The problem with freedom of speech

We have an election coming up and I am all for freedom, but in response to an article sent to me for evaluation on a widely read internet site, I wrote the piece below. The central theme of the article was, just because there were two well-publicized “fish oil no good for your heart” reports this year, fish is still good for you, because it’s food not a supplement.

I wish people who write about health matters on the internet would learn to read studies and do a tiny, tiny little bit of research on the internet itself, before writing misinformation. After thousands of studies have shown that fish oil supplements are at least as beneficial as eating fish and do not contain mercury, you once again advance the ridiculous concept that there is something magical in fish that is not found in fish oil. The active ingredient is, was and always will be Omega 3 fatty acids, in both fish and fish oil, when it comes to disease prevention.

Next, instead of placing all the weight on one or two studies, it would make more sense to look at the big picture and comment on that. There are thousands of positive studies on fish oil. This one was NOT A STUDY. It was a meta analysis, a tool used to generate quick inexpensive publications that are totally dependent on data input. The data used in this one went back to 1987, long before any of the highly purified ethyl ester fish oils were available and no attempts were made to assure its validity, other than “looking at the study”. Next, there was no attempt to control, for some of the most important confounding variables, like the increasing use of cardiovascular meds. Next, no attempt was made at measuring the Omega 6/3 ratios, to establish effective treatment levels – the usual dose was “one a day”. These last two comments also apply to the Origin-Grace study, which was NOT a fish oil study by design. It was used to study Glargine (lantus) insulin efficacy in diabetics and was funded by Sanofi, the makers of said insulin. The fish oil group was a sub group analysis. The results of fish oil’s “failure” (actually, it was reported as having no effect) were released as giant headlines, weeks before a tiny headline, noting the failure of Lantus to prevent progression of heart disease. In this study, over 50% of the participants were also on statins, aspirin and other anti-diabetic drugs. No attempt was made to look at the role these drugs might have played in the progression of heart disease or the interference with insulin or fish oil. The rash of the “Fish oil no good for your heart” clearly defrayed the public and physician (!) attention away from the failure of Lantus insulin.

This Emax piece, sent to me, is just another in a long line of “articles” that simply make conclusions based on parroting back misinformation. I know it takes a little time to actually read a study, learn about what it really says and you might miss the window of public interest on the internet (God forbid), but you might actually have something valuable to add to reality.

This is the similar logic that goes on when people write that telomerase causes cancer. Several years ago, one of the Nobel Laureates raised the theoretical concern and now it is gospel truth, with no one bothering to look at all the research and growth in knowledge that answers that concern definitively.

This is the same stuff when people write to me about the “work” done by an electrical engineer who was convicted of deception, in Texas surrounding supplements he was selling: Brian Peskin.

This individual has used his “professorship” status to garner the term “doctor” and make statements about your health, particularly regarding dangerous effects of Omega 3’s. Classic example.

This is the problem with the internet. There is no mechanism to check the validity of who and what is being said, other than the reader doing a little extra research. If it is advertised well enough, it becomes “truth” until someone finds out the real truth and disabuses people of their misconceptions. Sadly, this process takes an extra 30 seconds and no one does it. It would take another 30 seconds, to actually read the study, instead of just reflexively responding to the headline. That tallies up to be about 1 minute no one can spare.

I guess it is only going to get worse. I had a “discussion” with my friend’s 12 year old daughter a month or so ago, about why no one uses email any more. “It’s too slow!!” she said, emphatically. So, we had a race – her text vs. my email. She won, beating me by 17 seconds. I had to ask myself what is so friggin’ important, in the life of a 12 year old, that 17 seconds has become too long to wait. And here I am expecting adults to do a minute’s worth of work.

Freedom of speech was designed to protect the rights of individuals, to express different and dissenting opinions. The key word is “opinion”. Spreading scientific misinformation about factual events has another name. It’s called BS. Of course if there were a law to protect us from that, we would have no internet and probably no government either!

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