Hand it back: Catalyst edition

In a recent post, I observed that “Anyone with a university education ought to be able to recognise the limits of their own expertise, and to be able to distinguish between bogus sources of information and the products of genuine peer-reviewed research.” Sadly, the ABC’s Catalyst program appears to be failing that test, judging from the first episode of their report, attempting a debunking of the claims that elevated cholesterol causes heart disease, and that statins reduce the risk of disease. I looked at the evidence on this when I started taking statins around 20 years ago, and it seemed pretty convincing. In the last few years, with intensive exercise, I’ve reduced my cholesterol and stopped taking medication, so I think I can look at this fairly objectively.

As I said, before regarding someone’s opinion as having weight, you need to check whether they have any reason for claiming authority[1]. A quick visit to Google reveals the following info on the medical “scientists” quoted in the program

*”Stephen T. Sinatra is a board certified cardiologist, nutritionist, and anti-aging specialist specializing in integrative medicine. He is also a certified bioenergetic psychotherapist”

* Jonny Bowden – The Rogue Nutritionist is a weight loss coach

* Michael Eades is the biggest prat in the diet industry (alert: possibly not a neutral source).

* Ernest Curtis publishes not in medical journals but on LewRockwell.com

AFAICT, none of them has ever published scientific research in a peer-reviewed journal (still need to check this more carefully). I’m going to watch Part II now. But based on Part I, I’d say everyone involved should hand back their degrees.

Update The second episode was an improvement on the first. At least it quoted real scientists who have done actual research, and provided something like links to the real stuff (not sure if that will show up in transcript). And the general problems of research funded by drug companies are real enough. OTOH, at least one of the experts quoted against statins was described as a litigation expert, which suggests that the bad incentives aren’t all on one side. An interview with someone from the Heart Foundation was a welcome element of balance, but looked to me to have been edited in a way that gave a misleading picture of what (I imagine) was actually said.

Moreover, given the stress on drug company profits, the show might have taken a minute to point out that both simvastatin (Zocor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor) are now off-patent. There’s been some dispute over whether Australia has moved fast enough to cut the price paid for Lipitor and to encourage the prescribing of cheap generic versions, but the days of statins as a cash cow are already receding. That doesn’t preclude the possibility that its advocates are locked into positions taken previously, but it does cast some doubt on the continuing relevance of financial incentives.

fn1. As I grow tired of pointing out to people who have a misunderstood high school lessons in logic, the alternative to rejecting unqualified “experts” out of hand is not to look at the evidence they present and “make up your own mind”. It’s to undertake the years of intensive study needed to master the subject, then assess the evidence and make up your own mind.

108 thoughts on “Hand it back: Catalyst edition

  1. @Will
    In my shire it is very rare for engineers to organise impromtu bridge building efforts over waters they’d like to bridge.
    Actually, town planning issues seem to get the community pretty het up in my experience.

  2. With reference to comments above, a striking feature of “debates” of this kind is the readiness of the anti-science side to claim they are being “censored” whenever anyone points out that they are either fools or liars. This is particularly amusing coming, as it regularly does, from major party politicians, commentators in national newspapers, wealthy business people and so on.

  3. @Will you say that:

    See, this whole thing gets to the point of the issue. The truth is that so many people are grotesquely unqualified to comment on certain topics. Some people, instead of acknowledging the limits of their knowledge

    that idea would silence most of the Left and green voters on economic policy and on foreign policy too. very elitist and a strong argument for small government too because the number of tiopics on which the average voter is well-informed is few.

  4. I’m sorry Prof Quiggin to have made the mistake of comparing you or your expertise, albeit favourably, with “Clive Williams” instead of Clive Hamilton. The former is, I believe, someone who makes sense on intelligence matters whereas the latter makes sense but emotes and wildly exaggerates in almost every public utterance. But he does help pose a question put to me recently which was to discover the basis of the arguments of those who want Australia to do a lot about AGW, expensively, and not just mitigation or research, without there being the slightest chance that it will make a significant change to the sea levels round our shores or the temperatures we enjoy or endure in future. If they are one of the rare scientists who have done relevant work on the science the question should still be asked. But the interesting cases are people like Clive Hamilton and any number of this or that scientists with no authority at all on climate science who want big gestures made. Is it like being part of the Ummah, or perhaps like doing funny things with the Masons, or is it because they are embarrassed amongst their international peers if they are Australian and don’t belong to a country which not only holds the currently favoured views on the subject but does heroic self-sacrificing things about it too? An upper class Englishman can fart in Westminster Abbey and laugh it off but how mortifying it is for colonials from a once convict colony.

  5. @John Quiggin

    Ah yes, my noting the clumsy absence of a “not” in the third line of my last post gives me opportunity for more important things to put to you, precisely because of your area(s) of expertise. There has been much publicity recently for the view that the world’s GDP will only start going downhill because of warming from about 2080? Have you a view on that? And any relevant facts, links, references or arguments beyond the obvious quibbles about the choice of parameters perhaps making a difference of quite a few years, that only some will be winners etc.?

    And, on a related matter. What do you think is the appropriate discount rate for assessing the NPV of future scenarios where the time frame is several generations? The great Frank Ramsey chose one per cent in the late 20s from memory. Nicholas Stern chose 1 per cent. Since such choices can make a big difference, indeed normally do, what is your expert advice on how to deal with such questions?

  6. I have done a little proper research into petitions of right now. It does definitely apply in Australia. It is not really like a normal sort of petition though, it’s more like to sue – this is why the Crown is obligated to hear it. Because it is an obligation of the Crown’s it would be most proper to address it to Queen Elizabeth II rather than the Governor General. This is better I think because the Queen is more likely to hear direct her secretary to respond to your letter – and to tell the Governor General to read it – than the Governor General is.

    I think it would be best to plead for a Royal Commission, then say something along the lines of, if Your Majesty will not form a Royal Commission then we (hopefully there would be more than one signature) must make our Petition of Right. In Australia the High Court would hear a Petition of Right – then you would have to get expert testimony in – so a Petition of Right in being heard would be fairly equivalent to a Royal Commission anyhow, except there would be more than one judge (I think Royal Commissions just have one judge don’t they?)

  7. So I have now got round to watching some of the show. A claim is made that while statins reduce the incidence of heart disease, they *don’t* increase your life expectancy.

    That is, you die at about the same time, just of something else. Is this true? And if so, what is the “something else” that you die of?

  8. OK, I shouldn’t believe everything I see on TV.

    Kokkinos and his team examined the records of over 10,000 veterans (9700 males and 343 females) with dyslipidaemia from Veteran Affairs hospitals in Palo Alto, California and Washington D.C.

    Between 1986 and 2011, all participants underwent a standard exercise tolerance test to measure their exercise capability. They measured the highest metabolic rate (MET) reached while exercising, and then categorized fitness levels as least, moderate, fit, or high. After that, the volunteers were separated into two groups within each fitness level, those treated with statins and those treated without statins.

    In total, 2,318 patients died. Mortality risk was 18.5 percent in those taking statins, and 27.7 percent in those not taking statins.

    The investigators found that rates of death were lowest in those participants who took statins and were also in shape. The higher the level of fitness, the less the risk of dying at the 10 year median follow-up period. The most physically fit participants had a remarkably lower risk of death (60-70 percent), regardless of their statin intake.

    Dyslypidaemia, as far as I could ascertain, is high cholesterol. So basically, the Catalyst assertion that statins don’t increase life expectancy appears to be bulldust. And Professor Q, with both statins and high fitness, appears to be doing exactly the right thing.

  9. But then I looked at this article, which says that meta-analysis of data on the use of statins to prevent heart disease (in those who haven’t had a heart attack, I guess) shows no benefit to mortality from statins.

    I can’t reconcile these two situations. How can one study show such obviously positive results, and the other say that there is no benefit to mortality?

  10. I think this needs a mathematician or statistician to sort out the logic that seems a bit dodgy in the program. Perhaps Professor Quiggin can help on this. If you give statins to a lot of fit healthy non-smokers who are not overweight and eat their greens after taking their 10,000 steps and Michale Mosley’s 20 second bursts as well maybe you are not going to detect the amount of extra days of life you have conferred on average because you might need a test population of 100,000 or so to get a significant figure. Could that be it?

    It would seem to follow that, if the cost which you don’t share with fellow taxpayers, after allowance for safety net etc., is not going to make much impact on your budget or even the kids’ inheritance – and you don’t get muscle pains or nasty reactions in your liver – you might as well take the statiins after you are 45 or so. Right?

  11. @John Brookes

    This is why we need meta-meta-analyses 🙂

    In terms of the specific issue of statins efficacy in reducing mortality (due to cardiovascular disease(s), etc), what is made fairly evident is that the first order effects of something like a persistent change in the exercise and/or dietary regimes of the study’s participants can be more significant in the long term than the effects of taking statins.

    Having undergone a major change in my level and intensity of exercise myself, I can well believe that the long term effect of regular challenging exercise exceeds that of taking statins. The scientific interest for me is in the question of whether the combined effects of taking statins and an ongoing physical exercise regime are synergistic, additive, or whether the exercise benefit simply swamps the effect (if any) of the statin use as well. Going from sloth to regular exercise and good diet is such a major change to the conditions a human body is subjected to (these days), one that obviously has multiple interacting effects upon the body’s functioning capacity; it is pretty difficult to see how a medication can compete with exercise and diet changes, statistically speaking. Is it better to take a statin, or to put that money towards a regular exercise class?

  12. My problem is that the Catalyst report was entirely unhelpful here. They presented a bunch of people pushing wildly different claims including that:

    (a) Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease ( certainly false)
    (b) Statins reduce cholesterol but not heart disease (not supported by the evidence)
    (c) Heart disease risk reduction offset by other risks (a defensible claim, but not, in my view supported by the balance of the evidence)
    (d) For low risk groups, costs of statins outweigh the benefits (probably true, and a good argument against putting statins in the water supply as has allegedly been suggested)
    (e) Reducing cholesterol through diet and exercise is the best way to go (uncontroversial, but not always helpful).

    These were presented in scattergun fashion, with lots of generic abuse of Big Pharma (much of which is justified in broad terms), but no actual evidence of any particular instance of misconduct. Also, as is routine on TV, they identify the speaker once with a silly establishing shot, then present them much later with no ID, so you can’t keep track of who is saying what.

    All in all, a substantial negative contribution to public information on the topic

  13. @John Brookes
    The first half dozen paragraphs of your first mentioned study (the military veterans), all I read btw, are I think sufficient to answer most of your questions John. Especially this paragraph:
    blockquote>Surprisingly, the study revealed that even people with dyslipidaemia who do not take statins, but are physically fit, were about half as likely to expire from any cause during the median 10-year follow up, than those who were taking statins, but were not physically healthy.

  14. @John Quiggin
    I’m sorry JQ, but in my opinion the “substantial negative contribution to public information on the topic” that you level at Demasi’s efforts is once again unfair and mistargeted. That opprobrium deservedly ought to be aimed at organisations such as the Heart Foundation and other players who can be categorised as under the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. “Under the influence of” is a euphemism for the more accurate “junior marketing arm of”.

    Yes, IMHO things really are that bad. It’s a big issue not adequately addressable in comments on a blog but what is wrong, exactly, with the broad scheme of following the money and exercising one’s learned understanding – not cynically but sceptically – of human nature?

  15. Jon Frankis:

    It’s a big issue not adequately addressable in comments on a blog but what is wrong, exactly, with the broad scheme of following the money and exercising one’s learned understanding – not cynically but sceptically – of human nature?

    One unfortunate fact of human nature is that some sad folk will embrace and hold tight conspiracy theories on matters about which they are ignorant but feel they have some “learned understanding”.

    The simplistic “follow the money” argument is feeble because everything in a market economy leaves a money trail and someone always makes a profit.

    Climate science itself is a multi-billion dollar industry sustained by the AGW theory; does this invalidate the science?

    As we’ve seen over the years on this blog, a not insignificant number of leftists prefer booga booga over science. Thankfully this problem is much worse on the right side of the aisle.

  16. @Mel

    Climate science itself is a multi-billion dollar industry sustained by the AGW theory

    No, it’s a science which is opposed by the far larger, in money and morals-corruptibility terms, fossil fuel industry.

    The “follow the money” argument is simple not simplistic and therefore not “feeble”.

    Otherwise sure we probably agree on something here, but you’re wrong if you think JQ is fair for criticising Catalyst instead of the legal drugs industry and various “Foundations” it supports.

  17. As someone with CVD (2 stents this year), on statins but a scientist who checks his cardiologists treatment against published material, I found the Catalyst program to be appalling. Norman Swan has a very good summary of the real issues on Radio National this morning (Monday 4/11). Available at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/the-health-reports-norman-swan/5067234
    Can I add I was and am fit (60+ km/week on the bike) but an over-active liver has given me a high level of serum cholesterol for 30+ years despite a very low dietary cholesterol intake. Diet and exercise is sometimes not the answer. We all have very different chemistries and they are never simple but , as in my case, a good cardiologist can manage the problems. (Memo to young people – never treat the body as a test-tube – a lesson we were taught 40 yrs ago in Year 1 chemistry). I would also suggest that anyone interested should read the ATP 3 guidelines available from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/index.htm. This document essentially puts detail onto many of the comments by Swan and certainly identifies who should be on statins, how it should be introduced, the necessary monitoring for myopathy.

  18. @Jon You haven’t responded substantively to the points I’ve made. Considered as a report on the science, it was, as I said, a mess, mixing a bunch of mutually contradictory claims from different sources, some credible and some not.

    On the “follow the money”, I don’t have a problem with the general point that the system of medical trials and journal publications has been corrupted by drug companies. But (unless I missed it) Catalyst didn’t offer evidence of anything of this kind specific to statins. So, why not a program pushing HIV/AIDS denialism on the same line – the drugs are immensely profitable, and you can find people to say that the theory is false, the drugs don’t work etc?

    And you you haven’t responded to my point that the pro-statin view of the establishment seems to have strengthened just when the most profitable statins were approaching, and passing, patent expiry.

  19. @John Quiggin
    John, responding in order:

    It was a popular report on science, not a peer-reviewed study, and it took on an industry-beloved plank of supposed “best contemporary practice”. Of course that will draw all kinds of flak from credentialled members of the medical profession, and many of their patients. A talk at a conference on one drug or one case can go on for an hour and be less scientifically supportable than was Demasi’s effort over the same time but tackling a 30 year paradigm of the profession general.

    I didn’t notice mutual contradiction amongst the sceptics. Some had higher professional reputation and status than others, each discussed the statin/health question from their own point of view – did I miss a (noteworthy) contradiction among them? The significant claim made by all was, I think, that statins have been overpromoted and overprescribed and … the usual effects of a successful industry-driven astro-turfing/marketing campaign.

    Wasn’t the claim made that Lipitor is the biggest-selling drug in history? We agree there’s no need to argue over the corrupting effects of the enormous wealth of the pharma industry? Note: I think the industry spends more than twice as much on marketing as they do on research (someone might correct me).

    Is there good peer-reviewed research to support HIV denialism? If yes then let’s have a pop-sci program on it, if not then it doesn’t compare to what I recall as having been at least three credentialled medical scientists quoting scientific study results in their interviews with Demasi.

    On your final point: the corruption of science by pharma money is insidious not flagrant. Reminds me of the recently popular aphorism “Hard for a man to change his mind when his income depends on its present carefree state” (paraphrased). But is it actually true that opinion has been firming on statins? It may be so but then, by now, I’m beyond being surprised by the scale of establishment medical follies. Non sequitur, but recall the number of smoking doctors of yore, some actually promoting cigarette brands?

  20. @John Quiggin

    I think you owe them an apology

    Hmmm … tell me please (because I try not to pay too much attention to it): is the Heart Foundation the one that either now or previously was putting ticks on some supermarket foods “Heart Approved” or something similar? Were companies paying for the Heart Foundation to certify them, and get the tick?

    If I’m mistaken then I’ll look further, if not then I’m sorry but no – no apology. If someone needs an explanation I guess I’ll provide it. However for now I’ll say that people should eat real foods, in sensible quantities, and get some exercise.

    I made a few points in my previous response, do you have any comments?

  21. “I didn’t notice mutual contradiction amongst the sceptics.” I pointed it out @15

    “Is there good peer-reviewed research to support HIV denialism? ” There is peer reviewed research, which formed the basis of TV programs shown at the Berlin Conference 1993. It’s not good research, but its comparable to what was presented in Part 1 of the Catalyst program. The platform given to obvious charlatans (see OP) undermines any faith in the subsequent presentation of evidence

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Duesberg
    http://www.orgonelab.org/hiv_aids.htm

    “Wasn’t the claim made that Lipitor is the biggest-selling drug in history?”

    Again, you seem unwilling to confront the fact that atorvastatin is in the public domain. Shouldn’t this at least have been mentioned?

    On the Heart Foundation, I agree that it’s dubious to require a license fee for their certification. But the certification is independent and there’s no evidence I’ve seen that it’s bogus. Your claims go a long way beyond that and you seem happy to ignore the fact that most of Demasi’s experts are at best conflicted, at worst obvious charlatans

  22. @jon frankis

    The problem for me is that we aren’t closer to the truth. And I still don’t understand how one study (at least) finds compelling evidence for the effectiveness of statins to reduce mortality, but others don’t. And I’m happy that exercise has a bigger effect than statins, but that doesn’t explain the anti-statin viewpoint.

    If they’d done a whole show that got to the bottom of just one issue, that would be worthwhile. But just putting a whole lot of competing claims into play…

  23. On the exercise/diet point, I think it’s reasonable to quote myself as anecdotal evidence. I tested high for cholesterol nearly 25 years ago. As well as taking Lipitor, I made some of the obvious diet changes, and tried to improve on exercise over time, to the point where i was doing two or three hours of vigorous exercise (karate training) a week, as well as being generally active. I went off Lipitor as a test, and my cholesterol immediately rose well above the threshold levels.

    A few years ago, I stepped up to the point of running marathons and Olympic-distance triathlons. That did the trick, and I went off medication. But is that really likely to work as a universal recommendation? The Noosa triathlon I just finished had about 3000 male participants, which is of the order of 0.1 per cent of the male population of Queensland. In my age cohort (55-59) there were 87 participants.

    Of course, even moderate exercise is good, perhaps better than statins without exercise. But having done it myself, I’d say doing enough exercise to lower cholesterol to safe levels is not going to be a feasible option for everyone.

  24. Dr Norman Swan gives Catalyst a well deserved whack.

    http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/abc-report-could-cause-death-says-abc-health-specialist-20131104-2wx3n.html

    “Appearing twice on ABC Radio National to attack the program, both at breakfast and in his own Health Report program, Dr Norman Swan said what made him “really angry” was the was the effect it might have on indigenous Australians, who are especially likely to suffer from high cholesterol.
    “If you were an Aboriginal person watching that program you would think: I don’t need to be on cholesterol lowering medication, I don’t need to worry about it,” he said.
    “Cholesterol reduction is one of the few things that you can do for Aboriginal people safely, through statins which will save their lives, even though they have not had a stroke, because they are at high absolute risk.”

  25. @John Quiggin
    John in response to your points at #15: that various claims aren’t identical or even similar doesn’t make them consequently contradictory. I believe every sceptic in the program agreed on the crucial point at the heart of the argument, that for people without existing heart disease statins do not improve life or health expectancy. You appear to believe that in otherwise healthy people lower cholesterol levels are better; I think there’s no good, uncontradicted evidence for that. If it did exist the answer would be diet and exercise not a drug. My understanding is that the best science suggests that people eating a healthy diet and exercising ought to forget about their cholesterol levels. I’m sure the studies behind the specialist opnions informing the GPs many so-far well people are seeing for their statin scripts suggest differently; I think they’re probably bad studies, contradicted by better ones.

    Demasi’s people from Harvard Medical, UCSD and UCSF are conflicted in what way are you saying?

    To get a clear insight in medical science you need to integrate across most of the published literature on a subject, understanding the strengths, weaknesses and outright flaws of multiple papers that are using different methodologies, studying different patient cohorts of differing races, sexes, diets, ages, comordities, confounders etc etc. Some studies are good but inconclusive, others are wannabe definitive but, as it happens, wrong.

    Then – not publishing in the best scientific journals does not one a charlatan make! As I’ve said I found the claims made in the first episode at worst inoffensive and they – the significant claims that I noticed – were backed up by the bona fide scientists in the second. You’re not a charlatan merely because you’re criticising the medical establishment and not publishing in the peer-reviewed literature (which is the gold standard, not the lowest barrier to entry in a debate). If you’re contradicting peer-reviewed science from outside then you want to be good, clearly, but it’s not breaking any law of nature to do it.

    On atorvastatin I don’t agree with you on the importance of patent expiry and don’t recall from the program whether anyone in it did (or should have) either. But if you care then I think, anyway, the fact could work either way. For instance downward price pressure on off-patent Lipitor from market competition encourages both search for a patentable replacement but also keenness to in the interim capitalise on the brand and sell more. Persuading somebody to lower their cholesterol target recommendations would help there – Lipitor has brand recognition and reputation from which to profit.

    I don’t much care what the Heart Foundation is saying about cholesterol levels, or anything else, and neither should others with an interest in improving their health. Sorry! The truth in this case is too simple: eat sensibly, do some exercise, run from the quacks with their nostrums.

    Btw please no smugness from climate science denialists reading this. Once again: money can be seen to be corrupting medical science as it does climate delusionals and frauds on the industry-friendly side of that argument, not the (real) scientists.

    Let’s be pragmatic, finally – how often do you expect to see a one hour pop science program on the ineptitude of the medical establishment position on something or other get embraced warmly by said establishment with sincere bleats of “You’re right we’ll try to do better!”? Is that a plausible scenario? It wouldn’t be the “establishment” position did it not come with all the finery and trappings and impressive testimonials (drug company studies).

  26. @jon frankis

    You shouldn’t give comfort to the sceptics you oppose by indulging in such failures of logic. I mean that to say that
    “Climate science itself is a multi-billion dollar industry sustained by the AGW theory” is perfectly compatible with the core of your your counter assertion “No, it’s a science which is opposed by the far larger, in money and morals-corruptibility terms, fossil fuel industry.”

    Which brings me to actually interesting points and questions (at least a question interesting to me because I don’t know the answers).

    Little has been said here about Damasi’s point about adverse research results not being made available (without having to go to the very active lengths of the US Secret Service to cover up the unfortunate accident as alleged in the very plausible film explaining what really happened when JFK was shot). Surely that is the really important issue arising from the facts she discussed.

    And a question about all that money that is allegedly supporting “AGW does not threaten disaster” science. Anecdotally the boot is sometimes said to be on the other foot. How do you get funding (or employment or promotion), I have heard complained, if you aren’t following an IPCC compatible line? Obviously there is an enormous weight of money that has followed the initial governmental impetus to set up the IPCC and to make the Kyoto and later agreements but, apart from apparently well-founded allegations that the Koch brothers, who make a lot of money from coal (I assume unchecked) and pay a few economy class air fares to speak at Heatland Institute meetings on AGW, what is the real balance of funding and career advancement?

    A related question is what is to be made of the halo implicitly placed on and confined to “peer reviewed” articles. One doesn’t hear so much of it now in the climate business because it seems that the sceptics have got their own standard peer-review-referring journals up and running (I met a sceptical scientist who is on the board of one such: shades of Michael Mann of the Hockey Stick and his sturdy efforts to keep sceptics from being published). Isn’t “peer review” just an invitation for the young and naive, innocent of the ways and wiles of human nature, to sucker themselves? Given the appalling record of medical journals exposed by Ioannis why wouldn’t the follow up discussions by article and letter be a better alternative (including ones commissioned from those who would otherwise be peer reviewers – who would of course be under much greater pressure to perform competently, diligently and honestly if their views and reasons were published with their names attached!)? And if, as seems prima facie obvious, it would be best to publish more and publish quicker, relying on also presenting the reader with the opinions of peers in response, why doesn’t it happen? Presumably because – Prof Q as economist help me here please – the editors and their journals thrive financially and in prestige on scarcity.

    It would be easy to set up an Aunt Sally consisting of the alleged consequences of providing several times the space for publication of prolific and ambitious young researchers (prolific in their writing anyway) but it is surely not beyond the wit of the world of science – or even ltierature – to devise alternative means of quality control? Indeed anything which more or less guaranteed publication of replications of important research would surely be a huge leap forward.

  27. @John Quiggin
    I believe talk of “safe” cholesterol levels in someone like yourself with no history of heart disease, who at the time was exercising quite a bit and let’s suppose eating a reasonable diet (not too much of anything, particularly sugar and processed foodstuffs, with some veges and fruit in the mix) is mistaken. I agree with the scientists and others in the Catalyst program who share that opinion, and the scientific studies that support it. When your cholesterol rose above what you thought were desirable levels – there isn’t good evidence to support concerns on that score even if your diet wasn’t as good as it could have been.

  28. The relevant Wikipedia article covers all the major controversies in a much more informative and balanced fashion

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statins

    So, it’s hard to sustain a claim that evidence is being suppressed, and very hard to see what contribution a program like this is making to public understanding of the issues

  29. @MikeH

    Thanks for this. A pretty fair summary, I thought. For those who haven’t found it already, The Conversation is an excellent source of (mostly, though not always) well presented academic analysis of a wide range of topics.

  30. Dr Norman Swan:

    “People will die as a result of the Catalyst program unless people understand at heart what the issues are,” Dr Norman Swan told an ABC radio audience.

    Appearing twice on ABC Radio National to attack the program, both at breakfast and in his own Health Report program, Dr Norman Swan said what made him “really angry” was the effect it might have on indigenous Australians, who are especially likely to suffer from high cholesterol.

    Whoever is responsible for airing this program should be axed.

  31. Tnx for good links MikeH and rog. Mel you might like to distract yourself for 60 seconds by reading one of them. Norman Swan is a radio presenter, btw.

  32. The Heart Foundation has made available an enormous amount of research and analysis to back their position statements. Catalyst has ignored this evidence and based their program on the opinion of an anonymous blogger?

  33. Right, excellent … removing the www. as well to skip the idiot moderation filter:

    @rog
    Never heard of NNT before you linked to their fair and reasonable single page comment rog. You may have some beef with their team makeup as well as your comment above, how would I know?
    thennt.com/about-thennt-team/

    That Lomborg character made available “an enormous amount of research” in the bibliography to that foolish book he wrote, rog. You consequently loved his “work” did you? Does his work still inform your opinions on climate science, given the “enormous amount of research” in his endnotes? Cool.

  34. Jon Frankis:

    Norman Swan is a radio presenter, btw.

    Actually Dr Norman Swan has a very impressive resume:

    One of the first medically qualified journalists in Australia, Dr Swan was born in Scotland, graduated in medicine from the University of Aberdeen and later obtained his postgraduate qualifications in Paediatrics.

    A famous example of Dr Swan’s work is his much publicised and controversial investigative program on scientific fraud and the well-known gynaecologist Dr William McBride. The program exposed fraudulent research, sending shock waves throughout the medical world and led to Dr William McBride being de-registered. It earned Dr Swan the 1988 Australian Writers’ Guild Award for best documentary and a Gold Walkley.

    In 2004 he was awarded the Medal of the Australian Academy of Science, an honour that had only been given three times and the Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow made him a Fellow. In 2006 he was given a Doctorate of Medicine Hon Causa by the University of Sydney during its medical school’s 150th anniversary.

    Norman Swan is known outside Australia. He has been the Australian correspondent for the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British Medical Journal and consulted for the World Health Organisation in Geneva on global priorities in health research, putting evidence into health policy and clinical trial registration.

    By way of contrast, how about you tell us about your own qualifications? Year 12 at Pimble Community College, perhaps?

    You might also like to tell us if you think HIV/AIDS and vaccines are also Big Pharma hoaxes. Plenty of websites quote credentialled scientists who claim as such. What about fluoride? Some nutjobs argue fluoridated water rots your teeth and therefore makes the corrupt dental industry billions.

  35. That’s an awful lot of money (from ABC):

    Global healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has agreed to pay more than $US2.2 billion to settle allegations of fraudulently marketing drugs and paying kickbacks to promote their sales.

  36. @jon frankis Instead of entering into complex debates on medical science, an area in which I freely admit to having no skill, I was wondering if you could answer this simple question; is a TV presenter more or less qualified to give medical advice than a radio presenter?

  37. @rog
    Yes nice one rog. I think Norman Swan, on the few occasions I’ve heard him, has been doing good work lately. On this issue you might suppose his prior personal opinion to likely be worth as much as Demasi’s. OTOH there have been too many personal opinions aired on this issue already, his one of the louder, more gullible and presumptuous ones IMHO. But really his and Demasi’s personal opinions are peripheral, aren’t they? For each of theirs there’d be tens of equivalents, and more betters, in this country alone.

  38. I also thank MikeH for the link to the article at The Conversation. Much more balanced and informative altho I strongly disagree with the conclusion that the program should have been put to air.

    Maryanne Demasi should be sacked immediately.

  39. Can I also say that although I often have profound reservations about the intellectual integrity of programs broadcast on ABC, The Health Report has, in my experience always been of the highest quality.

    Based on my familiarity with The Health Report Norman Swan seems to me to be someone of impeccable integrity, intellectual acumen and professionalism and a first rate broadcaster as well.

  40. @Fran Barlow
    That’s well said I think. Asked before his injection of himself into Demasi’s story I’d have put it similarly (on slight acquaintance only, with my opinion having improved over time); the unhappier tone from me was at any rate purely context-dependent.

  41. Well worth Prof Q’s raising the issues but should we be too fussed about the ABC’s performance? After all it is the ABC and a high proportion of those of its audience who remember what they saw or heard are probably capable of working their way through to the simple conclusion that it looks like a very good idea to take your statins if you have anything but a low LDL level (and relatively high HDL level) and aren’t at low risk because of healthy blood pressure readings, no insulin or sugar problems, aged ancestors, trim waist line, healthy diet, no smoking and plenty of exercise. Bad luck if side effects afflict you but then you can easily conclude that you had better work harder on the other risk factors which cost more effort than taking statins.

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