Salt Fight Gets Personal


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In today's New York Times, the always-excellent John Tierney takes on the great salt debate. (He also offers an interesting and little-heard argument that mandating less salt might mean fatter Americans. God help us all.) The upshot of the column is that there's only one thing everyone agrees on: Data on the value of a reduced salt diet pretty much suck.

Tierney often gives interesting background and deleted scenes from his columns on his Times blog (soon to disappear behind the NYT's threatened paywall? Who knows.) Today, he lays out the conflict of interest allegations against the science on both sides of the debate:

The salt reformers have questioned the impartiality of David A. McCarron of the University of California, Davis, one of the salt skeptics I quote in the column, because he does paid consulting work for the Salt Institute, a trade group for the salt industry. When I asked Dr. McCarron for his response to this criticism, he said that he had openly acknowledged the connection, and that while he offered scientific advice to the institute, he never accepted money from it for speaking on its behalf or for conducting research on salt — like the peer-reviewed work with academic colleagues, cited in my column, that was published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Dr. McCarron said that he was a board-certified internist and nephrologist, that he had published more than 250 scientific articles, and served as the head of the nephrology division for 18 years at Oregon Health and Science University.

Dr. McCarron also noted that he and other researchers on both sides of the salt issue had received money for research from the federal government, and that officials at federal agencies had their own agendas regarding salt. He questioned the impartiality of Dr. Appel, the Hopkins researcher, who is on the committee considering new national dietary guidelines, including guidelines for salt. Dr. McCarron argued that it was a conflict of interest for Dr. Appel to be drawing up salt recommendations because it requires him to evaluate his own research, like an influential 2001 study on salt in the diet in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Read the whole thing here.

Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey asks if "industry-funded science is killing us all" here.