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Pastagate!

[relevant picture]

In a news article, “Pasta Is Good For You, Say Scientists Funded By Big Pasta,” Stephanie Lee writes:

The headlines were a fettuccine fanatic’s dream. “Eating Pasta Linked to Weight Loss in New Study,” Newsweek reported this month, racking up more than 22,500 Facebook likes, shares, and comments. The happy news also went viral on the Independent, the New York Daily News, and Business Insider.

What those and many other stories failed to note, however, was that three of the scientists behind the study in question had financial conflicts as tangled as a bowl of spaghetti, including ties to the world’s largest pasta company, the Barilla Group. . . .

They should get together with Big Oregano.

P.S. Our work has many government and corporate sponsors. Make of this what you will.

33 Comments

  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I’ve said it before, but blog commenting is a great opportunity to repeat yourself: distrust of a result based on the interests of the sponsor is just plain lazy. It’s a short cut to the hard work: thinking. It sets up a standard for purity which is no standard at all. Further, I’ve never met anyone who applies it both to results they want to believe and those they don’t — it’s a one way filter to reinforcing priors without data.

  2. Steve Lindsay says:

    Seems clear that authors should always declare funders of the reported research in the report. Less clear whether authors should describe such funding as a conflict of interest. Let the reviewer assess that.

    Fuzzier when author earns income by promoting a specific claim (e.g., that skill in a domain depends largely on practice). On the one hand, that seems a clear COI. But on the other hand, most of us make careers on promoting claims (e.g., that memory is reconstructive).

    • Nutritional regimes are controversial. Each individual responds to different foods differently. Some don’t gain weight eating carbs, although not sure what others metabolic effects carbs have.

      • Anoneuoid says:

        Can you name something in bio that can’t be described this way? I’d bet the main difference is that it is just obvious regarding nutrition because so many people have access to their own data. Once it gets down to “the kinase phosphorylates the thingamigib” you can get away with anything though.

        • Anoneuoid if you are commenting on my post, I am not sure what you mean by ‘Can you name something in bio that can’t… be described this way?’ In glancing quickly at the explanation for ‘kinase phosphorylates’ I don’t see how it either may apply to carbs.

          I noticed that pasta is assigned a glycemic index of 49 as compared with rice and potatoes in range of 68-79. Glycemic index of 55 or below is deemed ‘low. How and who assigns glycemic index is not known to me.

          If pasta is part of the Mediterranean diet, then portionI’ control must be recommended. Not more than 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            I meant that, in general, there no bio phenomena I know of that are actually uncontroversial and don’t involve individual differences:

            [Biology topics xyz] are controversial. Each individual responds to different [xyz] differently. Some don’t [respond in ways abc from xyz], although not sure what others [ijk] effects xyz have.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            I’m saying that nutrition is just an area where it is easy for people to self-experiment/observe, so it is easy for them see how little is actually understood.

            As an example, a new one to me was what happens to people who quit smoking. You would think this is well documented given the amount of talk about it, but actually not at all. Instead people need to get info about why they are suddenly having problems like skin issues from blogs and forums (look up “quit zits”).

            This is a common theme in the medical literature. Much is published about molecular details or whatever that it is conveniently too expensive for most people to check, but you try to find out basic stuff like “I’m diabetic and my poison ivy rash is still here after 5 weeks, is this normal?”, and there is nothing.

              • More and more alliopathic physicians have been writing about benefits of nutrition. The latest is Alan Gundry author of the Plant Paradox. He has focused, for example, on the side effects of ibubrofen and gastro reflux prescriptions. He recommends dietary changes that seem to have made a difference in his patients. I base that on the postings to his blog. He also cautions patients on eating night shade plants which, apparently, Gundry proposes, can lead to a leaky gut. Relief is experimental.

                The most popular Dr. Mercola [osteopath?] has a huge following who has come out with Fat For Fuel. He is one of the chief opponents of high carb diet , including pasta, for its role in spiking blood sugar levels and promoting belly fat.

                There are at least a hundred physicians/authors that recommend changes to diet. And if their recommendations seem to be helping, who am I to say they are quacks physicians. I just don’t know.

                Many people I know do experiment with food choices. They read blogs, books, journal articles, etc.

                In short, there is skepticism about medicines that they take. So they turn to other sources
                for relief.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            In short, there is skepticism about medicines that they take. So they turn to other sources
            for relief.

            At this point I’m more concerned that basic information about the problems these medicines are supposed to solve seems to be missing, at least from the public literature.

            I mean it happens any time I or someone know has a health issue and I try to use my “research skills” to learn about it. I come up with nothing regarding the relevant questions (most often of the form “what is the timecourse to expect regarding this”), yet there is at least $30 billion per year spent generating these papers.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Fuzzier when author earns income by promoting a specific claim (e.g., that skill in a domain depends largely on practice). On the one hand, that seems a clear COI. But on the other hand, most of us make careers on promoting claims (e.g., that memory is reconstructive).”

      I know, these COI’s are really super fuzzy right?

      Let’s say you are a psychologist, claim some effect, write books about it, earn lots of money by speaking about it, but all of a sudden someone critizises your work.

      Let’s say everybody knows this about you, and your work.

      If you then contact some fancy journal (let’s say Psychological Science), and try to counter that criticism (in a possibly flawed manner) should you then report that you earn money from books, and speaking fees (partly) based on your work?

      Or should an editor of that journal perhaps be more cognizant about that possible COI?

      These are all really, really tough questions to ask…

  3. Martha (Smith) says:

    Great cat picture!

  4. By now most majority know that pasta is a high carb food that can raise insulin levels and promote belly fat. Carb loading was popular among marathon runners. Not sure that it is still recommended.

  5. Zad Chow says:

    This is always a complex topic to discuss. On the one hand, you want to point out that dismissing the results of studies because they’re funded by xx group is a total genetic fallacy, but then on the other hand, there is a clear disparity between research that is funded by the industry and non-industry funded research, as shown by researchers like Marion Nestle (though there was an interesting critique of some her viewpoints in this nice article published in Science. In any case, I find these discussions interesting. (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6377/747.full)

  6. Clyde Schechter says:

    It is beyond naive to think that financial incentives do not influence the route one takes while navigating the garden of forking paths.

    • Keith O'Rourke says:

      Agree and that was the fun part of this research – Conflict of interest in the debate over calcium-channel antagonists. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9420342

      The authors we surveyed were likely all aware of the need to blind patients and outcome assessors in randomized clinical trails but somehow seemed to think they were immune to the same sort of un/pre-conscious influences. Weird.

      Can’t remember why we settled on this sentence “We believe that the authors we surveyed expressed their own opinions and were not influenced by financial relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers.” when I think we understood at the time it should have been “We believe that the authors we surveyed -believe they- expressed their own opinions and -believe they- were not influenced by financial relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers – but may well have been mistaken about that.

      Think this is still not too wrong “We support complete disclosure of relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers for clinicians and researchers who write articles examining pharmaceutical products.” but I think some have learned there can be downsides to this.

      Also can’t remember if Alvan commented on any of the drafts of this or on the final publication – something very likely was sent to him https://andrewgelman.com/2018/04/19/trichotomous/#comment-710673

  7. Joshua Pritikin says:

    Wow, no mention of whole wheat vs refined wheat in the referenced article. At least the Newsweek article mentioned, “The study emphasized that the inclusion of whole grains does not significantly affect pasta’s GI status.” Of course GI status is not the only consideration. Whole grains have other benefits too.

    • Joshua are you a proponent of the Pritkin Diet? lol. You mean, I bet that unrefined grains are good source for fiber. I am not sure that in the amounts recommended they are. I was going to raise this point early.

      Pritkin diet includes potatoes and yams which are high glycemic indexed foods.

    • I did the Pritkin Diet when I ran New York Marathon. I didn’t lose much weight.
      Cutting out significant amount of grains and rice stabilized my weight to a lean 123 lbs, of which 6 lbs are muscle gain.

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