Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sugar versus fat: why so many scientists got it so wrong for so long

Looking for more background when I was writing previous post, I came across a very lengthy, but nevertheless interesting story in The Guardian. This long read is titled The sugar conspiracy and the subject is the battle between the theory that sugar is the (main) reason for the obesity epidemic and the established theory that fat was the culprit.

This is not something recent, the controversy originated already in the middle of last century and, although the fats theory was found to be ultimately wrong, the sugar theory was ridiculed, discredited and careers were ruined. It took fifty years for the theory to resurface, leaving the question why the top nutrition scientists got is so wrong for so long.

We hear that objection often in climate change discussions: so many scientists can’t be wrong for so long. Well, it is possible and the sugar theory is only one of its manifestations.

The most interesting part of the Guardian story is the tension between the scientist who first proposed this theory (John Yudkin) and his scientific adversary (Ancel Keys). It reads like the current controversy on climate change. Replace Yudkin with your favorite skeptic, Keys with your favorite alarmist, fats with CO2, meat/dairy/sugar industry with Big Oil/Tobacco and the story sounds really modern. There are a lot of similarities between how the scientists in the two sciences treat those who are skeptical towards the consensus position.

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The lessons we learn from nutritional science

My employer is concerned about the health of his employees and subscribed us all to a health newsletter. Every two weeks we receive some health tips in about ten to fifteen lines, based on the latest findings in health science. In the last newsletter, there was one article that jumped out on me. It was titled “Lots of fats or lots of carbohydrates?”. This is how it starts: (translated from Dutch)

Nutritional Sciences made large blunders in the past. For a long time, we had to avoid fats to stay healthy. Not only was this the wrong advice, it also has proved counterproductive.

In the 1950s, scientists drew the wrong conclusions from population studies. They focused on fats as the only cause of obesity and heart disease. Recent studies provide a more nuanced picture: a diet rich in fats and low in carbohydrates works at least as well to lose weight!

This sounded very familiar. Until a few years ago, fats were seen as something bad for our health due to our sedentary life styles and considered to be THE cause of obesity with loads of negative side effects like hypertension and heart disease.

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The experts who forgot that wind energy is intermittent

A final post in the energy fact check series from SER. Fact check number 4 is titled “Do wind mills run mostly on subsidies?“.

This is the reasoning why subsidies are necessary according to the fact check: since the cost of wind energy is somewhere between €0.074 to €0.098/kWh for onshore wind and €0.133 en €0.157/kWh for offshore wind and on the price on the energy market is around €0.04, therefor subsidies has to be provided to settle the difference.

I have no problem with that.

The fact check starts with the costs of wind energy: cost of the wind mills, installation and maintenance. That is rather brief, but luckily there was a source at the bottom of the page for more information. Unfortunately, no link to it, just a name of a report: Final advice base costs 2014 by ECN (Energy research Centre of the Netherlands). Fortunately that report (Dutch) was easily found on the internet. Strange, why was there no link provided for a source that is readily available online?

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The (actually not so) “excellent” fact check

There was some controversy related to the third fact check of SER on energy. This fact check is titled “Nearby residents have mostly nuisance and little benefit from windmills(Dutch). Two action groups opposing wind mills read the fact check and were not amused. They claimed that the information of the fact check was not objective and incomplete.

Rightfully so. That fact check exaggerated the advantages of wind energy and minimized its disadvantages.

This is no big surprise. This kind of framing is not only done in this fact check, but also in the four other energy fact checks of SER. I would even say that this framing is endemic in alternative energy reporting. The advantages are being emphasized and the disadvantages minimized or even ignored. Being confronted with the nuisance of wind mills first hand, it was probably not that hard to notice for those two groups.

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