think she should go back to creative writing.

    Once again, appealing to authority (by gosh, Campbell has a PhD!) instead of debating the evidence or refuting the math. If you believe anyone with a PhD is infallible, then you have to accept the conclusions of Richard Feinman, who has a PhD in cellular biology and believes Campbell is dead wrong. Or Stephan Guyenet (PhD, instructor at a medical school) or Uffe Ravnskov (PhD and MD … hey, that outweigh’s Campbell’s degree, doesn’t it!) and many others.

    You’re actually going to excuse yourself from “paying attention” and attempt to dismiss her math by calling her names and pointing out that she’s an English major? English majors can do math too, believe it or not. My degree is in journalism, but I program computers for a living and deal with plenty of high-level math. I’m actually very good at it. Thomas Edison completed four months of school. Ben Franklin had about a year. You are using technology they invented. Get over the credentials issue. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

    No matter what his degree, Campbell cherry-picked his correlations to fit his pre-conceived conclusions. His book was full of univariate correlations that are meaningless. Using univariate correlations, I can demonstrate that gray hair is strongly associated with heart disease, so hey, gray hair must cause heart disease. Or maybe, just maybe, I left out another variable there … age comes to mind.

    Minger produced her own univariate correlations using Campbell’s own datasets to demonstrate that using “Campbell logic,” we could conclude that meat-eaters are healthier and wheat causes heart disease. If you read her work, you know she specifically stated that her own univariate correlations are essentially meaningless and don’t actually prove anything … as Campbell’s univariate correlations actually don’t prove anything.

    Campbell then “refuted her” (ahem, ahem) by criticizing her for using univariate correlations, conveniently ignoring the fact that 1) she used them only to show that you can torture the data to reach any conclusion you desire, and 2) Campbell’s own work was full of univariate correlations. So in his “slap down,” he criticized her for doing exactly what he had done … even though she did it specifically to point out the weakness of the methodology.

    If you want to ignore her analysis because you prefer to believe Campbell instead of examiming the evidence, be my guest. But you’re not offering any real debate here and not making any legitimate points. Refute the math, show us exactly where she got it wrong, or go away and eat your tofu.

  8. andy barge

    Oh Dear!

    I used to be a vegan (and a Zealot certainly) but quite clearly this is just common sense. I do recall when I started to question the Vegan propoganda, I was treated like a Heretic and I was branded a traitor.

    The fact that it is possible to cut holes in the science of the China Study says it all. I imagine trying to do the same with “Good Calories- Bad Calories” would prove very difficult indeed.

    I do think that this is a little like the religion argument in its flaws (forgive me if you are religious).
    “Where is the evidence for God?”
    “It is in the Bible for He wrote it”
    “Well how do you know he wrote the Bible”
    “Because He is God how dare you question him mere mortal!”

    Love ya Tom!

    The religion analogy fits pretty well.

  9. keep on J

    Keep in mind that there are many surprises in statistics. Correlations can change sign when other variables are accounted for. Denise Minger’s critiques are interesting, but are in no way systematic. I presume that the (probably many) statisticians who analyzed the data from the China Study did the best they could and reached the conclusions that Campbell reports, even if he doesn’t fully understand the statisticians methodology. Short of doing the calculations myself, which might take years, I have to appeal to the authority of those who did the study in order to make up my mind.

    How convenient that Campbell noticed the correlations that supported his previously-announced beliefs that animal foods are bad for us and failed to notice several others showing the opposite.

    You do realize “appeal to authority” is considered a faulty form of reasoning, don’t you?

  10. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    In no way systematic? What does that mean? You clearly think it means she’s wrong, but that’s about all I can figure out from what you’ve said.

    So Campbell is “reporting” the conclusions of “statisticians”, but you think he may not understand the methodology. Funny, I though Campbell was the doctor with the fancy credentials. If your presumption is accurate, then we should prefer to trust Minger, because she is a statistician drawing a conclusion.

  11. keep on J

    I currently believe that Campbell and his research team analyzed the data coming out of China in a quite thorough way (perhaps I’m wrong). I also believe that Campbell wrote the book as a story of his life, with an emphasis on some of the milestones during his conversion to a plant based diet. He did not write the book as a scientific paper, and thus did not feel the need to prove his convictions. Indeed, it is impossible to prove his convictions. He states himself that the evidence doesn’t prove that he is right. Although, as a seasoned researcher he understands that the weight of the evidence points toward the benefits of a plant based diet.

    I would have liked for the book to be more systematic. Let me explain the roots of this desire. For many years I’ve been following the advice of the Weston Price Organization. I’ve eaten lots of fatty meats, bone broths, butter, sprouted whole grains, legumes, etc. My energy levels have gone up and my health has improved, but I’ve been less than satisfied with the scientific foundation for such a diet. Why do so many experts insist on avoidance of animal fat? Although on an intuitive level the consumption of animal fat makes sense to me, perhaps I’m deluding myself. After all, science should be self correcting, and if after all these years the majority of experts still denounce animal fat, well, at least its worth hearing them out. It is known that animal fats contain many environmental pollutants. Perhaps the long term consumption of animal fat leads to disease. Perhaps, as Campbell argues, its the animal protein that is problematic. I’m slowly starting to listen to these experts, not necessarily because of their authority, but mostly because I believe they have extensive experience and knowledge of the subject of nutrition. My qualm is that the experts don’t present the information in a convincing manner. I think that this is true of the China study.

    But, let me be clear on this point. Lack of a clear exposition of ones ideas does not mean that those ideas are not sound.

    On the contrary, the fact that Campbell’s research has been peer reviewed and consistently funded proves that many people respect his ideas. Could it all be political. Yes, but I prefer the simpler explanation that he does good scientific work. It’s certainly possible that he lived a long and somewhat boring life conducting research, teaching college courses, and running a lab, and after it all came to certain conclusions regarding nutrition (in this modern age) that are close to the truth.

    So I’m left with the modern dilemma of deciding what to eat. I have an almost romantic attachment to the teachings of Weston Price in that I love nature and want to live in harmony with the world. Although, on the other hand, despite despising animal studies and the whole academic system, I have a certain respect for the boring but all encompassing statistical procedures that are in use. There is no question that modern scientists have more data at their disposal than did Weston Price. Should I analyze all this data myself? I suppose I could. I am qualified to do so. But here’s the kicker. Years of sitting at a computer, analyzing data, will make me unhealthy.

    My solution is to pay attention to the weight of the evidence, to eat less animal products and eat more plant foods.

    PS – if “appeal to authority” which I may or may not be doing is a faulty form of reasoning, then how do you suggest I reason my way through my dilemma of deciding what to eat?

    You reason your way through it by reading the evidence for yourself and deciding if it makes sense. For me, that partly means asking if the theories being proposed make evolutionary sense. Does it make evolutionary sense, for example, that animal proteins would induce cancer in humans? Or does it make sense to claim animal proteins are bad for human health because rats develop cancer if you feed them an isolated dairy protein?

  12. keep on J

    In addition, I’d like to pose some questions for those who like me feel that the China Study book isn’t wholly convincing. Why not? Is it because Campbell and his son are busy and don’t have enough time to craft a masterpiece? Is it because the message is true, but it takes a lifetime, not a book-reading, to be convinced of it? Is it because Campbell is pulling our legs? Is he a tool of the government? Does Campbell truly believe what he writes?

    Thoughts please.

    Campbell believed animal foods are bad for humans before he conducted the study. When we are looking for correlations in data, we tend to spot the correlations that fit with our previous beliefs.

    And of course, that’s all they are: correlations. According to Dr. John Ioannidis, an M.D. and math genius who has spent much of his life analyzing studies, the majority of conclusions drawn from correlations turn out to be wrong. There are simply too many confounding variables involved.

  13. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    “I’ve eaten lots of fatty meats, bone broths, butter, sprouted whole grains, legumes, etc. My energy levels have gone up and my health has improved, but I’ve been less than satisfied with the scientific foundation for such a diet.”

    You seem to be unclear on the scientific method. Good science starts from observing the real world and seeing what happens. It then proposes theories to explain why those things happen. Then you devise tests which can support or disprove the theory.

    You already have observed outcome: You eat a certain way and your health improves. That is scientific foundation. What you don’t have is a theoretical explanation that you’re comfortable with.

  14. keep_on_J


    Yes, I think that Campbell had a team of statisticians working for him during the China Study, and yes I believe that they did a better job than Denise. Ask yourself why you believe Denise. Is it because her analysis is better, or because her presentation is better. I pondered this question myself and came to the conclusion that Campbell is not the best writer.

    As for my quote on how a Weston Price type diet apparantly improved my health. I think this is because I went from eating mostly preserved cafeteria food to fresh nutrient dense foods. It was definitely an improvement. I think there’s still room for improvement though, and it may involve utilizing more plant based foods.

    With regards to the scientific method, I think that I’m fairly scientific. I’m currently trying something new (more plant foods and slightly less meat) and seeing how it works. If it doesn’t work I’ll certainly switch back. There is a problem with this approach though. It could be that fatty meats make me feel good in the short term but are setting me up for disaster in the long run, or conversely that plant foods cause me to feel listless at first but strong after many years. This is where I believe that statistics comes in to play.

    I have heard of John Ioannidis, and have read how he believes that there is a systematic bias in the medical literature. I think that this is true, and it boggles my mind a bit. I don’t have too much to say with regards to that, except that it probably stems, not purely from using correlations as part of an argument, but rather the systematic, profitable use of the leeway that exists when designing an experiment and deciding which results to report. With regards to the latter, I think that Denise is probably guilty of cherry picking data. From what I can gather, she spent lots of time searching for evidence that could cast a doubt on Campbell’s conclusions. This is hardly an unbiased analysis of the data. Furthermore, we’re only seeing her blog because she did infact find something. On the other hand, the results of the expensive China Study would have been published regardless of the outcome – a much more balanced source.

    My take is that the data from the China study are ambiguous, especially to those without much experience in epidemiology. I myself am well versed in certain statistical softwhere and after running the data through some standard procedures couldn’t find anything obvious. My take is that they didn’t find much either, but when they took biological plausability (presumably this is their life’s worth of commen sense as developed in the lab) into account, then and only then could they read anything from the data. It seems that they concluded that plant based foods are better. Again, I continue to wish that they would do a better job communicating this to us.

    So while I still have some doubt, I trust that the scientific consensus which warns against the excess consumption of meat is probably correct.

    Whether or not it jives with evolutionary principles remains to be seen.

    Here are a few questions.

    Do we currently eat more or less animal products than our ancient ancestors did?

    Are we and or the animal products the same now as then? Certainly their fatty meats weren’t saturated with modern chemicals. Also, I suspect that our ancestors were much more active in their daily lives.

  15. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    “I myself am well versed in certain statistical softwhere and after running the data through some standard procedures couldn’t find anything obvious. My take is that they didn’t find much either, but when they took biological plausability (presumably this is their life’s worth of commen sense as developed in the lab) into account, then and only then could they read anything from the data.”

    So the data doesn’t show anything. But when they apply their “common sense as developed in the lab” — otherwise known as their preconceived notions — they find that oh my goodness the data supports their preconceived notions after all.

    You ask why I believe Denise. It’s because she isn’t claiming the data supports a meat-based diet. In fact she takes great pains to say the exact opposite: The data doesn’t support any conclusion whatsoever. There are too many confounding variables to draw any conclusions.

    The correlations she points out are not intended to prove a point, but to refute the supposed value of the correlations Campbell chose to publish.

    Which supports what you wrote yourself: You couldn’t find anything in the data. And neither cold they. That didn’t stop Campbell from publishing.

    Bingo. All these criticisms and angry replies to Denise, I’ve yet to see to see one that shows where she got the math wrong.

  16. keep_on_J

    I admit that it is somewhat disappointing that the China study data doesn’t (clearly) show what Campbell claims to be true – that it’s healthiest to eat a plant-based diet, and that we should restrict our intake of animal foods to levels much lower than currently seen as acceptable.

    I spent about a weeks worth of time in an attempt to model the data (using
    standard statistical procedures) and didn’t reach any clear conclusions.

    This doesn’t mean that my search was in vain though. An unexpected consequence of my effort was a newfound appreciation for the scientific community.

    I believe that by working in concert, scientists are able to uncover truths that
    a single individual, such as myself or Denise, are unable to directly observe, simply because we don’t have the brainpower to deal with ALL the facts. Let me illustrate with an example.

    If I gather correctly, Denise claims that the Tuoli data should not be ommited from the analysis. Why omit the milk drinkers after all? Such an objection makes sense if the analysis is being done by an individual from afar, but what happens if you enlist some Chinese scientists to help with the decision making? Perhaps the first thing they would say is that Tuoli county is in Xinjiang, and the inhabitants there are genetically more similar to Afghans than Han Chinese, so their (The Tuoli inhabitants) inclusion in the study would hurt the study design, particularily the claim that the data is coming from a population with relatively similar genes. Denise herself, upon reflecting on this, might agree to omit the data from this county.

    It seems that two heads are better than one.

    side note: I have lived in Xinjiang for about 6 months and I can personally attest that it’s not a very “Chinese” place. When doing my analysis I didn’t hesitate at all on this point. Tuoli was considered an outlier.

    Perhaps the 100 or so heads that worked on the study, all with lots of experience, are MUCH better than one.

    I look at the data and see nothing, while the group of analysts see something.

    It’s my opinion that the China Study book is selling well because it gives the reader (book buyer) the impression that finally people needn’t listen just to the nutritionists in authority, but can actually see for themselves the raw numbers that point toward the health of a plant-based diet. This is why I bought the book.

    Alas, I was duped by some marketer.

    I now humbly admit that by myself I am unable to answer questions relating to optimal dietary practices.

    I can trust my taste buds, or my common sense, or my instincts, or the conclusions of thousands and thousands (maybe millions or more) of man-hours that have been spent studying nutrition.

    I choose all of the above, but recently I’m putting more and more emphasis on the scientific consensus. Why not?

    As for Denise, my qualm isn’t with her mathematics or statistics as carried out (although her comments on Tuoli are suspect, and her approach is NOT as advanced as it may appear), rather I believe her mistake is that she believes that she, while working in isolation, can successfully summarize the China study data set.

    I made the same mistake. I couldn’t do it (summarize the data). I don’t think Denise has even come close to doing it. Campbell’s team probably did a pretty good job, even though this is not communicated well in the book.

    Oh, my. As a guest host, where does one begin? How about here:

    “I admit that… the China study data doesn’t (clearly) show what Campbell claims to be true”

    “I spent about a weeks worth of time in an attempt to model the data (using
    standard statistical procedures) and didn’t reach any clear conclusions.”

    “This is why I bought the book. Alas, I was duped by some marketer.”

    Wow. You just don’t get it, do you, Bub? You’ve stated ad nauseum that Campbell’s works don’t support his hypothesis, and therefore don’t support his conclusion. So you believe him. Because everybody that was paid to find the same conclusion found the same conclusion and, by golly, that’s good enough for you. Brilliant.

    ” I believe her mistake is that she believes that she, while working in isolation, can successfully summarize the China study data set.”

    She didn’t summarize the data. She didn’t say she was summarizing the data. She didn’t say she thought she could summarize the data. She analyzed the data using recognized standards. She concluded, as you have, that it had no integrity. If the hypothesis isn’t supported by the data, that means it’s negated. That’s called “science.”

    “Campbell’s team probably did a pretty good job, even though this is not communicated well in the book.”

    I don’t even know what that means. They did a pretty good job, even though they didn’t?

    “I now humbly admit that by myself I am unable to answer questions relating to optimal dietary practices.”

    Oh, come on — don’t sell yourself short. You’re not that humble.

    I’ve got to ask Tom if he uses a pillow or something when he’s banging his head on the desk. I’m feeling woozy.

    — The Older Brother

  17. The Older Brother


    Okay — don’t anybody tell Tom I only made it ’til Tuesday before I let Bad Jerry out.


  18. keep_on_j

    I think it’s a good idea to be open to the idea that eating less animal products is healthier, especially for those who already eat a lot of animal products.
    A shift toward the consumption of more plant based foods may cause you to feel
    a little out of whack at first, but I think that enough science exists to support the
    opinion that in the long term you will be much healthier due to your consumption
    of plant-based foods. This is the scientific consensus. Do you not believe it because
    you don’t trust the government, and the government’s funded research? Do you not believe it because you feel good when you eat fatty meats? Look at the chart in the China study where there is a convincing (way more impressive, statistically, than anything from the China Study data itself) association between per-capita animal fat consumption by country and associated breast cancer rates. This is just a small part of the evidence that Campbell calls the context, within which he interprets the China Study data.

    The data itself, I admit, doesn’t contain too much convincing evidence.

    I hoped to flesh out the reasons for why the China Study isn’t convincing, and the consensus here seems to be that the data simply doesn’t support what Campbell claims.

    I sometimes fall into this mindset. There are times when I don’t understand what Campbell is saying. Here’s an example.

    According to the China study data.

    Animal Product consumption is correlated with rising Cholesterol levels.

    High cholesterol levels are correlated with the incidence of some diseases.

    Animal Product consumption is un-correlated with the incidence of some diseases.

    Denise’s conclusion: no evidence to link Animal Products with disease

    Campbell’s conclusion: (Americans) should eat less Animal Products.

    Who’s right? I used to think that Campbell was stretching here, but not anymore.
    Within the context that American’s have unhealthy levels of cholesterol, and that they should lower their cholesterol levels, Campbell’s interpretation makes sense.

    Even where animal products are minimally consumed they lead to a rise in cholesterol.

    That’s what the China study data says. But wait, what about the fact that in China
    the higher cholesterol doesn’t seem to be correlated with more disease? Does this
    weaken Campbell’s argument? Perhaps, but remember that there are many other factors at play in China that could be masking the effects of animal foods. Also,
    their consumption of animal foods is quite low.

    Most importantly, it is established that American’s could improve their health by lowering their cholesterol. For Campbell, I suspect that this isn’t even up for debate,
    so he doesn’t fret at dismissing the lack of correlation between cholesterol and
    disease within the China Study data. He instead focuses on how the data show that
    animal products cause cholesterol to rise.

    Is this cherry picking the data?

    Yes, if you are intent on learning ONLY from the China Study data.

    Otherwise, no.

    Campbell seems sincere and has a lifetime of experience upon which to base his opinions.

    My position is that if you too would consider every angle before reaching your conclusions, that you would then agree with Campbell.

    I don’t believe consuming fewer animal products would lead to better health because there’s no solid scientific evidence to back it up. Notice the word “solid.” All Campbell and others can do is point to some weak observational studies — well, in fact, ALL observational studies are weak by their very nature. According to Dr. John Ioannidis, a Harvard MD and mathematical genius who studies the studies, 80 percent of the conclusions drawn from observational studies have turned out to be wrong.

    In actual clinical studies — the kind that matter — restricting refined grains and sugars has produced benefits ranging from improved lipid profiles (higher HDL, lower triglycerides), to lower blood pressure, to better glucose control. If you can find a controlled clinical trial in which cutting back on meat produced those same benefits, cite it. Otherwise, I suggest you stop wasting your time. The people who read this blog aren’t going to converted by yet another troll pushing Campbell’s highly flawed work. Many of us, myself included, already tried living on the diet Campbell promotes and were rewarded by getting fatter and sicker as a result.

  19. keep_on_j

    Correction: In the paragraph “That’s what the China …” I meant to say “In China the higher consumption of animal foods (not cholesterol) doesn’t seem to be correlated with
    more disease.”

  20. Jason

    Saying that American’s would benefit from lower animal fat/protein consumption neglects to take into account the many other problems of the traditional American diet. Processed flour, sugars, modified sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup, and starch laden, deep fried foods would improve the health of all individuals. With no true clinical data supporting the health benefits of a lower animal protein/fat diet, wouldn’t it be more likely that we should perhaps look at all these other variables, especially when there is a high relational correlation between those who eat a lot of vegetables not eating a lot of these other things I have mentioned. Perhaps its not the lack of meat that is benefiting them, but the lack of refined foods, sugars, etc. (Again a problem with the many variable of human digestion.)

    As well as that, people on here have talked about accumulated “common sense” of the scientists purporting these claims that reducing animal protein/fat would be a healthier lifestyle, yet ignore a lot of evolutionary biological science that purports the very structure of the human muscular system and its absorption of complete animal proteins, a benefit that can’t be completely replicated through plant protein and is dominated in a majority of mammalian species.

    Also lets not forget some of the clinical studies done on things like Whey Protein (an animal protein) and Fish Oil (an animal fat). I think at best what we can take from some of the research done by Campbell is that the use of isolated Casein Protein (used by a lot of body builders) could help to accelerate already present cancer. Secondly, that clinical studies need to be performed in order to further the field. If anything Campbell should be credited with initiating this line of debate, but his evidence and conclusions should not be taken as the be all and end all of things. It is just as easy to provide numerous examples of the benefit of Animal Protein/Fat.

  21. Jason

    Also I can’t help but talk about the importance of animal protein/fat in the development of human infants. There is a ton of conclusive evidence of detrimental effects of a lack of animal protein/fat for children.

    An example is the several studies that show that Vegan breast milk lacks DHA an Omega-3 fat vital for brain and eye development. Vegan’s are encourage to take DHA supplements if intending to breast feed. It seems illogical that meat could be so harmful if it is needed in the proper development of human infants.

    Also in 2007 Oxford researchers determined that Vegans are 30% more likely to break a bone due to a lack of key nutritional development of bone density found in animal protein/fat. There is a direct relations between Vegans and low bone density which was discovered in a 2009 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

    If you want to get on the debate of Chronic disease and nutrition it is just as easy to start citing other variables not present in any of the observational data provided by most nutritionists. Take for instance the relationship between low birth weight and high occurrences of Chronic Diseases. This is just one variable that could influence Chronic Disease that might not have been considered in any of the observational data collected. Again, jumping from the statistical information to broad spectrum conclusions seems like a large jump.

    As well the low intake of animal products in pregnant women particularly in the later part of the pregnancy have shown a relation to lower placental and birth weights which again directly influences the development of Chronic Diseases later in life. (K. Godfrey, “Maternal Nutrition in early and late pregnancy in relation to placental and fetal growth, BR Med J 312:410-4)

    Anyway, the point of this is two fold. One, animal protein/fat has been shown rather conclusively to be very important in the development of human infants. Two, that there are multiple variables in the development and propagation of disease that could have to do with nutrition but may also not. Jumping to broad spectrum conclusions can be dangerous, especially if it leads to the elimination of something that might be important for our development.

  22. Michael Kennedy

    If you really believe and follow this rubbish, you will likely die of a heart attack sooner rather than later. More likely, you are a mouth piece for the meat industry and wouldn’t dare eat as stupid as you are recommending to any misguided followers you might kill with this drivel.

    Yes, I expect I’ll soon develop heart disease just like all those buffalo-eating Indians, meat-eating Eskimos, meat-eating Masai tribesman, etc. No wait … hardly anyone died of heart disease in those cultures. Hmmm.

  23. Keep_on_J

    So how to tackle the numerous questions of nutrition?

    I personally believe that the best approach is for experienced scientists
    to interpret the weight of the evidence coming from observational studies.

    This is why I put stock in what Campbell has to say.

    How can I put this nicely … Um … if you believe the best approach is to simply believe what “experienced scientists” tell you instead of learning to interpret the data for yourself, you’re in trouble. My college physics professor once told us to learn math because “math is how you know when they’re lying to you.” Notice he didn’t tell us to simply believe what experienced scientists tell us

    Also, I’m curious how you reach conclusions when “experienced scientists” disagree with each other. Does your head explode?

    I’m moderate in my thinking though. I still eat some meat, nearly every day, although the amounts are substantially smaller. I try to spread it out: clams, fish, red meats, chicken, organ meats, etc.

    After reading the China study I’ve been eating more beans, and perhaps the same amount of butter. I’ve been reaching for more variety in my choice of produce.

    As a summary of my thinking, I believe in statistics. Populations that eat tons of animal foods and have high cholesterol harbor more chronic disease.

    I believe in statistics too. So how do you explain the statistic that in India, the vegetarians have higher rates of heart disease than the meat-eaters? How do you deal with the statistic — and it’s a real statistic you can look up for yourself — that among the elderly, those with higher cholesterol live longer?

    This doesn’t mean that an individual who fits the population profile should stop eating meat and attempt to lower their cholesterol – perhaps they are individually an exception to the population-wide statistical association. Rather, this indivudal should accept the prudent advice to cut back on the habits that are contributing to their population’s troubles, thus minimizing their risk of becoming just another chronically ill statsitic, AND at the same time they can continue to eat enough of the foods that help them thrive (whatever they may be). But, I feel fairly strongly that a diet that is excessively rich in animal foods does not sustain long-term health, especially in America.

    I hate to break this to you, but feeling fairly strongly about an issue isn’t a substitute for something like … oh, I don’t know … proof?

    As for the primitive cultures who fare well on diets rich in animal products, I claim that it has little to do with their diet, and that they would do equally well on moderate levels of animal products. Undoubtedly these peoples, in their tradiational state, are leading active lives close to nature. This is something that is incredibly hard for an American to do – what with blogs to post on and everything.

    I hate to break it you, but “primitive people” spent more time sitting around or playing games than people in agricultural societies did. Farming is damned hard work.

    Wading through the literature is a recipe for ill health. Trust the consensus when they report moderate advice such as to cut back on fat consumption. Just don’t cut back too much. Sleeping well and getting exercise then put you at pretty low risk for disease.

    Stop wading through the literature and trust the consensus? HEAD. BANG. ON. DESK.

    One last comment on my statistical double-checking of the China study data. Surprisingly, many factors played less of a role than I would have thought. Processed food consumption stands out in particular as having only a slight deterimental direct effect, within the context of a large linear model explaining the variance in birth defect rates. In other contexts, it doesn’t seem to play much of a role. This happened with other variables as well. Mostly, the debunked variables had to do with pop-nutrition rather than the conclusions of the medical establishment. Those folks are conservative. Their statements regarding saturated fat, etc, held up.

    Here’s my challenge.

    I did not believe that saturated fat can cause cholesterol levels to rise. But, after looking at the China study data (in more depth than simply computing some correlations), and finding to my surprise that saturated fat consumption was implicated as having something to do with high high-cholesterol levels, I have awoken to the possibility that the medical community is not necessarily out to get me, but perhaps out to help me. Oh, so on to my challenge. Refute the evidence as observed in the China study data that lends support to the idea that Americans should consume less saturated fat.

    Refute the evidence? You mean do what I’ve been doing on the blog for the past two years? Sure, I’ll keep doing that. Meanwhile, you might want to check out the section in the film where I went on a saturated-fat pigout and my cholesterol and LDL dropped while my HDL went up as a result.

  24. Keep_on_J

    In response to the host’s claim that there is no “solid” evidence to conclude that
    the consumption of less animal products leads to better health, I would like to point out that solid is in quotes because we don’t know how to judge evidence. But, people like Campbell do know how to weigh the evidence, especially with regards to nutrition. Due to their extensive experience, they are qualified to interpret the implications arising from the analysis of a whole slew of studies. They know what constitutes solid evidence and call it that. Why not listen to what they have to say?

    Suggestion: take a course on debating someday. One of the first lessons you’ll learn is that appeals to authority — this must be right because Mr. Respected PhD says it’s right — are considered about as weak as it gets in a debate. Campbell used his experience to tease out the data he wanted to find. He ignored the data he didn’t like. If you want to dispute Denise Minger’s analysis, dispute her math. Asking us to believe Campbell simply because of his extensive experience makes you look like an idiot.

  25. andrew

    “If green vegetables themselves were protective of heart disease, as Campbell seems to be implying, we would expect their anti-heart-disease effects to be present in both quantity of consumption and frequency of consumption. Yet the counties eating the most greens quantity-wise didn’t have any less cardiovascular disease than average. This tells us there’s probably another variable unique to the southern, humid regions in China that confers heart disease protection-but green veggies aren’t it.”

    This is pure non-sense conclusion. The study concludes what it says on the tin: frequency of consumption. If the commentator above would care to intellectually ‘dig deeper’ surely she would find out that frequency is not equivalent to quantity on any biochemical term. Any idiot who cares about the subject enough can go through medical review pages of Great Depression only to find that people who ate LESS were MORE healthy….. and that is actually the point.

    Sorry you weren’t able to grasp the point. The point was that people who eat vegetables FREQUENTLY live in areas with more year-round sunshine, which means 1) vegetables are available for more of the year, so they can be eaten frequently, and 2) the missing variable may be extra vitamin D, thanks to the extra sunshine. In America, cancer rates rise as you go north.

    Any idiot who knows people ate less during the Great Depression should also grasp that those people were automatically consuming less sugar and white bread … so once again, you can’t pinpoint the variable. In lab studies on animals, simply giving them fewer refined refined carbohydrates and sugar produced the same benefits as calorie restriction.

  26. andrew

    “Campbell used his experience to tease out the data he wanted to find. He ignored the data he didn’t like.”

    Sounds familiar……Dude, isn’t this what pharmaceuticals in clinical trials do? And isn’t the clinical and nutritional control merged into one institution in the US? 🙂 Did you by any chance happen to watch Jamie Oliver’s food revolution and the response to that by LA’s authorities?

    Point being: you go and believe in what you like, that’s the beauty of democracy. However I personally know two individuals who were saved by dropping meaty diets and survived whilst all other drug taking/dieting failed miserably (one of them being a regular in and out the hospital for 2 yrs straight with no improvement whatsoever). Hammering your point forcefully into audience’s head won’t solve a thing. Tested. Proven. Does_not_work. Let the audience make mistakes and learn from them. You will be surprised to learn a thing or two, too, along the way.

    N.B. at the same time I urge you to expand your horizons in exploring of wonders of placebo effect… for instance, have you ever posted a question to yourself (I know it is difficult whilst being an american technocrat): maybe its not diet nor nutrition at all, maybe it is belief in what you want to believe that makes all the damn difference?

    1) Was meat the only food your two individuals dropped from their diets? Ornish, McDougal, etc., all have their patients eliminate meat, sugar, white flour, processed vegetable oils, smoking, etc., while adding more vegetables. In other words, much like a paleo diet without the meat. Then they claim the better health outcomes prove meat is bad for us. Nonsense. They didn’t control the variables.

    2) Hey, thanks for explaining the placebo effect. Never heard of it before. Unfortunately, I believed my vegetarian diet was good for me and continued to believe it even as I became fatter and sicker. Then I put two and two together.

    3) The two individuals you know who were “saved” by meatless diets were probably just experiencing a placebo effect. (I’ve heard from some very intelligent people that the placebo effect can explain any benefits from a change in diet.)

  27. Zach4500

    … Apologies for chiming-in late in the thread. I find the discussion and debate interesting.
    The plethora of data from research on health, disease, and nutrition is often muddled by the media and sorting through to enough substantiated fact to come to a well-informed conclusion can be daunting.
    In doing my own reading and research through varied sources, I’ve found a consistent, underlying subtext to be almost as interesting and informative as the data itself (or, rather, a percentage of the data): the battle to define the optimum diet for human beings, and the fight to validate high consumption of animal flesh and animal products.
    On this page, a mantra is that “appeal to authority” is a fallacy, therefore (to paraphrase), the expertise of Campbell and other professionals whose research aligns with his does not count/is not valid.

    The host of this page also seems to understand the parameters for the “appeal to authority” being a fallacy — there are certain circumstances in which it is a fallacy — it is not a fallacy in all cases, obviously:
    “Since this sort of reasoning is fallacious ____only when the person is not a legitimate authority in a particular context,___ it is necessary to provide some acceptable standards of assessment.”

    While it’s good to not allow an authority do one’s thinking for one, the categorical invalidation of authority is the other extreme.

  28. John Weissman

    Interesting converse here. Im not ashamed to be confused… There are two issues, rarely if ever mentioned on forums, or by the gurus themselves. Actually, Ive never see one issue ever mentioned … That when “humans” or homonids or humunculi “went north”–that is, when they left the “Garden of Eden”, diet changed, forever. The original sin, if you will, is at the root of the “debate”. Many smart folks around here can engender material from what this “Original sin” implies–but I am not referring to bible stuff, just to FOOD. For there is no best diet. Diet is just the primary (not “primal”, mind you) adaptation to an environment, whether it’s the Garden of Eden McDougall lives in, Hawaii, or the brutal north, desert, etc … Staying alive is the prime directive. If your dairy animals can extract nutrients from depleted soil, that you coud only by growing food on HUNDREDS of acres of land, then you will surely get symbiotic with them, or die.

    The other issue is chronic disease. (I mite argue aging itself is a chronic disease). The over-academic debate is vacuous when it does not refer to WHAT WORKS to save peep from chronic disease of any kind, including, and especially, “deth sentences” . Each “diet” has it’s list of successes, and probably suppresses it’s list of failures … But, for me anyway, I am only interested in what will work to cure chronic and acute disease. My leaning now is toward Furhman, who is abit more reasonable, IMO, than McDougall …

  29. Vanessa

    I read someone mention India here, thought I’ll add my 2 cents.

    Middle to higher class in India have access to all RICH food. Dairy -Butter,cheese, ghee, whole milk is very expensive in India. Most poor people cannot afford it, if they do they buy some diluted non-fat milk and use very little in their chai.
    Cooking Oil is VERY expensive too. Deep fried foods are exclusive to rich/ middle class people. Not the poor.
    Meats are expensive, out of question for poor in India. Some local fish (very often sundried versions) are the only cheap animal food they can afford.

    They live mostly on grains (Mostly Rice – it’s the cheapest), some lentil (dal) to go with the rice. Even dal is not cheap, they have to go easy on it. Vegetables are fairly cheap. (Inflation has been a crazy monster in India lately, we are talking comparative terms here.) Eggplant, Cabbage, Onion, Potato etc are cheaper then Okra, French beans etc.
    The only cheap fruits are Bananas and Sapotas.
    They do not get heart attacks and diabetes, they get diseases of poor sanitation. Malaria, dengue, plague and what not.

    Middle-Rich class Meat eaters still do not eat meat every day at every meal. But they eat way more Dairy. They also have access to McDonalds – Pizza Hut – KFC which are rich-people’s restaurants in India. They can consume cookies, chips, sweets more often. Most families eat chicken/ fish/ meats few times a week. Back in the 90s, the standard was once a week. This was before burgers and Pizzas arrived in India. Indian Muslims eat meat daily, not most Hindus.

    Middle class vegetarians consume a lot of dairy. Dairy, in India is considered highly nutritious and essential. There are NO vegans in India. In fact, the vegetarian Indians consume more dairy than anyone else.

    Sugar, Salt, Oils, Dairy (Most Indian desserts are dairy-based, they come with loads of sugar. A gulab-jamun in an Indian restaurant in America is less sweet than what you would find in India.)
    The middle class eats LESS vegetable than poor and when they do eat, it is doused in a lot of oil or cream or paneer.

    Now if these people start adding more meat to their diets, I wonder if it will make things worse. But as far as I know, problems in Indian middle class diet are Dairy, oils, sugar and salt. Not Meat. Yet.

    What makes you think poor Indians don’t get heart disease and diabetes?

  30. Vanessa

    I am from India, lived there until 28 years of age. I have not seen/ heard of a poor person with diabetes. Tuberculosis? may be. But coronary heart disease and diabetes? Nope. Autoimmune disease is unheard of.

    I would expect diabetes rates to be higher among those who can afford to eat more sugar. As for heart disease, let’s go with scientific evidence instead of one person’s observation:


    The relevant quote:

    “Xavier and colleagues found that 60% of the 20,468 patients who received a definite diagnosis had STEMI, compared to the rate in developed countries of less than 40% (including the European Heart Surveys). The average age of patients in Indian was 60 years, which is younger than the range in developed countries of 63 to 68 years. As approximately 75% of CREATE patients were categorized as being from lower middle class and poor backgrounds, it proved difficult for them to afford routine hospital treatments and secondary prevention.”

  31. Jason

    I stumbled upon this diatribe, then read the arrogant, pompous comments back to many of whom commented. Gee, a guy who loves to argue & attempt to disassemble people’s opinions or experiences because …. I guess he loves being haute writer of sorts. Well let’s set the book aside for a moment & talk about personal experiences for a moment.

    Before I launch into my brief experience, I have a quick question for Mr. Baloney Boy, have you tried this type of diet for any decent length of time?

    I followed the diet, went from 238 lbs to 202 lbs (I’m 6′ 4″), cholesterol went from 230 total to 150 & triglycerides under 90, my workout routine did not change & I reversed the plaque build-up in my heart – got the before & after thallium treadmill results to prove it. I had a noticeable increase in energy & greater clarity of thought.

    The only difference in my routine was the change of diet as per the book but, I guess this dopey China Study author was all wrong. Damn … it was probably all some silly dream ….

    I will never understand why it is so important for some to purposely tear down someone’s hard research just to do the easy job being the armchair quarterback on Monday morning.

    I guess some people want to pound the table to get their 15 minutes of fame regardless because after all, any attention is better than none at all.

    I can’t wait to see the blustery retort, I’m sure it’ll be a doozie!

    Yes, I did try a vegetarian diet for several years. I gained weight and developed asthma, arthritis, GERD, psoriasis and low energy — all of which disappeared when I adopted a more paleo diet that includes lots of meats and eggs. That’s my personal experience. It’s also been the personal experience of many, many readers of this blog. As I reported in a previous post, national surveys show that 75% of those who adopt a vegetarian diet eventually quit, and the #1 reason cited for quitting is health issues.

    I’m glad you feel better and improved your health on a vegetarian diet, but if you did, it’s highly unlikely you experienced those results simply because you stopped eating meat. Campbell and the other vegetarian dietary zealots don’t just tell their followers to give up meat; they tell them to give up sugar, processed vegetable oils and (usually) refined white carbohydrates — the same foods people drop when they go paleo. They also encourage the consumption of lots of green vegetables — which people usually add to their diets when they go paleo. Then when these changes produce positive health outcomes (as I expect they would), they claim they’ve proved meat is bad for us, which is utter hogwash. You can’t change multiple variables and then single out one variable as the one that made the difference. That’s lousy science.

    The reason it’s important to “purposely tear down someone’s hard research” is that the “hard research” was cherry-picked and biased, and therefore not scientific. Campbell chose the correlations that supported his preconceived beliefs and ignored correlations (many of them) that didn’t support his beliefs, all so he could claim he found evidence that animal foods cause cancer and other diseases. He completely excluded the health data for one group in China from his calculations because they were heavy meat-eaters but remarkably free of diseases … Campbell decided they must have been eating a lot of meat when he visited to show off. Naaaa, couldn’t possibly be that they were healthy meat-eaters, because that didn’t fit the results he wanted to find.

    I’m sure deciding which data to arbitrarily exclude was “hard research.” It’s also b.s. When we’re faced with b.s. science, we have an obligation to point out the b.s. — no matter how much effort was put into producing it.

    “Hmmmm, it appears that Campbell has engaged in cherry-picking here. Well, he probably worked really hard to do that, so I shouldn’t criticize him for it. Besides, pointing out what’s wrong with biased research produced by someone the vegetarian zealots worship like a God would make me arrogant and pompous.”

    What exactly is a “haute” writer, by the way? An elegant writer? A fashionable writer?

  32. Jason - let's try again ...

    I had the unique opportunity to speak, one to one with Dr. Esselstyn the author of Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease on several occasions. He found – independently from Dr. Campbell (PhD), that the vegan produces excellent & overall positive health results & essentially proved heart disease is not hereditary but a function of diet.

    [I totally agree it’s a function of diet. Heart disease was nearly non-existent in human societies until people in those societies began consuming sugar and white flour. Many of those societies survived primarily by hunting for meat, but weren’t plagued by heart disease or cancer. If Campbell is correct, they would have dropping like flies from eating all that meat.]

    Further, I had a one on one discussion with the head researcher at the Jonas Salk Institute (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_M._Evans) & the subject came up regarding diet which was one of the areas his team researches. It became clear that he echoed the 2 aforementioned with the same dietary ideology. So, I believe my choice was/is a good one.

    [If your diet excludes sugar, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, etc., and also includes lots of fresh produce, I agree, it’s a better choice than the junk-laden diets most people consume. Once again, meat isn’t the problem and never has been.]

    I find it amazing that you developed asthma, arthritis, GERD, psoriasis, low energy, uncontrollable flatulence, gout, hang nails, hair loss & gained weight AND you can actually attribute that to being vegetarian. Quite frankly that makes very little sense & probably hogwash to support your Paleo position & sell a film. I guess we all need one juicy rationalization to justify choices & sell movies.

    It would be interesting to see exactly what you were consuming, that would most likely reveal the source(s) of your ailment(s).

    [I believe there were two triggers for those ailments: grains and processed vegetable oils, both of which can provoke the ailments I mentioned. Campbell’s own data shows a strong association between wheat consumption and disease, but he chooses to ignore that one.]

    Touché, my bad – haughty was the correct word. However, you proved my point with your response to my mistake. You reveal much more than you think with your writing style, the true flavor comes out between the lines. Like most half way decent comedians, having a scripted response to a heckler is a way to turn the attention back on you however, with writing, it requires more finesse & forethought.

    [I didn’t script a response to “haute writer” because I didn’t think I’d ever need one. Never once before a standup show did I pace around the green room and think, “I’d better have a comeback ready in case someone in the audience calls me “haute.”]

    Your polarizing tone combined with the caustic writing style causes the reactions you receive. Then you seem to relish arrogantly painting people into a corner & accuse some of holding Campbell on high like a god. I find it quite amusing because it the exact inverse that you desire hence, haughty.

    [You adopted a confrontational tone in your very first comment. If you can’t take receiving the same in response, you are free to leave. And yes, some people who’ve shown up here do treat Campbell like a god. If I challenge their beliefs, they insist those beliefs must be true because the Almighty Campbell says so. ]

    The #1 reason that 75% of the people quit being a vegetarian is health related? I call bullsheit. I’ll be the real reasoning is it is a pain in the butt to keep up with & a very, very low percentage of the restaurants support that dietary choice. Combine that with social pressures of marginal acceptance of such a choice & voila, the rationalization.

    [Well, of course you’d deny the results of those surveys, Mr. True Believer. All the complaints those people listed — digestive issues, bone loss, fatigue — why, heck, those can’t possibly be real because (and here’s all the scientific proof we need!) you personally haven’t experienced them. No, by gosh, it must just be that those people are weak and can’t admit it when answering a survey.

    Now who’s being arrogant and pompous?]

    Lastly, a further source of amusement is your comment about “cherry picking”. What do you think you did regarding the China Study?

    [Hmmm, let me see if I’m following the logic … pointing out cherry-picking is a form of cherry-picking. Okay, got it.]

    You are too easy, best of luck hanging on to your 15 minutes ~

    [In your dreams.]

  33. Jason

    Do you know Campbell’s background? He was a full on meat & dairy man up until his PhD. One of his primary points was addressing the great American diet. Question: did you read his book?

    [His background has no bearing on his cherry-picking.]

    Dr. Esselstyn would very much disagree with you regarding meat. But hey, what does he know? He probably needs to hold court with you in order to become enlightened…

    [Your mindless appeals to authority are tiresome. I don’t care who agrees or disagrees with you. I care about evidence. How does Dr. Esselstyn explain away the fact that the Inuits, the buffalo-hunting tribes, and countless other societies in which people lived primarily on meat were almost totally free of cancer and heart disease? Those are called “diseases of civilization” for a reason. Ask Dr. Esselstyn (who apparently is your substitute for the Almighty Campbell as someone whose word is gospel) to name which of the hundreds of hunting societies were plagued by cancer and heart disease. Then ask him to explain why, if meat causes cancer and heart disease, these famous vegetarians are all dead:

    Robin Gibb – died of liver and colon cancer at age 62
    Linda McCartney – died of breast cancer at age 56
    Davey Jones – died of heart disease at age 66
    Steve Jobs – died of pancreatic cancer at age 56
    Bob Marley – died of malignant melanoma at age 36]

    Do you understand what a supposition is? I did not deny the survey – some people make things up to overly punctuate a point & suspected you just threw it out since there was no reference. I did say “I’ll bet the real reasoning …” but no matter.

    [I linked to the survey in a previous post, along with an article from Psychology Today explaining that most people who try vegetarian diets eventually give them up.]

    You were never scripted as a comedian? Have no ready responses for those who tried to call you out? Please, spare me …. besides, that sophomoric, superficial & blustery response “I didn’t script a response to “haute writer” because I didn’t think I’d ever need one.” is priceless. Can you not see the lack of depth in your response? Work a little harder please.

    [Your reading and comprehension skills are severely lacking. I said I never scripted a comeback to being called a “haute writer.”]

    Cherry picking is the active form of cherry picked – seemed to fit better in my context but having to explain it is most telling … comedians are so.

    [I’ve read that sentence three times and still can’t figure out what you thought you were saying there.]

    “In your dreams.” You’re not so stupid to think you are smarter than everyone else are you?

    [Goodness, no. But it’s quite clear that I’m smarter than you are.]

    The pinnacle of ignorance is when a person does not realize that he/she doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.

    [Yes, you’ve provided several examples of that.]

    Yea, you are too easy … and such a bore. Again, put on your thinking cap & try harder or not at all ~

    [I don’t need my thinking cap when replying to you. In fact, I’m considering asking my nine-year-old daughter to take over the chore just to make it an even playing field for you.]

  34. Jason

    Sorry I dropped out a portion:

    Some comedians are so shallow & believe a quick response is better than a thought one. Now that’s funny!

    Once again, I read your sentence and have no idea what you think you’re trying to say. This is like talking to a drunk teenager who thinks he’s sharing deep thoughts.

  35. Jason

    Sorry, I type better than 140 wpm & speed read so I will miss some things. “thought out” finally I did it!

    “thought out” finally I did it …?

    I’m going to suggest your slow your typing to the speed at which you think. You’re not making any sense.

  36. Daniel

    It seems that many of your replies to critics above involve lambasting them for “appeals to authority”, yet you consistently do the same. (A quick scroll up reveals more than a few times extolling Minger’s “qualifications”‘ and those of John Ioannidis for a start). You believe their conclusions because of the same prejudice you accuse Campbell of; having a preconceived belief prior to analyzing the data.

    The Internet is awash in people who think themselves qualified to analyze complex subjects without the necessary training. At times your tone reminds me of Evolution-deniers ( whichas the son of a Phd Geologist , I’ve been witness to the futility of tryingto debate their ‘facts’. They are so convinced of their intellectual rigor that nothing can penetrate. Yet those who have spent their lifetimes in science are forced to confront the intellectual flailings. 9-11 truthers suffer from the same problem; convinced of their facts and just schooled enough to sound reasonable and make glossy videos. )

    I’m not saying you’re right or Campbell is. But your approach, and your arguments, are nowhere near as rigorous as you think. I doubt you can see that.

    This might clarify: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

    I’m aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and after reading your comment, I’ve convinced you suffer from it.

    I don’t extoll Minger’s or Ioannidis’ “qualifications.” I extoll their careful analyses of the data. Minger has no official qualifications, as Campbell’s fans frequently point out — while making no effort to dispute her math. If you’re convinced of your superior intellectual rigor, I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked others: show me exactly where Denise Minger got her math wrong.

    “Those who have spent their lifetimes in science are forced to confront the intellectual flailings.” Hey, that would be an appeal to authority, wouldn’t it? Campbell mustn’t be forced to defend his conclusions against mere bloggers because he’s spend his lifetime in science and is therefore above question, right?

    Funny you should compare me to evolution-deniers, since paleo nutrition is based on evolution. The evolution deniers are the vegetarians who can’t accept the simple fact that humans evolved largely because of eating meat and have been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years.

  37. SimpleBrigand


    You’re awesome! Loved the documentary and have enjoyed your blog as well. Thanks for standing up to the “establishment”, sparking debate and contributing to “the crucible of adversarial testing” and scrutiny, that all: science, theory and suppositions should be held to/subjected to…

    P.S. Minger’s post was also quite enlightening…

  38. Deepak Khanchandani

    Hi Tom,

    Bt late to the party, but I was wondering, any comments on the fact that Denise Minger herself has apologised to high-carb low-fact advocates?

    Post linked as below:

    Warning: it’s a loooong post.
    But to summarise, in Minger’s own words:

    “- We can’t categorically blame low-fat, high-carb diets for heart disease and diabetes and obesity. We just can’t. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. This needs to go away.
    – We probably can’t even blame refined sugar for that stuff (at least not in isolation). Oh, the pain of shattering assumptions!
    – We can’t ascribe the effects of low-fat, plant-based diets to their lack of animal products. Quite a few of the uber-low-fat studies here still allowed a fairly high animal protein intake, and still managed to whip people into diseaseless shape. Sorry, vegans!”

    Please note that I’m not a vegan / animal rights activist / CSPI employee, and I do love me a steak or a good McDonalds meal. I’m just an ordinary, albeit overweight, guy trying to find out what I need to eat to be healthy. I thought your documentary was awesome and found Minger’s analysis of the China Study illuminating. Still with the studies she’s analysed in the above-linked post, it’s hard to continue to believe that sugars and starches are the culprit.

    Your comments would be appreciated!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I did read it. Peter at Hyperlipid wrote a long, thoughtful reply. He agrees with some parts, not with others. I don’t think we can blame low-fat diets for heart disease because they’re low in fat. I think we can blame low-fat diets because they encourage people to eat processed foods.


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