If you have the passion for it, all you new bloggers out there (I’m watching a lot of you), don’t give up. Pound it out daily, if you can. I had been prepping a post about a few who have really been doing some good work lately who’ve maybe not been getting the recognition they might deserve.
Here’s why you don’t stop. Because you’ll get emails like this, eventually.
I came across your blog searching for critiques of the China Study, and read (with great amusement) the giant thread on Amazon where Campbell made some appearances.
Back in May I tracked down a copy of the original China Study data, and I’ve spent a great deal of time analyzing the correlations and crunching numbers. Mainly I focused on seeing whether animal foods were as closely linked to disease as Campbell insinuated. Of course, they aren’t. Not by a long shot. So I posted all the data and information I accumulated, along with numerous graphs, on my blog.
I also just finished a lengthy critique of Campbell’s book where I put all of the above info in one place.
One thing you’ll never hear Campbell mention, nor have I seen other China Study skeptics come across, is the health of one unique county in China called Tuoli. Unlike the rest of China, the Tuoli ate 40% of their diet as fat, ate 134 grams of animal protein per day (twice as much as the average American), and rarely ate vegetables or other plant foods. According to the China Study data, these people were extremely healthy with low rates of cancers and heart disease… healthier, in fact, than many of the counties that were nearly vegan. (No big shocker there, but it’s something Campbell completely ignores.)
I don’t know if you even have any lingering interest in this stuff, given that your blog posts were from many months ago — but I thought I’d pass this along for you to use as additional ammo if you ever find yourself in another China Study debate with Campbell or other vegans.
Take care, and thanks for the awesome blog.
That’s from Denise Minger, of Raw Food SOS blog. I spent most of my time going over her tens of thousands of words demolishing The China Study and by extension, T. Collin Campbell. Oh, yea, she was a raw veg*n for a decade, though I’ve not spent a lot of time getting into her history & background. While I’d love nothing more than to say what I really think (about Campbell), I’m not going to do that and risk disillusionment on the part of any poor soul who really, finally, needs to see the real story for him or herself.
Should I steal any thunder? There’s lots (of thunder). It’s tempting, and I had already resolved to go at it until I finished reading and putting this post together — and it’s very late. So tempting, but Denise deserves all the credit for herself. Get this: There is no critique of The China Study that comes anywhere close to the exhaustiveness of Denise’s work. Sorry, but Chris Masterjohn and Anthony Colpo must now take a back seat. But given the undue, misguided popularity of Campbell’s book, combined with the dated nature of those past critiques (in calendar terms only), I doubt either of those guys are going to be dismayed at this new and astounding work.
I’m merely the messenger, thankful for it. And this goes to the opening paragraph, folks. When you read some of this, devastatingly contra a best-selling book and effing right, you’ll understand what a special thing it can be to do what we do. So stick with it and be as good at it as you can be.
Here are the links.
Meta link: The China Study
There are a number of articles dealing with the actual raw data, graphs, great commentary. Please browse and/or study each one.
Finally, here is the link that sums it all up, a 9,000 word masterpiece, The China Study: Fact or Fallacy. I’ll quote from the summary.
Apart from his cherry-picked references for other studies (some of which don’t back up the claims he cites them for), Campbell’s strongest arguments against animal foods hinge heavily on:
Associations between cholesterol and disease, and
His discoveries regarding casein and cancer.
For #1, it seems Campbell never took the critical step of accounting for other disease-causing variables that tend to cluster with higher-cholesterol counties in the China Study—variables like schistosomiasis infection, industrial work hazards, increased hepatitis B infection, and other non-nutritional factors spurring chronic conditions. Areas with lower cholesterol, by contrast, tended to have fewer non-dietary risk factors, giving them an automatic advantage for preventing most cancers and heart disease. (The health threats in the lower-cholesterol areas were more related to poor living conditions, leading to greater rates of tuberculosis, pneumonia, intestinal obstruction, and so forth.)
Even if the correlations with cholesterol did remain after adjusting for these risk factors, it takes a profound leap in logic to link animal products with disease by way of blood cholesterol when the animal products themselves don’t correlate with those diseases. If all three of these variables rose in unison, then hypotheses about animal foods raising disease risk via cholesterol could be justified. Yet the China Study data speaks for itself: Animal protein doesn’t correspond with more disease, even in the highest animal food-eating counties—such as Tuoli, whose citizens chow down on 134 grams of animal protein per day.
Nor is the link between animal food consumption and cholesterol levels always as strong as Campbell implies. For instance, despite eating such massive amounts of animal foods, Tuoli county had the same average cholesterol level as the near-vegan Shanyang county, and a had a slightly lower cholesterol than another near-vegan county called Taixing. (Both Shanyang and Taixing consumed less than 1 gram of animal protein per day, on average.) Clearly, the relationship between animal food consumption and blood cholesterol isn’t always linear, and other factors play a role in raising or lowering levels.
For #2, Campbell’s discoveries with casein and cancer, his work is no doubt revelatory. I give him props for dedicating so much of his life to a field of disease research that wasn’t always well-received by the scientific community, and for pursuing so ardently the link between nutrition and health. Unfortunately, Campbell projects the results of his casein-cancer research onto all animal protein—a leap he does not justify with evidence or even sound logic.
As ample literature indicates, other forms of animal protein—particularly whey, another component of milk—may have strong anti-cancer properties. Some studies have examined the effect of whey and casein, side-by-side, on tumor growth and cancer, showing in nearly all cases that these two proteins have dramatically different effects on tumorigenesis (with whey being protective). A study Campbell helped conduct with one of his grad students in the 1980s showed that the cancer-promoting abilities of fish protein depended on what type of fat is consumed alongside it. The relationship between animal protein and cancer is obviously complex, situationally dependent, and bound with other substances found in animal foods—making it impossible extrapolate anything universal from a link between isolated casein and cancer.
On page 106 of his book, Campbell makes a statement I wholeheartedly agree with:
Everything in food works together to create health or disease. The more we think that a single chemical characterizes a whole food, the more we stray into idiocy.
It seems ironic that Campbell censures reductionism in nutritional science, yet uses that very reductionism to condemn an entire class of foods (animal products) based on the behavior of one substance in isolation (casein).
In sum, “The China Study” is a compelling collection of carefully chosen data. Unfortunately for both health seekers and the scientific community, Campbell appears to exclude relevant information when it indicts plant foods as causative of disease, or when it shows potential benefits for animal products. This presents readers with a strongly misleading interpretation of the original China Study data, as well as a slanted perspective of nutritional research from other arenas (including some that Campbell himself conducted).
In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. His education and experience is no doubt impressive, but the “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking. Ultimately, I believe Campbell was influenced by his own expectations about animal protein and disease, leading him to seek out specific correlations in the China Study data (and elsewhere) to confirm his predictions.
It’s no surprise “The China Study” has been so widely embraced within the vegan and vegetarian community: It says point-blank what any vegan wants to hear—that there’s scientific rationale for avoiding all animal foods. That even small amounts of animal protein are harmful. That an ethical ideal can be completely wed with health. These are exciting things to hear for anyone trying to justify a plant-only diet, and it’s for this reason I believe “The China Study” has not received as much critical analysis as it deserves, especially from some of the great thinkers in the vegetarian world. Hopefully this critique has shed some light on the book’s problems and will lead others to examine the data for themselves.
There you have it. Go get it. Link widely, please. If you link here, appreciated, but be sure to link to the referenced articles directly as well.
More: Here’s a roundup of all the blogs that have helped spread the word (37 at the time of this update): The China Study Smackdown Roundup.