You may remember Walter Willett from about this time last year, when Gary Taubes took him to task on the pages of Discover for promoting sloppy science. His piece included an excoriating indictment of Willett’s work, agenda and track record:
As a case study, I used a collaboration of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Walter Willett, who runs the Nurses’ Health Study. And I pointed out that every time that these Harvard researchers had claimed that an association observed in their observational trials was a causal relationship—that food or drug X caused disease or health benefit Y—and that this supposed causal relationship had then been tested in experiment, the experiment had failed to confirm the causal interpretation—i.e., the folks from Harvard got it wrong. Not most times, but every time.
Well, this time it’s not just Gary Taubes taking issue with Willet. The journal Nature this month published an OpEd and a news article that both take Willett to task for how he rebuked research he didn’t agree with. Namely, research that supports the “Obesity Paradox”, or dares to illustrate that people who are overweight (but not obese) have lower mortality than those who are “normal” weight.
Willett got up in arms when Katherine Flegal, a researcher from the CDC, conducted a meta analysis of the literature and concluded, essentially, that the obesity paradox was real. Shame on her.
Even though her research had (has) plenty of support, Willett went on the attack, calling her work “a pile of rubbish” and claimed it was, “flawed”, “misleading” and “confusing to so many people”. If that wasn’t enough, he later redoubled his offensive, organizing a conference to “respond” to the research.
Sadly, we’re neither above nor inured to this type of drama in the nutrition community. And so it is that Walter Willett is served his big dish of comeuppance, in not one, but two slices, by none other than the Journal Nature. Let’s hope for Willett’s sake that comeuppance isn’t fattening…
- Top Science Journal Rebukes Harvard’s Top Nutritionist, Butterworth, Trevor. Forbes (OpEd), 5/27/2013.
- Shades of Grey, Nature (editorial), May 22, 2013.
- The Big Fat Truth, Virginia Hughes, Nature, May 22, 2013.
- Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Flegal et al. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), January 2, 2013. 2013;309(1):71-82. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.113905.
- Chocolate & Red Meat Can Be Bad for Science: Why Many Nutrition Studies Are All Wrong, Gary Taubes, Discover. April 5, 2012.
- Gary Taubes Takes Sloppy Science to School, O’Neill, Michael. Ketopia, April 5, 2012