December 23, 2009

Bogus Times, Grist articles on HFCS add to echo chamber

The Times Online (a paper in the U.K.) last week ran an article that claimed there was new research that "proved for the first time that a cheap form of sugar used in thousands of food products and soft drinks can damage human metabolism and is fueling the obesity crisis."

It then went on to cite this UC Davis study (which was released online in April) and claimed that was proof that fructose and, therefore, HFCS, was out to get us all (even though "fructose" ≠ "HFCS").

However, the reporter () got the story wrong - ALL WRONG - and that's according to one of the researchers who conducted the study. (More to come on that in a minute.)

While a single newspaper reporter getting it wrong is one thing, the Internet allowed the story to bloom.

Tom Laskawy, a blogger on Grist (which claims it uses a "Clarity-o-Meter to draw out the real meaning behind green stories") essentially regurgitated the "facts," linking to the Times story as proof (and not bothering to look up the original research). That allowed the anti-HFCS crowd to pick up on it and say: "See this proves we're right." And then repeat it from blog to blog to Twitter and Facebook. 

This is the echo chamber taking over -- with everyone citing everyone else and pointing to the original article that got the facts wrong.

Now about those "facts."

It turns out one of the authors of the original research saw the Times article and Grist blog post and decided enough was enough.

Here is what Dr. Kimber Stanhope had to say:

The information about the UC Davis study came from a Sunday Times article in which almost every sentence in the article contained at least one inaccurate statement. I have copied the sentences that came from this article in quotations below and follow each sentence with the correct information.

You can read her full destruction of the article here.

Among other things, Stanhope points out that the study examined fructose and glucose -- and made it clear that fructose and HFCS are not the same thing. Her response is quite good and worth a read if you happened to see the original Times or Grist garbage article. (I only wish she would have pointed out that HFCS, sugar and honey are essentially the same when it comes to fructose and glucose.)

Anyway, Stanhope's destruction of the original article prompted Laskawy to make a few corrections to his post but, of course, he still had to attempt to argue that the "science" is certainly against HFCS and toss out the expected misinformation and more of his form of "facts." After all, he doesn't want to loose his anti-corn, anti-HFCS, anti-corporate cred.

He also bashed the Times - saying that he'll never cite them again. Hmmm. Perhaps nobody should cite his posts, either.

If you're wondering about Grist, here's a good comment provided by one of the people who commented on the HFCS post:

Grist is full of "experts" posting articles about reports, studies and concepts they know little about. Its really not so much a fact based web site but a site full of speculations fueled by an anti corporate, environmentally correct political set of ideas.

Let's just leave it at that.

Oh, and one more thing to watch. Stanhope noted that she and other researchers are conducting a study comparing the effects of consuming HFCS and fructose at 0, 10, 17.5 and 25 percent of energy requirement in young (18-40 years), normal or overweight (BMI 18-35 kg/m2) adults.

While that may be interesting research, I'm not sure why you'd compare HFCS to straight fructose...they aren't even remotely the same, as Stanhope pointed out. Why not compare HFCS to plain old sugar? Or honey?

In either case, whenever that research is done, don't rely on Grist to get the story right. Grist, a self proclaimed "Beacon in the Smog," just dirties the facts.

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