Counterpoint: Both climate, diet theories missed the mark

  • Article by: ROBERT W. JEFFERY
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 6:18 PM

Commentary writers jumped to conclusions based on incomplete or bogus information.

I read with interest the June 22 commentary by Paul John Scott (“Chocolate milk in the schools and other products of expert opinion”) and the June 27 counterpoint on global warming by Richard Morris (“Oops. Maybe the science isn’t ‘settled’ ”).

As a University of Minnesota scientist, I am always a little annoyed by science-bashing essays, but as a scientist who is very familiar with the scientific evidence for the dietary fat/heart disease hypothesis, I wanted to say something in public on that topic. Both commentary writers are guilty of exactly the sins they attribute to mainstream scientists. They are leaping to unjustified conclusions based on incomplete or biased information. The diet/heart debate has a huge science base behind it that strongly supports the hypothesis that high saturated-fat intake is causally related to heart disease, despite some evidence to the contrary.

Recent evidence that saturated vegetable oils or trans fats may be as bad or worse has not changed that. Given this background, it is understandable that mainstream scientists view with skepticism data from contrarians whom the commentary writers apparently embrace.

Some of the most successful preventives for heart disease are drugs that lower blood cholesterol, which is at the center of the diet/heart disease hypotheses. The loudest skeptics of the diet/heart hypothesis have always been food producers or manufacturers whose products are high in saturated fats and trans fats. The loudest skeptics of the global warming hypothesis are fossil-fuel producers. The self-interest there is clear.

The outcomes of global warming are a lot more speculative than are the relationships between diet and heart disease, but ignoring or rejecting mainstream scientific opinion on global warming on the grounds that it’s unclear is more dangerous that trusting the more conservative position for now that slowing carbon dioxide is the prudent thing to do.


The writer is associate director of the Obesity Prevention Center at the University of Minnesota.

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