If the Science is So Strong, Why Do Public-Health Folks Lie So Much?

Reason columnist and Keep Food Legal honcho Baylen Linnekin has an op-ed in today's New York Post about "sneaky public-health messaging."

Read on:

In 2010, another [New York City] Health Department ad claimed drinking one can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.” Yet internal department e-mails showed that the city’s own chief nutritionist called the ad “absurd.” And a department marketing manager said it “would raise a lot of skepticism within the public.” The ad ran anyway after the mayor’s health commissioner overruled his advisers.

Sneaky public-health messaging appears to be on the upswing across the country, particularly when it comes to soda. In California, a taxpayer-funded group, First 5 California, recently used Photoshop to transform a healthy-weight adolescent girl drinking skim milk into an obese girl drinking from a giant sugar packet.

Similar tactics are becoming common in public-health research. In 2011, the author of a widely reported study linking soda consumption and teen violence later admitted there was no reason to think soft drinks cause teens to be violent. In 2012, a Harvard-affiliated hospital was forced to admit it had promoted a “weak” study tying aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in soda, to cancer.

After you finish your head-sized cruller and 64-ounce mochalotta, read the whole thing.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • sarcasmic||

    When you continually lie about something, if you do actually tell the truth no one will believe you.

    Isn't there a children's story about that?

  • crashland||

    The teacher who cried gun?

  • RBS||

    The Teacher Who Cried Gun: A Nanny State Adventure

  • MattJ||

    Dr. Julian Bashir: But the point is, if you lie all the time, nobody's going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth.

    Elim Garak: Are you sure that's the point, Doctor?

    Dr. Julian Bashir: Of course. What else could it be?

    Elim Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Do you feel lucky, punk?

  • trshmnstr||

    What about the classic The reverend who cried racism?

  • Loki||

    RACIST!!!!11!!!!1

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yet internal department e-mails showed that the city’s own chief nutritionist called the ad “absurd.”

    Whatever the opposite of "hide the porcine" would be. That.

  • Pro Libertate||

    If some sort of bottled water or healthy drink company ran that ad, they be in massive legal trouble. But business is more dangerous and untrustworthy than government, don't you know.

  • Sevo||

    'Similar tactics are becoming common in *government pronouncements*'
    Fixed.

  • Tim||

    Because public employees face no consequences and are backed up by departments of publicly funded lawyers.

  • albo||

    Lying in the pursuit of a noble goal is no sin. If you know you are right and you know what is good for people, you can lie to get them to change.

    I mean, really, this is one of the Rules of Liberalism. I think Ralph Nader drafted this one.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Ralph Nader? Oh, Please. I'm sure he THINKS he came up with it, but I'm equally sure that it was old when Rome was at its hight.

  • Doctor Whom||

  • Mike M.||

    More like Saul Alinsky, but the general idea is correct.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    These sorts of things are the bane of my existence.

    I have been pelted for 9 years about how the exact diet that keeps my weight down is supposedly going to give me liver failure, kidney failure, no energy, boredom, depression, cancer, various kinds of heart disease, clogged arteries, diabetes, and (my favorite) make me fat.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    People are so stupid and feckless lying is the only way to get through to them.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Also, don't forget pushing policies before the actual data is in!

  • Mainer2||

    Private citizens are stupid and feckless. Public servants are smart and noble. Listen to your betters.

  • An0nB0t||

    I've spent the past several years telling kids in the neighborhood that eating one banana a day can lead can make them ten pounds fatter per year. And yet everywhere I look, there are children eating bananas.

    When will we begin to take childhood obesity seriously?

  • Mainer2||

    Seems to me the progressives take the advantage again by the words they use to define the argument. What is "public health", other than a good thing that only bad people would oppose.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Well, there is a legitimate "public" aspect to things; maintaining sanitary water sources, clearing away offal and sewage. But a lot of it isn't sexy, and more of it is violently anti-PC. A public health officer could get into serious trouble with the Right People if he pointed out that Bed Bugs were once rare in this country, because that would mean examining certain Received Truths about pesticides, and Natural Fibers, and Multiculturalism. So it's a lot safer to get into a swivel about fat and sugar.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Yet internal department e-mails showed that the city’s own chief nutritionist called the ad “absurd.” And a department marketing manager said it “would raise a lot of skepticism within the public.” The ad ran anyway after the mayor’s health commissioner overruled his advisers.

    Hizzoner has all of the best intentions, therefore whatever means he employs must be right because his heart is pure.

    Also, derp!

    /progressive

  • John||

    I have been doing a bit of work on public health emergencies over the last few weeks. And I am amazed at how public health people like and tell half truths about everything. Anything you read that is put out by a public health official is going to be at best a technically correct but deceiving summary of the science or an outright lie. The disconnect between the scientific literature and the public health pronouncements are profound.

    The problem is that the public health pronouncements get into the media and and end up being used to make policy. Take an issue like anti-biotic resistance. Now when a germ becomes "resistant" to an antibiotic, that doesn't always mean the drug won't work at all. the public health pronouncements make you think that. But that is not true. What it means is the the drug stopped working in enough cases that doctors stopped giving it. A doctor is looking for a 100% cure. If the drug only works 50% of the time and another drug works 100% of the time, he is giving the second. But if there is a real emergency and the first drug is all you have, you will take your 50% chance. Well good luck trying to explain that thought process to someone who has been told the germ is now "resistant".

  • sarcasmic||

    But, but, but resistant is the same thing as immune!

    /derp

  • OldMexican||

    Re: John,

    And I am amazed at how public health people like [to] tell half truths about everything


    Did you have a standard of BS that they broke so hard that you would become amazed?

    Because the working definition of a public health employee is "n. Someone who lies all the time, i.e. Mythomaniac"

  • John||

    I had never really done any work in the field and was just naive. I knew they lied about politicized subjects. But somehow I thought they would tell the truth about non political subjects.

    Yeah, I was pretty stupid to think that.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I've spent the past several years telling kids in the neighborhood that eating one banana a day can lead can make them ten pounds fatter per year.

    But their tree-climbing skills will be greatly enhanced.

  • OldMexican||

    If the Science is So Strong, Why Do Public-Health Folks Lie So Much?


    Why do dogs eat their own shit?

  • John||

    Of course the science isn't "strong". Public health people want simple answers. And nature doesn't work like that. Even something that is "strong" is often only 95% true in actual use. For example, take even the most effective treatment for a given condition and the studies will show it doesn't always work. And often no one really knows why. Maybe the subjects didn't follow the treatment regimen. Maybe their bodies have some weird genetic quirk no one has found. Who knows. But even when the answer is "sure" it is never 100%. But public health wants simple cartoon advice to give to people. Science is never going to give that. So the public health people take the answers they do get and change them into the answers they want.

  • Zeb||

    Science is never 100% since all you know is what you have observed. This is why I try to avoid using the word "proof" at all when talking about anything scientific. Science isn't about proof, it's about evidence. It is sad how many people misunderstand what science actually does and is.

  • John||

    Exactly. And we are always one observation away from figuring out something we thought was right is wrong.

  • Mainer2||

    Again, isn't the concept of "public health" just a way to presume, by definition, that the goverment must control people. Other than basics like a clean municipal water supply, most of these issues relate to individual choice and the individual's health.

    What phrase should replace "public health" to redefine the issue.

  • John||

    It is now. Originally it wasn't. There are real public health issues. And mostly those relate to the commons. Keeping the rat population down is a public health issue. Providing some way for people to get tested and treated for STDs in a way that won't humiliate them and make them not want to come forward is a public health issue. Controlling west Nile virus carrying mosquitoes is a public health issue.

    Sadly, they don't seem to care much about those issues any more. Rats and and bedbugs are over running our cities. But instead of worrying about that, they take private choice issues like guns and sodas and make them public health issues. And that of course is because the public health profession has been taken over by leftists whose goal in life is to control people. Killing mosquitoes and treating hookers for the clap doesn't allow you to control people. So they are not interested in such things.

  • fried wylie||

    Controlling west Nile virus carrying mosquitoes is a public health issue.

    Is anyone working on that, btw? What about the stink bugs.

    But hey, keep spending my tax dollars on fucking soda.

  • John||

    Don't worry Wylie. You may get malaria or some horrible virus we can't treat. But you won't be having any soda and you will be really thin and healthy and have a good chance of fighting it off.

  • fried wylie||

    As a diabetic, I am already free of the vicious (viscous?) clutches of diabolic sugared beverages.

  • SugarFree||

    Vicscous.

  • Loki||

    If the Science is So Strong, Why Do Public-Health Folks Lie So Much?

    Because the truth isn't scary enough for them to get people to go along with their agenda.

  • John||

    That too. See the public health messages on STDs for a great example of this. The fact is that other than HIV and syphilis, STDs are for the most part not that serious of illnesses. Hell millions of people have herpes and don't even know it because they never have symptoms.

    For the most part STDs are a threat to women and the threat is infertility. But even then only at most 20% of women who get an STD have complications and maybe 20% of that 20% or 4% overall would ever become infertile. And that is of course if they never get treatment.

    But my God, read the public health pronouncements and you would think that STDs are killing millions every year (HIV excluded).

  • John||

    For the record I think they play up the risks because they are puritans and just hate the idea of people having sex. For the modern public health professional, a condom is like a rosary. It somehow cleanses one of the sin of sex.

  • Loki||

    For the record I think they play up the risks because they are puritans and just hate the idea of people having sex fun.

    FTFY. They also hate the idea that they can't actually control everyone. Despite their best efforts there are still people out there who refuse to live their lives in pants shitting fear of whatever their latest menace du jour is, and that just pisses them off to no end.

  • John||

    As an aside, speaking of sex, I am reading Rick Atkisson's new book on the US Army in World War II Europe. It is the last of his trilogy. It is a great book. He mentions that the US soldiers in England produced so many bastard children that there were signs all over England that said

    "Please drive carefully GIs, one of the children playing here could be yours".

    I laughed loud enough to wake my wife up when I red that.

  • Adamsmith1776||

    The limey's complained throughout the war, that Americans were "over paid, over sexed and over here." A more rational bunch might have considered themselves under paid, under sexed, and thankful they were not speaking German. BTW--when I lived in England twenty years ago, my women friends talked about how they loved going over to France because the men would actually check them out unlike the English, so the poor bastards are still undersexed despite our best efforts in WW II.

  • Invisible Finger||

    my women friends talked about how they loved going over to France because the men would actually check them out

    Bathing is a turn-on in some places.

  • Adamsmith1776||

    BTW--Why the narrow focus on public health officials. Isn't this sort of misrepresentation pandemic in government--overwrought fears of global warming and environmental disaster; TSA agents seizing Leatherman tools so you don't highjack a packed plane; NSA snooping through phone records so they can find the friend of a friend of a someone who made an overseas phone call; dire warnings of economic disasster if growth in federal spending is cut by less than 1%.

  • Onlooker||

    There's a very apt parallel to the AGW crowd. Fudging and nudging the data and outright deceptive marketing.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement