The Yellow Log

Specks and Logs, Bias and Conflicts

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” It is an ancient but fair question. It comes to mind as we read mind-numbing headlines asserting that the scientific advisory committee for the 2025 dietary guidelines is “rife with” and “plagued” by conflict of interest. People seem to stumble over logs of their own bias while they look for specks of commercial conflicts.

Rigorous assessment of objective questions seems to be beside the point in much of this heated argumentation.

An Age of Low Trust

We are living in an age of low trust. Trust in all kinds of institutions is at record low levels. Churches? Only 16% of Americans have a great deal of trust in them. For the Supreme Court, that number is 11%. It’s the same for public schools. Congress scrapes the bottom at four percent. The list is long, but you get the idea.

So perhaps stories with overstated claims about 95% of the dietary guideline science advisory committee having conflicts of interest should surprise no one. In an age of low trust, it’s pretty good clickbait.

The trouble is that low trust leads us straight to the proliferation of misinformation. And misinformation about nutrition is prolific.

An Invitation to Think Critically? Or Make Stuff Up?

One might think that a call to question everything could be spark for critical thinking to flourish. Unfortunately, it appears to be also an invitation to make stuff up. Vitamin D, anyone? Its fan club will tell you this vitamin is the answer for a wide range of ailments. But stubborn facts keep telling us otherwise.

Conflicts, Bias, and Evidence

Food is a basic need of every living creature. Naturally, we all have strong feelings about it. Food and the industries related to it are thus a huge factor in economies everywhere. So finding people who have no economic interest or biases about food would impossible.

This is not to say that federal ethics rules relating to conflicts of interest are unimportant. They govern the dietary guidelines process and give us confidence in its integrity.

We are less impressed by loud voices defaming people who do their best to bring critical thinking to the dietary guidelines advisory committee and use objective judgment to answer the questions before it. Such critical thinking – not ad hominem attacks – will determine the quality of what this committee produces.

People who think they can find specks of conflicts in the eyes of these committee members should look out for the logs of bias in their own.

Click here for a critical appraisal by Vivica Kraak in Advances in Nutrition regarding overheated claims about conflicts of interest.

The Yellow Log, painting by Edvard Munch / WikiArt

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October 21, 2023

One Response to “Specks and Logs, Bias and Conflicts”

  1. October 23, 2023 at 3:51 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Putting forth national dietary guidelines is extremely difficult and, in my experience, has always required and has been done with intense research, discussion, rigor, and, ultimately, consensus. Even when completed, many on scientific committees still disagree. But, in the several countries I have lived and worked in, national dietary guidelines have always promoted wholesome, nutritious foods and diets which is GOOD for populations! Critics often miss the point these are GUIDELINES, not prescriptions. Recently, I’ve seen blurbs from critics blaming dietitians for pushing dietary guidelines —past, present, and future — that they feel have contributed to the obesity epidemic. In the 46 years I have been a dietitian, I have never met one dietitian, myself included, who has used dietary guidelines, prescriptively. They are a great tool to show importance of balanced diet, focus on wholesome vs. empty-calorie/high fat/ high simple sugar foods, and SUGGESTIONS on how one needs to divvy up food groups and understand food portions. In fact, food portion sizes is the often totally ignored, misunderstood concept of dietary guidelines which can make all the difference in their health-promoting usefulness.