Organic Versus GMO Soy, Isoflavones, Red Herrings and Junk Science

Posted on 21 Oct 2011 19:17

I wanted to make a quick post about the review, The Role Of Soy In Vegetarian Diets. After reading this, what I want everyone to notice is just WHAT the concerns about soy are centered on and what they are not. The concerns about soy have been centered on its isoflavone content as you can read about in the article. Mercola and many others seem to want to "shift" the debate to organic versus non-organic soy crops. This is called a "red herring" and is a signal that these writers want to deflect our attention. It's misdirection.

You see, if someone says, for instance, that soy consumption causes breast cancer, then they need to defend that claim with primary published evidence. In fact, it will be much easier for you to debunk than for them to defend. Now, if soy has implications in breast cancer (read the breast cancer section in the paper) it is because breast cancer tumors are estrogen sensitive and because soy genistein, which has estrogenic properties, stimulate the growth of these tumors. But the evidence that gave rise to this concern is without much merit…giving mice mega concentrated doses of genistein….

This evidence has nothing to do with organic soy versus GMO soy. Nothing. Yet, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see that the "evidence" that soy causes breast cancer is not very convincing. The charges are trumped up. Since we can't really defend that claim based on the evidence how do we hold up our house of cards and get others to lend their cards to it? We deflect and we draw on emotive and symbolic issues. Thus enters the "natural goodness" of organic versus the evil Frankenstein manipulations of "GMO". The red herring excuses us from presenting evidence to support our claim because most people are easily deflected and confused by this kind of misdirection. Don't buy it. Some other keys to this kind of "bad science" writing that wields influence over the public are the following:

The topics focus on things that will provoke an emotional response

The reason guys like Mercola will always be infinitely more popular and "authoritative" than sites like this or lots of other very good science blogs, etc., is that they are able to avoid an intellectual response from their readers. For something like soy, scientific talk about isoflavones and the like will not do the trick. If you think something is bad, shift the focus to an aspect of it that will SCARE people FIRST, before they start thinking. Once you've done that, the accuracy of your "reporting" will not be scrutinized. It's a hook. For soy, you don't talk about genistein, etc, you talk about genetic modification even though this has nothing to do with the specific charges against soy, which centers on its estrogenic properties; present regardless of whether it is GMO or organic. You may be able to imply or at least to get your readers to infer that genetically modified soy has "more bad stuff" without actually saying it…if so that's a good trick. The secret is in choosing the right subject matter or making the subject matter amendable to your needs.

Make a really huge deal out of little things

Nobody cares about day to day science. But most science is day to day and not revolutionary. The secrets of the universe do not get discovered and the laws of physics do not get overturned. The same is true of nutrition and health related science. I can write a million blog posts about how nutrition works but ONE big deal article about even the most insignificant thing will beat them all. Even if I publish a million at once.

To do this you have to break a cardinal rule of science. You have to be certain and positive about your assertions. In fact you have to make assertions quite often, although real science doesn't. So, although the data about soy simply says that soy's health benefits and its harmful effects are questionable you have to say soy is unhealthy and dangerous! And the slightest evidence that speaks to this you must TRUMPET even though the evidence is singular and flawed.

You've almost got to make the readers think that before you combed the evidence all the scientist were sitting on their thumbs going "soy? duhhhh….". It's all so obvious to YOU.

That brings us to one of the most important secrets: The headline

Look at the name of this review I am discussing: "The Role of Soy in Vegetarian Diets". It does something the cranks and zealots would never do. It does not attempt to pre-influence the reader. It is, in fact, boring, and many many readers will skip the article because of it. Because for every reader that wants information there are five who want to be persuaded and told what to think. Anyway, there is nothing in the title which proclaims soy to be evil, dangerous or that hints at a conspiracy against the public health. Likewise there is nothing to say the opposite, that soy is the fountain of youth in a bean and will cure cancer, and that, again, there is a misinformation campaign in place against poor old soy!

Whatever you are against, make sure to represent it as part of an entrenched establishment who are bent on silencing you, the underdog

Same thing for the things you are for. The establishment wants to suppress information on those things you think are good, and they want to propagandize the things you think are bad. For nutrition and health the establishment is the government and big medicine. If you can, mention the food pyramid a lot! Food pyramid..blah blah blah…bad…blah blah blah…food pyramid government bad…blah blah blah. I like that, it sells.

If you talk about studies, never ever let the reader in on the methods of the study or the conclusions of its authors

Focus on YOU and what you think of the research. Or at least what it suits you to think of the research. Most of what the lay public knows about science is based on the interpretation of other lay people, such as journalists. Remember that to persuade your readers all science must be represented as absolute. Even though it almost never is.

The end of this review advises moderation in all dietetic areas. It advices keeping soy down to a minimum of four servings (from presumable mixed sources of soy protein) a day. You will never be a Mercola if you speak about moderation in those terms. Soy is either all bad or all good. OR, here is the real key, it is good when you want to sell it and bad when others sell it! For this, again, we have to refer back to the red herring and shifting the focus of the debate. You see, it is even smarter to shift the debate to something like GMO versus Organic than it is to misrepresent the data about the estrogenic and health giving effects of soy foods. You hook the readers emotional response and then you leave open to yourself opportunities. We could also call this post "why Eric Troy will never be rich" for that matter.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER provide links, or citations for any papers you claim to be talking about

Just don't do it! The last thing you want is for the readers to be able to read the fact that you have come to conclusions about research that the researchers themselves have not! Make them look for the obscure little study in the obscure little journal that nobody ever heard of.

Pull in the fringers

You've got to make it look like some guy writing up stuff from his living room while watching MASH reruns (me, baby!) is as important a part of the scientific debate as a bunch of people collaborating on science with University support. For those of us who've been treated to scientific rebuttals in the form of links to posts on bodybuilding forums by guys named something like "RippedFreak," you know what I mean.

When I say fringers, however, I am not talking about non-scientists. This has nothing to do with credentials. The fringers are those people who espouse scientific conclusions that differ from the large majority but who refuse to see the gaps in their own understanding. These are the people who actually think they have overturned the laws of physics and that kind of thing. They shout loudly and make it seem like there is a huge debate around their "discoveries" or conclusions, when in fact there is no debate at all.

But it goes further than that because what guys like Mercola want to do is create the illusion that they are "more objective" than true science because they do not discount those fringe elements. Even if ONE guy says different than the whole of the scientific community you've got to make it seem like there is a raging controversy! An example can be found on my review of tryptophan and tryptophan supplements. In that report I mentioned some scattered work, here and there, that differed from the consensus on the issue of the contaminated tryptophan products. Here, again, much of the focus was on the use of genetically modified bacteria to produce the tryptophan products in question.

If I had wanted to really suck people in, I should have been more "fair" to those people and acted like they were a huge shout rather than a little whimper. I could have done this in the interest of "objectivity" and "balance," when in fact it would be "bullshitivity" since the preponderance of peer-reviewed evidence is clear.

Instead, however, I tried to point out, without being downright insulting, that the reader should not over-weigh these few dissenter's views. One of the fallacies inherent in "internet science" is that all views must be represented even when some of the views are just silly if not downright ludicrous and nonscientific. I talked about this in my short post, All Opinions Are Not Equally Valid. This is a big problem with Wikipedia, in fact, since the writers are so intent on being "complete" they bring in unimportant fringe elements to subjects that simply confuse and distort them.

This page created 21 Oct 2011 19:17
Last updated 06 Aug 2016 19:16

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