Nutrition Has a 'Consensus' to Use Bad Science: An Open Letter to the National Academies

Nutrition Has a 'Consensus' to Use Bad Science: An Open Letter to the National Academies
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'Nutrition' is now a degenerating research paradigm in which scientifically illiterate methods, meaningless data, and consensus-driven censorship dominate the empirical landscape. Since the 1950s, there was a naïve but politically expedient consensus that a person’s usual diet could be measured simply by asking what he or she remembered eating and drinking. Despite the credulous and unfalsifiable nature of this memory-based method, investigators used it to produce hundreds of thousands of publications and acquire billions of taxpayer dollars.

Over time, the sustained funding of demonstrably pseudo-scientific research methods has subverted the self-correcting nature of science and suppressed skeptical scholarship. Consequently, many decades of politics taking precedence over critical inquiry produced contradictory dietary guidelines, failed public policies, and the continued confusion over 'what-to-eat'.  

To counter this blatant scientific illiteracy, we published analyses showing that self-reported diets in epidemiologic studies were physiologically implausible and could not support survival. Yet despite our findings and decisive conclusions, the consensus-seekers simply ignored our results and offered mere rhetoric and ad hominems to counter our data.   

Recently, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a report that exemplifies consensus-based censorship. The authors were well-aware of our work, yet failed to cite or address our refutations of self-reported data. Instead, they stated, "Self-report dietary intake data are central to the development of dietary guidelines" and "current methods being used in the [Dietary Guidelines] process…are indeed appropriate".

Memory-based research methods produce self-reported data that are implausible and should not be used to establish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans or regulate the $5 trillion US food industry. Thus, we sent letters to the Presidents of the National Academies hoping that critical thinking and accountability would prevail over political expediency. We have not received a reply.

Our Letter
Marcia McNutt, President, National Academy of Sciences

C. D. Mote Jr., President, National Academy of Engineering

Victor J. Dzau, President, National Academy of Medicine

Dear Presidents McNutt, Mote, and Dzau:

We are writing in reference to issues that impact the authority and reputation of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Given that the public's trust in science depends on the integrity and diligence of those in positions of leadership, we hope that you address the scientific and public health concerns presented herein.

Recently, the National Academies produced a report that is extremely misleading to those that depend on the Academies' reports (e.g., elected officials and policy architects). "Redesigning the Process for Establishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans" contained errors of fact and omission, and failed to address, or even acknowledge a large body of rigorous research that is explicitly contrary to the authors’ conclusions.

Beginning in 2013, we published scientific and policy articles with the express purpose of ending the use of memory-based (self-report) methods (M-BMs) and meaningless data in the formation the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Our work refuted the validity of M-BMs and led to a great deal of media, political, and scientific attention, inclusive of congressional hearings and presentations to President Obama's Council of Advisors of Science and Technology. Despite being well-acquainted with our work, the authors and reviewers of the report did not cite nor address the refutations. Thus, a large body of contrary evidence was summarily excluded.

This consensus-based censorship and apparent willful ignorance threaten the credibility and legitimacy of the National Academies.

Briefly, the M-BMs employed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and other major nutrition studies produced data that were physiologically implausible, incompatible with life, and inadmissible as scientific evidence.  For example, we used multiple methods to show that the energy intake data from 26,975 of 63,369 NHANES participants (42.5%) were below the level needed to support survival.

Implausible dietary data should not be used to establish the DGA; yet that is exactly what the National Academies’ report recommends, and you as Presidents, endorse.

By excluding our work, the authors misled their readers and obscured two facts. First, M-BMs do not measure dietary intake, they collect reported memories of perceptions of dietary intake. Actual dietary intake and memories of perceptions do not belong to the same ontological category (i.e., concrete and abstract, respectively), and are therefore incommensurable (nonequivalent). Thus, those who employ M-BMs commit the logical fallacy of misplaced concreteness (i.e., reification) when they assign nutrient and caloric values to reported perceptions as if these abstract data were the actual foods and beverages consumed. It should be obvious that perceptions of foods and beverages do not contain calories or nutrients; nor can they be seasoned, reheated, and eaten.

Second, M-BMs rely on the respondent’s honesty, ability, and willingness to estimate and report past dietary intake. Thus, without objective corroboration it is impossible to quantify what percentage of the recalled foods and beverages are completely false, grossly inaccurate, or somewhat congruent with actual consumption. Therefore, the measurement errors of self-reported dietary data were non-quantifiable due to misestimation, false memories, forgetting, and lying. These facts render M-BMs data pseudo-scientific and inadmissible as scientific evidence.

In opposition to the 'false facts' of the report, implausible data cannot be representative of the usual dietary intake of the US population. Our highly cited research suggests that these data are meaningless numbers derived from highly-edited anecdotes, and readers of the report are seriously misled by its omission.

If the mission of the National Academies is to provide "independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science," then the authors and reviewers of the report failed to meet their obligations. This demands remediation because the National Academies should not endorse the use of implausible dietary data to establish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In closing, I hope that you investigate the circumstances that led to the misleading report, and address the significant scientific and public health concerns presented herein by retracting it.


Edward Archer, PhD., MS

Chief Science Officer


Carl “Chip” J. Lavie, MD.

Medical Director, Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology

Professor of Medicine

Ochsner Clinical School-the University of Queensland School of Medicine

New Orleans, Louisiana

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