Sparks sometimes fly at reunions, as old romances and rivalries alike are rekindled. But at one upcoming Harvard class reunion, a unique kind of tension may be in the air: an academic dispute about some flawed scientific papers.
Those two analyses were published back in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers, also from Harvard, handed down a verdict that would echo through the decades: Sugar wasn’t the problem with the American diet, they found; saturated fat was.
The articles garnered immediate attention from scientists and the popular media. They helped spark a half-century of research into, and public demonization of, saturated fats.
But there was something about those papers that almost no one at the time knew: The authors had received $6,500 (nearly $50,000 in today’s dollars) from the Sugar Research Foundation, an industry trade group, which had also reviewed drafts of the papers. That fact didn’t come to light until just last year, when a University of California researcher digging through the archives found the damning evidence.
Now, 50 years later, a doctor named Dr. Andrew Larkin says NEJM should retract the papers and apologize to readers for the lack of disclosure. And he has an inside track for his appeal: As a member of the Harvard Medical School Class of 1972, he’s a classmate of Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of NEJM — and the class is getting ready for its 45th reunion.
“It’s sometimes time for people to speak out, and this is something I can speak out about,” Larkin told STAT. “I’m going through this phase of my life. … It’s a time of reflection, and this thing has sort of fallen into my lap.”
Knowing that Drazen — as well as other classmates, like Donald Berwick, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Gregory Curfman, who was once Drazen’s deputy at NEJM — would be a captive audience on an alumni listserv, Larkin started by sending a note to his class in September, asking whether the journal should retract the tainted papers.
Drazen responded that the issue was “very complex” and suggested that he and his classmates could discuss it at their upcoming reunion. (And Drazen’s well-positioned to make that happen, being as he is on the reunion’s planning committee.)
But the response otherwise has been, well, crickets — and Larkin said he’s not surprised. Even in the turbulent 1960s, only 1 in 10 of his classmates considered themselves radicals, he said.
“Nobody’s risen to the bait, no one has addressed the question,” Larkin said. “I have spoken to some, they said it’s interesting, but they’re busy.”
Meanwhile, the reunion is coming up in early June. So what is Larkin hoping will happen? Does he hope to corner Drazen and convince him to take action? “I do not think anything would be gained on a one-to-one discussion,” he said. “I would hope to open this to a class-wide discussion to apply some peer pressure.”
“My greater hope would be that this leads to a public discussion beyond the ivory tower,” Larkin said. “In its refusal to retract it is behaving less like an academic institution and more like a corporate entity, with fiscal interests to defend.”
A NEJM spokesperson tells STAT that the journal “does not plan any action on these articles.”
“Since 1984 we have requested author disclosures. Our current policies specify full disclosure and publication of funding sources and any financial associations,” the spokesperson said. “The articles from 1967 were published with the standards of the time. What we publish now meets our current standards.”
Today’s standards were implicit in 1967, Larkin argued. “The articles should be retracted.”
Meanwhile, he hasn’t decided whether to attend the reunion. If he thinks it will make a difference, he said, he will.
“In 1949, one year before the US Public Health Service endorsed fluoridation, the director of the Sugar Research Foundation, a lobby representing about 130 sugar interests, said that its research mission was “to find out how tooth decay may be controlled effectively without restriction of sugar intake”. For the sugar lobby, fluoride- delivered through the water supply- quickly became the magic bullet to achieve that goal.” (W Varney, Fluoride in Australia/ The Case Against Fluoride, Connett, page 264). Bad research has been the basis for decades for a failed policy.
What is your opinion? Send your comments to the New England Journal of Medicine at : [email protected]
lest we forget. This trumped up research on sugar opened the gates to Fluoridation in the water supply as a way of “countering” the affects of sugar. The same bad science was manipulated. Add to that, big pharma and business getting rid of bi products through the public water supply as a “benefit” when research is showing it contributes to bone problems, fluorosis, gastrointestinal issues, IQ studies etc. Big Pharma continues to win today, all based on faulty sugar research and the Harvard doctor who promoted both that and Fluoridation. Protect the teeth, eat more sugar.
If this study was published in 1967, it could not have preceded the widespread implementation of public water system fluoridation.
“By 1960, water fluoridation was being widely implemented and around 50 million people in the United States were benefitting; …”
Fred Stare :http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/5/1007.full did the work on fluoride earlier than 1967.
In 1960, Fred obtained a grant of $1,026,000 from General Foods for the “expansion of the School’s Nutrition Research Laboratories.”
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