June 2014
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 Volume 13 Issue 6

Ancel Keys and Cherry Picking: Can We Please Get This One Thing Right?

By Plant Positive
May 30, 2014

Opinions about nutrition are varied and passionately held. Some of us are vegans and some of us are carnivores but we all feel we have well-informed views. That probably won't change anytime soon. But regardless of our views we should be able to agree on facts when they are obvious. We should also agree that it's wrong to perpetuate false attacks on an innocent individual. None of us should intentionally bear false witness against anyone, yet that's what we see done over and over against a famous researcher named Ancel Keys.

Search his name and see what is said about him. The "Authority Nutrition" guy, Kris Gunners, says he intentionally excluded data in a 1953 paper of his. He calls this cherry picking. He provides a clip from a movie making the same charge, Tom Naughton's Fat Head. Naughton says Keys left out "reliable data." Joe Mercola says the same thing. Referencing Gary Taubes, John Tierney of the New York Times told us this, too.

Here are the facts. In 1953, Ancel Keys looked at data for six different countriesi and found a strong correlation between fat intake and coronary heart disease.

Two researchers in 1957ii said Keys made the error of excluding the data from some countries to produce that graph. This is the paper on which all the accusers base their claims of cherry picking.

What the accusers usually fail to mention is that these two men found a nutrient that correlated with CHD deaths even more strongly than fat: animal protein.

Keys left out the countries he did with good reason. One didn't have adequate methods of death certification. Another's "cause-of-death statements (were) made by lay registrars whose knowledge of modern medical terminology (was) slight or non-existent." In many others the food supply had been disrupted by World War II, making them ill-suited to such a comparison. These countries could not provide "reliable data" for the purpose of relating diet to heart disease.
Keys explained his choices and he explained why the objections of Yerushalmy and Hilleboe were invalidiii. For example, here he told us why West Germany would have make a bad choice. Their population had been in flux and they'd been deprived of their normal diets.

He explained himself in his original 1953iv paper, then again in 1957v, and yet again in 1980iv. Below you see a scan of his 1980 explanation. Yerushalmy and Hilleboe had used data they shouldn't have. They never disputed Keys' points.

The association they found between coronary deaths and animal protein was best explained by the fact that animal foods are full of saturated fatvii, unlike most plant-derived fats.

Keys did his part to clear up any confusion all the way back in 1957 but some people insist on pretending otherwise. It's time for us to reject these unfair attacks on Ancel Keys. We can agree to disagree on what the best diet is. But we should all have the decency to refrain from lying about someone who devoted his life to helping us all live healthier and longer lives.

I've responded to a recent unfair attack on Dr. Keys' research with my critique of the June 23, 2014 Time magazine cover story promoting saturated fat. Please find that article here.

i Keys, Ancel. "Atherosclerosis: a problem in newer public health." J Mt Sinai Hosp N Y. 1953 Jul-Aug;20(2):118-39.

ii Yerushalmy, Jacob, and Herman E. Hilleboe. "Fat in the diet and mortality from heart disease; a methodologic note." New York state journal of medicine 57, no. 14 (1957): 2343-2354.

iii Keys, Ancel. "Epidemiologic aspects of coronary artery disease." Journal of chronic diseases 6, no. 4 (1957): 552-559.

iv Keys, Ancel. 1953.

v Keys, Ancel. 1957.

vi Keys, Ancel. Seven countries. A multivariate analysis of death and coronary heart disease. Harvard University Press, 1980. p. 259.

vii Keys, Ancel. 1957.



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