Dr. Katz is a prominent advocate of plant-based diets, an impassioned supporter of the current Dietary Guidelines, and an outspoke critic not just of low carbohydrate diets but also of those who advocate for the usefulness of such diets.
I’ve previously critiqued Katz’s science (e.g. his mischaracterization of Gary Taubes’ “carbohydrate insulin hypothesis” of obesity) on this blog.
But my point in writing today is not to debate the quality (or lack thereof) of his arguments but rather to build the case that science journalists might be well served to reconsider quoting Dr. Katz as an objective expert on nutrition.
Many respected publications quote Dr. Katz, making it seem like he’s a non-biased arbiter. For example:
- Here (Wall Street Journal)
- Here (New York Times)
- Here (The Atlantic) (in which he’s quoted as saying: “I don’t have a dog in the fight… I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth.”)
By contrast, when publications quote other authorities, like Nina Teicholz, Gary Taubes or Dr. Jeff Volek, they almost always include caveats to the effect of “low carbohydrate diet advocate, Gary Taubes” or “Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, a book defending eating meat and cheese” or “Jeff Volek, low carbohydrate diet researcher.”
This is a double standard, and I think it should stop.
Why not similarly qualify Dr. Katz along the lines of “plant-based diet advocate Dr. David Katz” or “prominent low carbohydrate diet critic, Dr. David Katz”?
All I’m asking for here is balance.
Part of my frustration with Dr. Katz in particular flows from recent investigations that suggest behavior that I find troubling.
On September 30, for instance, investigative reporter and journalist, Peter Heimlich, known for blowing the whistle on shady science conducted by his famous father, wrote about allegations that Dr. Katz promoted his own book on Amazon via a pseudonymous review in the Huffington Post. (Update 11/14 – Heimlich now reports that this review has been taken down.)
Shortly thereafter, the Yale Daily News investigated this story further. Among other things, the YDN quoted Fred Brown, a spokesman for the Society of Professional Journalists: “Brown said the Huffington Post review violated basic journalistic standards. “It ain’t ethical,” Brown said. “You should not review something without revealing you wrote it.””
Meanwhile, across the pond, blogger and journalist Dean Sterling Jones pursued this story further. His three part series is worth a read as well:
Others, such as David Colquhoun, have taken issue with Dr. Katz.
Per Nina Teicholz, meanwhile, here are more serious charges that (at least to my jaded eyes) challenge his assertion that: “I don’t have a dog in the fight… I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth.”
1) “Katz is also supported by Hershey’s, Quaker Oats, and JuicePlus, who sell the kind of high-carb products that he promotes in his work”
2) “Katz charges $3500 an hour, according to his deposition, to consult with companies, including Chobani, for whom he [was] hired to defend the sugar content of its yogurt.”
Look, I’m a partisan in all this, and I have my biases. Nevertheless, I argue that it’s incumbent upon science journalists in high profile publications like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Atlantic to at the very least cite the potential biases in the experts they quote. Readers deserve to know the underlying motivations of those who claim expertise in this field. If someone has been paid $3500/hour to defend the sugar content in yogurt, that person should not be represented as an unbiased expert on the science of dietary sugar. Period. Full stop.
I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.