Dispatch: Miller, Stier, Nissen, NYC DOH, and Pizza

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Notes From Dr. Miller

ACSH Trustee and Hoover Institution Fellow Dr. Henry Miller wrote an excellent letter in today’s Wall Street Journal in response to an article about the degradation of the peer-review process. Dr. Miller points out several highly flawed articles on biotech agriculture that appeared in “respectable” journals and writes, “These kinds of failures of peer review and editorial judgment corrupt the traditional process by which new scientific knowledge is obtained and reported, and they inflict irreparable harm on the reporting and archiving of scientific developments for policy makers, the media, the public, and the scientific community.”

“The general point, as we’ve discussed so many times, is that just because something is published in a peer-review journal doesn’t guarantee that the work is based on sound science,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “This is a relatively new realization for some, as it appears that more and more questionable submissions are finding their way into peer-review journals.”

Return of Jeff

ACSH staffers were pleased to welcome ACSH’s Jeff Stier back to the office after a long trip around the country. Stier went scuba diving, found exotic coffee blends for the office, and still managed to spread the word about ACSH’s work.

“Yesterday, I spoke at a conference in Orlando to a number of top executives at companies that make a variety of consumer products,” he says. “Corporate executives, just like the media and government regulators, are part of our target audience. They need to be educated on public health issues, because all too often they cave in to the demands of activists rather than stand up and defend scientific principles, and that hurts the consumers that we represent.”

Dr. Nissen Misses the Point

The Associated Press reports, “Cleveland Clinic cardiology chief Dr. Steven Nissen criticized the American Heart Association [AHA] and the American College of Cardiology in a speech at the college’s annual scientific conference on Tuesday.” Dr. Nissen “accused leading heart organizations of being too cozy with industry and allowing those ties to influence its policies and education programs for doctors.”

“The theme here -- which is constantly being reinforced -- is that industry funding is somehow polluted,” says Dr. Whelan. “Dr. Nissen was mistaken when he accused the AHA of having financial ties to Coca Cola, but even if they did, so what?”

“Big Pharma is often the focus of the attacks about industry funding, but the accusations don’t stop with that industry,” says Stier. “Even the Obama FDA was criticized for using industry-funded science in their BPA decision, and now it’s coming around to the AHA as well. They do receive industry support, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If industry stopped funding research, we’d be in bad shape, but that seems to be what anti-business advocates -- sometimes in the guise of medical experts -- want.”

“The anti-industry critics act like they want all medical research to come from ‘good fairy-land’ where all research is pure, by their definition,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Their real goal is to get their message out that every industry and all industry-funded research is corrupt, so they want every warning label to announce that.”

ACSH staffers appreciate the input of Dr. Robert Harrington, head of heart research at Duke University, who also spoke at the session, noting, “While it's easy to say all of this should be funded by the NIH, that’s not the reality.”

NYC DOH to Teach You the ABC’s of Restaurants

Yesterday, the New York City Department of Health announced that they will be assigning letter grades to restaurants in order to “give consumers more information on the sanitary condition of New York City restaurants.”

“The DOH’s current inspection criteria include the use of trans fats as a factor for which restaurants are penalized,” says Stier. “We’re all for making safety information more available to public, but the substance of that information needs to be science-based, and whether a restaurant uses trans fats or not should be in a different category from whether they have a rodent problem. We are skeptical about the new system, and we encourage them not to include trans fats as a sanitary or health issue in the new grading system.”

Dr. Whelan adds, “A letter grade system for restaurant sanitation is simply not necessary. Either the establishment is safe and sanitary or it is not.”

The Latest Fat Tax

Researchers writing in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine recommend an 18% tax on pizza in order to reduce U.S. adults’ caloric intake.

“This is a good example of how more general ‘fat taxes’ are going to be proposed with the soda tax as the original model,” says ACSH’s Todd Seavey. “If you can’t convince people to allow a tax on everything at once, you do it one menu item at a time, claiming it will help fight obesity. And if they can do it with things as popular as pizza and soda, who knows what else they will tax?”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).