After more than a month, the British Medical Journal has finally issued a correction for its bogus investigation of the 2015 US dietary guidelines report — a report that will inform the next set of food recommendations released by the US government. Unfortunately, the correction doesn't address the vast majority of errors that are still contained in the article.
The correction, which was published on Friday, states1 that journalist Nina Teicholz incorrectly portrayed the results of an authoritative scientific review by writing that it had not found a link between saturated fats and heart disease. The review did, in fact, find a link, but Teicholz — who is the author of a book entitled The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet — reported the opposite anyway. This error, and its intended purpose, is representative of a number of other mistakes that the journal has yet to correct.
The BMJ's correction reads as follows: This Feature (BMJ 2015;351:h4962, doi:10.1136/bmj.h4962) by Nina Teicholz stated that when the guidelines advisory committee started its work in 2012 there had been several prominent papers, including a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic), that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease. This statement did not aptly reflect the findings of the more authoritative of these reviews, by Hooper et al (Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;5:CD002137), which found that saturated fats had an effect on cardiovascular events but failed to confirm an effect on cardiovascular mortality.
The article could still serve as ammunition for the meat industry
Every five years, the US government issues a new set of dietary guidelines. These guidelines are highly influential; they affect food labeling, school lunches and even scientific research. But this September, the BMJ published an astounding piece of pro-fat propaganda that attacked the committee who issued the 2015 report using factual inaccuracies revealed by The Verge. Now, the BMJ has issued a correction for the article, but its scope is so limited that Teicholz's article will likely still serve as ammunition for a meat industry that wants to squash the committee's advice on lowering the consumption of red meat.
The article is still full of errors
The first thing worth noting here is that the BMJ's correction did not include the items listed in a "clarification" published by Rebecca Coombes — one of the BMJ's editors — one week after the article appeared on the journal's website. This is an interesting choice, since the existence of the "clarification" heavily implies the BMJ felt Teicholz’s story needed further explanation. But given that the clarification was also full of errors, so even these so-called clarifications wouldn’t make the story right.
For instance, the BMJ's clarification states that Teicholz shouldn't have faulted the committee for "deleting meat" from the list of recommended foods contained in its report — instead, Teicholz should have written that the committee had "deleted lean meats." But this, too, is factually incorrect. The committee didn't delete lean meats at all. The committee's report also states — in plain English — that "lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern." Coombes also clarified that Teicholz was wrong when she went after the 2015 committee for not using a rigorous form of systematic review "for more than 70 percent of the topics." But the number that Coombes says is correct — 63 percent — is also wrong because a portion of the report included in Teicholz's calculations couldn't be addressed using these reviews in the first place.
These errors weren't the only problems with the BMJ's investigation. Teicholz also went after the committee for "overlooking" studies that she says could have changed the report's conclusions. But including these studies in the sections that Teicholz suggests would have been scientifically incorrect. (For more information about this, see The Verge's previous coverage of this investigation.) That doesn't fit with Teicholz's pro-fat point of view, however, so she twists facts to support her agenda. None of these issues are addressed by the BMJ's belated correction.
"...the beginning of the unraveling of Nina T's 'scientific article.'"
The "article is woefully misleading and in many cases, factually incorrect," the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrote in a response a few days after the investigation was released. Today's correction validates that sentiment; the BMJ has finally admitted that Teicholz and its editors were wrong in at least one instance. Now, the BMJ needs to finish the job; the remaining errors still warrant a correction.
"Hopefully, this is the beginning of the unraveling of Nina T's 'scientific article," Rafael Perez-Escamilla, an epidemiologist at Yale University and a co-author of this year's advisory committee report, told The Verge in an email. "Hopefully, the BMJ eventually agrees to retract whole paper. [We] will see..."