Odds and Ends from the news and reader emails:
The tube diet
Here’s a novel idea for losing weight rapidly: drip some protein and fat into your stomach through a tube in your nose. Apparently this is now popular among brides-to-be who want to walk down the aisle wearing a dress they’ll never fit into again.
The K-E diet, which boasts promises of shedding 20 pounds in 10 days, is an increasingly popular alternative to ordinary calorie-counting programs. The program has dieters inserting a feeding tube into their nose that runs to the stomach. They’re fed a constant slow drip of protein and fat, mixed with water, which contains zero carbohydrates and totals 800 calories a day. Body fat is burned off through a process called ketosis, which leaves muscle intact, Dr. Oliver Di Pietro of Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., said.
“It is a hunger-free, effective way of dieting,” Di Pietro said. “Within a few hours your hunger and appetite go away completely, so patients are actually not hungry at all for the whole 10 days. That’s what is so amazing about this diet.”
I have to admit, I’m curious as to why they’re not hungry on 800 calories per day. Sure, a ketogenic diet can suppress appetite to an extent, but those are semi-starvation rations. Is it because they don’t smell or taste the food? Would they be hungrier if they consumed 800 calories of fried eggs instead?
Di Pietro says patients are under a doctor’s supervision, although they’re not hospitalized during the dieting process. Instead, they carry the food solution with them, in a bag, like a purse, keeping the tube in their nose for 10 days straight. Di Pietro says there are few side effects.
Maybe having a tube up your nose for 10 days is an appetite suppressant. I’d try some self-experimentation with that, but people at work already think I’m odd because I eat sandwiches with no bread.
“The main side effects are bad breath; there is some constipation because there is no fiber in the food,” he said.
“William, do you take this malodorous, constipated woman to be your bride, to have and to hold her, to love and respect her, forsaking all others, until death do you part?”
Scientists are freakin’ liars
I occasionally receive emails from people who were offended by the “scientists are freakin’ liars” line in my Science For Smart People speech. Those emails usually include some variation on Who are you to say scientists are liars? Huh? Huh?
I’m a guy who can read, that’s who. Check out this article from the New York Times:
In the fall of 2010, Dr. Ferric C. Fang made an unsettling discovery. Dr. Fang, who is editor in chief of the journal Infection and Immunity, found that one of his authors had doctored several papers. It was a new experience for him. “Prior to that time,” he said in an interview, “Infection and Immunity had only retracted nine articles over a 40-year period.”
The journal wound up retracting six of the papers from the author, Naoki Mori of the University of the Ryukyus in Japan. And it soon became clear that Infection and Immunity was hardly the only victim of Dr. Mori’s misconduct. Since then, other scientific journals have retracted two dozen of his papers, according to the watchdog blog Retraction Watch.
Oh, well. Probably just one bad apple.
Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.
Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.
In other words …
No one claims that science was ever free of misconduct or bad research … But critics like Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall argue that science has changed in some worrying ways in recent decades — especially biomedical research, which consumes a larger and larger share of government science spending.
In October 2011, for example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent. In 2010 The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study finding the new raft of recent retractions was a mix of misconduct and honest scientific mistakes.
Do we have more bad scientists now than before? I don’t think so. The article gives a possible explanation for the 10-fold rise in retractions that I believe has rather a lot to do with it:
Several factors are at play here, scientists say. One may be that because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted.
Indeed, it’s not just other scientists busting bad science anymore. The so-called “pajamas media” has gotten involved as well.
But other forces are more pernicious. To survive professionally, scientists feel the need to publish as many papers as possible, and to get them into high-profile journals. And sometimes they cut corners or even commit misconduct to get there.
To measure this claim, Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall looked at the rate of retractions in 17 journals from 2001 to 2010 and compared it with the journals’ “impact factor,” a score based on how often their papers are cited by scientists. The higher a journal’s impact factor, the two editors found, the higher its retraction rate.
So it’s the journals most cited by other scientists that are most likely to publish bad science. Or it could be that those journals, because they are more prestigious, feel the most pressure to issue a retraction.
Either way, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
They’re not fat because they don’t have access to vegetables
One of recommendations listed in the 2010 USDA’s Dietary Goals report was to make fresh fruits and vegetables more available in poor neighborhoods – in other words, they want politicians to take your money and use it to subsidize fresh produce and the people who sell it. Because ya know, if only we could get more broccoli and carrots into poor neighborhoods, poor people wouldn’t have such high rates of obesity.
It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.
Even if we’re talking about neighborhoods where there truly aren’t as many vegetables being sold, people get the causality backwards. The local residents aren’t fat because they don’t have access to vegetables. The vegetables aren’t available because people don’t buy them.
Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.
Duh. That’s largely because the government’s definition of “healthy foods” is all screwed up. Nothing wrong with fruits and vegetables, of course, but as long as they keep pushing low-fat diets based on breads, cereals and pasta, they can open a subsidized vegetable stand next to every poor person’s residence in the country and it won’t make any difference.
Advocates have long called for more supermarkets in poor neighborhoods and questioned the quality of the food that is available. And Mrs. Obama has made elimination of food deserts an element of her broader campaign against childhood obesity, Let’s Move, winning praise from Democrats and even some Republicans, and denunciations from conservative commentators and bloggers who have cited it as yet another example of the nanny state.
Speaking in October on the South Side of Chicago, she said that in too many neighborhoods “if people want to buy a head of lettuce or salad or some fruit for their kid’s lunch, they have to take two or three buses, maybe pay for a taxicab, in order to do it.”
Here’s what people like Mrs. Obama can’t seem to grasp: if enough people in those neighborhoods wanted lettuce and fruit in their kids’ lunches, plenty of greedy capitalists would happily move in to sell them. In a previous post, I wrote about a chain of stores that tried selling 15-cent bags of apple slices in a poor neighborhood. The apple slices had to be thrown away because they didn’t sell.
Mrs. Obama has also advocated getting schools to serve healthier lunches and communities to build more playgrounds.
Her office referred questions about the food deserts issue to the Department of Agriculture. A spokesman there, Justin DeJong, said by e-mail that fighting obesity requires “a comprehensive response.”
No problem then. The government’s on the job and planning a comprehensive response. That of course means a really expensive and ultimately futile response.
Farm News: Guineas Gone
Well, we knew we’d make a few mistakes when we took up farming. The result of our first mistake is that our guinea fowl are all gone.
Once they’d grown considerably and seemed determined to fly around the basement, we decided to move them out to chicken coop. The theory was they’d bond with the chickens for awhile and get to considering the area their home, then we’d let them free-range.
They free-ranged, all right. On Sunday we took the girls to see a Sondheim musical at a theater in downtown Franklin. When we returned home, seven of the guineas were already out and about. The girls tried to chase them down, which of course merely inspired them to flee. For a couple of days, they hung around our property, usually waddling around in a pack. They seemed fond of the creek, so we hoped they’d stick around.
Nope. We haven’t seen them in two days now. The other three wandered off as well. The coop has a fence around it and a big net covering the fence so hawks don’t swoop down and fly away with our chickens, but there are gaps large enough for a determined bird to get out.
We’ll try again after making the area more escape-proof.
This has nothing to do with diets, health, fitness or farming, but I feel the need to report it anyway: I finally got a hole-in-one on my frisbee golf course. The disc sailed towards the basket about 200 feet away, looked as if it would miss high and to the right, then faded left, hit the chains, and dropped into the basket. I let out a self-congratulatory war whoop.
Unfortunately, I was out there playing by myself. You get a hole-in-one, you want a witness. Since I didn’t have one, I’m telling all of you.