It’s not science, it’s marketing

Where does the average person’s (non-expert) “common knowledge” information about fat come from? I put together the four top sources:

1. Family, friends, schoolyard

2. “Health beat” local/national 6/11 o’clock news

3. Ads for weight loss interventions/pills/etc

4. Our personal care physician (PCP)

#1 is merely an amplifier of the information from #2 – #4.

#2 is reporting on press-release-science — marketing. Most of the studies reported on are the worst kind of junk studies, with the more serious, rigorous, less assertion-filled studies (whose authors or authors’ funders didn’t release press statements about) relegated to the media-silent pages of a serious journal.

For a good example of what a junk-science press release looks like, go here.

#3 is marketing, by definition.

#4 is a tricky one. This is the authority we are taught from birth to venerate, to trust, to obey. However, doctors are not currently required to take a nutrition course in order to get their MD. Additionally, most doctors are strapped for time and hence develop blanket-recommendations for people based on the quickest evaluation – what they look like – without considering more deeply what their actual risk factors could be. Additionally, the idea that fat is a disease and fat kills is “common knowledge” in med school, without any deep qualification. The professors who teach it is “common knowledge” could very well be anti-obesity researchers on Big Pharma’s dole, though I wouldn’t make that assumption about every one. Additionally, some PCPs themselves are not ethical, and take money for promoting weight loss drugs to patients.

So we see that med school itself is heavily influenced by the marketing arm of Big Pharma, and that PCPs themselves can be influenced thusly.

When it comes down to it, in conclusion, all the main sources of the average person’s “common knowledge” about fat are heavily influenced, if not completely determined, by aggressive marketing, and not science.

5 comments on “It’s not science, it’s marketing

  1. tzugidan says:

    I don’t know what to think about those gals Kate Harding’s blog. I don’t read their posts entirely because they’re just to damned long.

    But if they, or you, are trying to tell us that you have the market cornered on what makes people fat, I think you all should be held legally liable for what you’re dishing out. After all, my doctor certainly is. So when he tells me something I can put some credence in it.

    On the other hand, bloggers think they can espouse whatever whenever without consequence. I think someday many bloggers will regret some of the “advice” they dole out over the years.

    If they hang around long enough, some one, some day, will wake up with heart disease, diabetes, etc…and file a suite against these gals for giving the “advice” the seem to be giving… They, and others think that this kind of “advice” can be dolled out without accountability? In today’s litigious society, I’d fear for some of the medical advice they dole out. It may not seem like medial advice to them, but to others, I think someday they’ll find out…people relied on their “advice” a lot more than they thought, and it just may cost them dearly.

    Tread water carefully ladies…you’re bordering your “advice” with medical opinion…

  2. blablover5 says:

    Honestly, doctors scare the crap out of me. They are not required to read journals so they really have no idea what research is being done nor do they know how to critically read a journal.

    I think there should be a rule that the only real statements a doctor can make is if they have a PhD in the subject matter (though I have seen some terrible journals in my time) and any research paper that has a press release should just be burned on site.

  3. bigliberty says:


    Thank goodness we live in an age where ordinary intelligent people can do research and use the power of their reason to see baloney from truth. I would hate it if people like myself or Kate Harding weren’t allowed to talk about these sorts of things, under threat of breaking some kind of law, or being legally liable somehow. It would be terrible if we couldn’t publicly comment on a research article that plainly shows no result (which us rabble can determine knowing a bit about statistics) yet claims in the “discussion” section that there is indeed a correlation of some sort.

    And indeed, sir, obviously you *don’t* read the full posts on my own and Kate Harding’s site: if you did, you’d realize our claims are often more carefully reasoned than the conclusions of many of the articles we debunk.

    Alas, we live in an age of information and responsibility: people who read blogs, watch the news, and yes, even experts, must tread carefully and always play the skeptic. We must always question the information given us, do research, and form our own conclusions. If someone doesn’t want to take the responsibility for checking up on our claims (which I freely suggest you yourself do), that’s their failure, not mine, sir. Good day.


    I love you! 🙂 If you weren’t already married, I’d suggest we run away with each another. 😉 It’s great having another scientist to heartily guffaw at the loads of crap that’s hurled at us daily by so-called “professionals.” Egads, it would be such a better world if scientists were required to have a firm grasp on statistics before they start forming conclusions about things. And, of course, if medical research ethics were amended so that conflict of interest was more carefully avoided.

  4. blablover5 says:

    Honestly, after working in this field I would pack my belongings and travel to Mars if scientists ever were in control. I’m reminded of that Simpsons episode where Lisa and Mensa take over Springfield, I imagine it would go something like that only with more things on fire.

    Scientists are just as weak willed and liable to rely upon quackery as the next person (I was reminded of this recently when I sat at the lunch table listening to two people who really should know better talk about how often they had to tab because it makes them look healthier *sigh*). But the funny thing is that true science journals were originally designed to be skeptical.

    I know everyone laughs at all those experiements and studies run to prove something everyone known but really it’s done because you cannot depend upon anecdotal evidence and well as Grissom used to say the facts can’t lie. Except as times got a bit tough and we entered a rather dark phase for science in general there are so many beaurcrats in charge of who gets the money more and more people who should know better have to fudge the data and use some fun stats to get more money so they can keep their lab afloat.

    I just wish everyone was taught critical reading. It wasn’t until grad school that I ever was asked to rip a printed journal article to shreds and now I am much better at spotting flaws in experiments and learning how to cover that for any future papers I would be involved with.

    Oh and on a whole nother tangent the more I think about it actually I would argue that bone structure can be just as flexible as adipose (which is a really cool tissue by the way). It is where red blood cells are made and some of your calcium deposits. I wonder sometimes what would happen if doctors were to measure the heights of women who are pregnant and then nursing if they would find a change in height.

  5. […] in a non-rigorous manner, play fast and loose with the statistical analysis, are meant as anti-fat propaganda/marketing pieces which go straight to AP press-release and then to your local nightly news, or feature giant […]

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