Nina Teicholz, Integrity and The Big Fat Disguise

Consider this dilemma. Your child comes home from school excited to be holding a certificate for Student of the Week but looks troubled. When you ask if everything is OK, the answer comes out, “Mom and Dad, my teacher made a mistake in counting the points this week. I know it. I saw it. It really should have been Adrianna that won but when she announced it everyone was clapping and I didn’t have a moment to say anything. What should I do?” Would you tell her to keep the award? Enjoy the applause? Or would you have a heart to heart about honesty, integrity, humility and personal growth and give parental advice to tell the teacher in the morning about the mistake and give the certificate back so Adrianna could be recognized?

Journalist Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise faced a similar dilemma recently but her actions speak loudly as to her character. Unlike the scenario above, she reveled in a celebration she was the center of but did not stand up to correct a gross error that stained the event. Let me explain.

A medical lecture was delivered on February 12, 2017 at a conference at the Zurich Heart House by noted cardiovascular researcher Salim Yusuf, MD. This lecture has precipitated a number of unusual developments in the annals of academia and social media. I have written recently about the presentation and inaccurate and offensive statements made by Dr. Yusuf. Within hours of my article being published, the presentation was taken down from the Zurich Heart House website and social media channels. During Dr. Yusuf’s talk, he spent 20 minutes presenting unpublished data on nutrition and the final 2 minutes praising Teicholz and slandering the 18 prominent and elderly or deceased researchers of the Seven Countries Study (SCS). Currently, on most sites where the lecture was posted, you will find an unusual warning that the talk is no longer available due to a copyright claim by the Zurich Heart House.

Before my article was published, and before the Zurich Heart House removed the video, there was a “celebration” building on social media due to the support Dr. Yusuf gave to followers of low-carb high fat (LCHF) diets and to Nina Teicholz as their leader (despite the medical reports that LCHF diets are related to increased mortality long term). Within a few days of posting on social media, Dr. Yusuf’s obscure nutrition lecture had over 20,000 views on You Tube including dozens of shares on Teicholz’s Twitter feed. On February 18 Teicholz began posting a special version of Yusuf’s talk limited to the praise he heaped on her nutrition writings accompanied by her picture and picture of her book cover. The post indicated that “Teicholz can celebrate with this huge endorsement from the past president”.

After my article about Yusuf, and the attention it brought to the lecture, there have been even more strange events in scientific circles. A few days ago the Zurich Heart House published a statement indicating that Dr. Yusuf had not agreed to give permission to have his talk recorded and broadcast. Hence it was removed. The statement went on to state that “Professor Yusuf acknowledges that he made an error in one part of his talk. He had concerns about an analysis published by Keys based on data from governmental information from SIX countries. (A careful analysis of the data published by Keys and the discrepancies are described by Zoe Harcombe on Twitter). Professor Yusuf mistakenly referred to this analysis from SIX countries as being from the SEVEN countries study. His remarks were not intended to refer to the SEVEN countries study. For that, he apologizes to the investigators of the SEVEN country studies.”

It was certainly appropriate and gracious of Dr. Yusuf to acknowledge his errors that sullied the reputation of 18 prominent researchers. He did not go so far as to indicate that his allegations that the investigators “fudged” data were misbegotten. He may have picked up the term “fudged” directly from a talk that Teicholz gave containing the same wording and allegation. It is certainly odd that an academic organization like the Zurich Heart House chose to link their statement of explanation to a blogger Zoe Harcombe, popular in the LCHF world, rather than my own evaluation of the data or that of the analysis by a respected researcher like Henry Blackburn, MD.

So how does the Yusuf affair, what I call Yusuf’s Folly, and Ms. Teicholz’s social media celebration resemble the tainted student award I mentioned at the beginning? Nina Teicholz was well aware that the presentation by Dr. Yusuf in his last minute of lecturing regarding the Seven Countries Study was a gross misrepresentation of the scientific body of work that spanned the world and lasted decades resulting in many peer reviewed publications. She should have known that there were 18 respected researchers, some dead and some elderly, being accused of fudging data regarding “23 countries”, a travesty of poor fat checking by Dr. Yusuf and totally in error. She could have considered that reputations of respected scientists were being inappropriately tarnished by Dr. Yusuf, one of the world’s most prominent cardiovascular researchers. However Ms. Teicholz chose not to speak up and correct the errors recited by Dr. Yusuf to her large following on social media. She chose not to distance herself from the slander even though she knew it was such. Rather she joined in the “party” and bathed in the limelight that was building. When I called her out on it on Twitter she responded on 2/21/17 that Yusuf “simply misspoke” and on the same day that he made a “slip up by Dr. Yusuf inconsequential”. Where was her integrity in terms? Where was her commitment to scientific accuracy? Where was her compassion for the SCS researchers and their families who have been dragged through the mud again and again by inaccurate blog statements? Where was her scientific orientation that the issue was important to the health and life of millions who follow her words? It was absent, silent, and missing.

I am a physician caring for thousands of patients annually and my recommendations in my office and in my writings have an impact on many people’s health and survival. Although I write and blog on medical topics and nutrition as Teicholz does, apparently she takes her position much more lightly and with far less concern for honesty and accuracy. In my opinion, The Big Fat Disguise is a journalist who rushes to accept the praise but won’t take a moment to correct an egregious scientific error. Buyer beware if you follow her advice for your health. It is a selfish and disingenuous source.