Monday, August 20, 2007

Because he said so, dammit

This article by Paul Raeburn in the September issue of Scientific American, starts out well but quickly goes belly-up. So to speak. Raeburn's burning question--"Can fat be fit?"--is presented as genuine, but it's clear from the second graf that he's got an agenda rather than a genuine curiosity about the question.

He pays lip service to Katherine Flegal's research showing that being overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) may actually lower your risk of mortality. Flegal's drawn a lotta flak since her study came out, of course, and no doubt there's more to understand. But Raeburn doesn't try too hard. He sets Flegal up as a straw man and knocks her down fast with other research that seems less than compelling. He quotes Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, and writes, "Willett’s research has identified profound advantages to keeping weight down—even below the so-called healthy levels."

Here we have it once more, ladies and gentlemen, the mantra of so much that's being written these days about fat and thin. Flegal's research doesn't count because, as we all know, the lower your weight the better.

I can hear Willett saying, "Fat is too bad for you! [foot stomp] Why? Because I said so!"

I don't know Paul Raeburn's writing, but I do expect better than this paltry effort from Scientific American.


Anonymous said...

You're right, Harriet, on that "Because I said so!" summary. Thanks for posting this link.

Kate Harding said...

I just finished writing about this! Gina Kolata devotes several pages in Rethinking Thin to describing how the Harvard School of Public Health went after Flegal after that paper was published. Very same guys Paul Raeburn's quoting. Hmmm.

The "[foot stomp]" cracked me up. That's exactly it, isn't it?

Harriet said...

Hi kate,
Your post on this was great! You really took him apart piece by piece. (For those of you who want to read it, it's at

Anonymous said...

The Harvard School of Public Health really has a vendetta against the Flegal article. Sci Am should be ashamed of themselves for publishing such a biased one-sided commentary. According to Campos, Raeburn never even talked to Flegal. And the Sci Am piece really misrepresents what the Flegal article actually says.