How To Do A Real “Manhattan Project” Nutrition Science Initiative

Catalog Number: Fermi Enrico E13 Met Lab alumni, 1946. Fermi first row left, Szilard second from right. This team worked with Enrico Fermi during the Second World War in achieving the first self-sustained chain reaction in nuclear energy on December 2, 1942, at Stagg Field, University of Chicago. Credit: Digital Photo Archive, Department of Energy, courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives Credit: U.S. Department of Energy, Historian's Office. This image is in the Public Domain.

I guess it’s no secret I’m miffed about the whole (what I consider) NuSI debacle. If the lackluster research results and the enormously inflated time and expense to “achieve” them aren’t enough, you’ve got (what I believe to be) seriously lavish executive compensation problems in the face of turmoil with some up and quitting, while keeping their spoils. Now, they’re spending over $13 million to feed 150 college students for a few weeks, do some arithmetic, and statistics. The “non-profit” aspect boggles the mind…

“Nobody profits.” Bullshit. Lie.

I know many either don’t care, don’t think they were bamboozled with mousy results in the face of mountainous, “Manhattan Project,” hyperbole, or both. It makes many uncomfortable—enough so to just look away. It’s analogous to the political sphere. ‘If only we could get our people in power…’ without realizing that power, authority, and privileged influence is the systemic problem. Then comes the mass amnesia next time around.

So in this my last intended post on this aspect of the NuSI controversy, let me try to help in a constructive way, and at least offer what in my view would be a better way to actually accomplish a Manhattan Project in Nutrition Science Research.

First, what is the scope and scale of a Manhattan Project, and what might it cost? Well, what we do know from the project by that name that began in 1942 is that by 1945, it had cost a total of about $2 Billion in 1945 dollars, which comes out to about $25 Billion in 2016-inflated dollars. A lot of money, but at the time, was equivalent to about 10 days of wartime spending. Wrap your mind around that. Also of note is is that “over 90% of the cost was for building plants and producing the fissionable materials, and less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.

In other words, the compensation to all those involved in the project, 130,000 people, was a line-item in that 10% of the “development and production of the weapons” budget figure. I doubt anyone was getting rich, or even well-to-do. Here’s a nice, comprehensive post on the breakdown of costs for the project.

No matter which way you slice it, whether government overhead or Los Alamos, not relatively much was going to the 130,000 employees, which is in itself misleading.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 10.12.34 AM

Why is that 125 – 130,000 employee figure misleading? First, because that was just the peak.


But second, because it does not reflect the cumulative total number of people who ever worked on the project.

Now that number on the left, the total hires, is a pretty big one — over 600,000 total. Unlike the other graph, I don’t have the exact figure for this, but it looks to be around 610,000. That’s a huge number. Why would the numbers be at such odds? Because at the big sites — Oak Ridge and Hanford — there was a pretty high rate of turnover, as the “terminations” bar indicates: over 560,000 people left their jobs on the Manhattan Project by December 1946.

What about direct compensation? Rather than spend a lot of time digging up those figures, I think we can assume it was relatively modest for the average worker. So how about the big wigs, since in the case of NuSI, that’s what some, including myself, are miffed about. I’ve only gathered bits and pieces, some suggesting that in the late 30s, Oppenheimer was making about $3,500 per year and two years after leaving Los Alamos in 1945, he took up the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton for a salary of $20,000.

Here’s another clue. Richard P. Feynman.

Feynman wrote Arline, “they haven’t found out that I am a relativist yet.”

Fear sometimes clutched Feynman now. His intestines suffered chronically. He had a chest X ray: clear. Names rushed through his head: maybe Donald; if a girl, maybe Matilda. Putzie wasn’t drinking enough milk—how could he help her build her strength at this distance? They were spending $200 a month on the room and oxygen and $300 more on nurses, and $300 was the shortfall between income and expenditures. His salary as a Manhattan Project group leader: $380 a month. If they spent Arline’s savings, $3,300 plus a piano and a ring, they could cover ten more months. Arline seemed to be wasting away.

Letters went back and forth almost daily. They wrote like a boy and a girl without experience at the art of love letters. They catalogued the everyday—how much sleep, how much money.

Macy’s sent Arline an unexpected mail-order refund of forty-four cents: I feel like a millionaire … I.O.U. 22¢.

His sporadic bad digestion or swollen eyelid; her waning or waxing strength, her coughed-up blood and her access to oxygen.

They used matching stationery. It was a mail-order project of Arline’s—soon most of her relatives and many of Richard’s friends on the hill had the same green or brown block letterhead from the Dollar Stationery Company.

Ha! What do you suppose his “opportunity cost” was?

A final point on this score. Everyone always thinks The Manhattan Project was about scientists. It was, but integrate this, and then consider it a second time in light of the expenditures on the project.

Another way to look at this is to say that we usually talk about the atomic bomb as a project focused on scientific research. But one could arguably say that it was more a project of industrial production instead. This is actually quite in line with how General Groves, and even J. Robert Oppenheimer, saw the problem of nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer, in testimony before Congress in 1945, went so far as to phrase it this way:

“I think it is important to emphasize [the role of industry in the Manhattan Project], because I deplore the tendency of myself and my colleagues to pretend that with our own hands we actually did this job. We had something to do with it. If it had not been for scientists, there would have been no atomic bomb; but if there had been only scientists, there also would be no atomic bomb.”

This is actually a very important point, and one which shines light onto a lot of other questions regarding nuclear weapons. For example, one of the questions that people ask me again and again is how close the Germans were to getting an atomic bomb. The answer is, more or less, not very close at all. Why not? Because even if their scientific understanding was not too far away — which it was not, even though they were wrong about several things and behind on several others — they never came close to the stage that would be necessary to turn it into an industrial production program, as opposed to just a laboratory understanding. That sheer fact is much more important than whether Heisenberg fully understood the nature of chain reactions or anything like that.

So, let’s design a real Manhattan Project Nutritional Science Initiative, shall we?

First, let’s learn our lessons:

Grant Whores Need Not Apply

I know there are plenty of good scientists who apply for and work off grants, but there is a problem.

Camp Bias Is Not The Problem, System Bias Is The Problem

Again, this is modeled already in politics. Everyone has a bias, whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal or whatever (intentionally ambiguous Oxford comma omission). Everyone spends inordinate time pointing out the bias in all other camps when what overshadows it all is a collective bias in the system.

The problem is not with bias per se. That’s the given. The problem is  bias towards a system, so the bias is systemic in both a direct and an indirect way. It’s baked into the cake. The problem is the cake recipe, and not which incorporated ingredients are the more right ingredients according to the bias of cake bakers.

…And gluten-free isn’t going to help.

The Problem Requires Nuts and Bolts, And Not Highly Compensated Authorities Or Influence Peddlers

NuSI is an example of how when one works inside the system, the system eats you up. There’s lots of money in the world. There’s lots of care. There’s lot’s of charity. Charity itself is a huge market. People are good and noble, and everything they say about them is true. Focussed misanthrope I am, I like to say that I like the idea of people, but I know it’s just curmudgeonry.

The question is, are people up for this, and if so, are they up for it where the stakeholders are the primary drivers of system, structure, procedure and accountability?

It raises the question: when are average folks who want good results for most and all—because they’re good—want to see everyone happy, yada yada, prepared to take on the task themselves, rather than giving it over to a Soviet-style hierarchy of top-down politically-motivated management by the Nomenklatura?

At what point—rather than asking whether something has been “peer reviewed”—do people instead wonder to what extent it’s been categorized, prioritized, scrutinized, classified, marginalized, proselytized, hierarchicallized, leveled, inclusivized, approved, encouraged, discouraged, rewarded, unwarranted, managed, mismanaged, and by what means it became official?

Here’s a new item just from this morning, pointing out the essence of such problems: Bennet Says He Has ‘No Answers’ for ‘Most Expensive Health Care on the Planet’ From Obamacare.

How To Tackle The Problem From a Personnel Standpoint

Everything that advances the human condition requires people. A given.

What kind of people is not a given. For those locked into the system box, or who put themselves into it as NuSI did—for reasons of credibility—want something beyond the task. Think patents, trademarks, copyrights, and on and on it flows. This is why it’s not an opportunity cost, but an “opportunity investment,” that relies upon the hierarchical, authority-baked system.

Thinking outside the box, you want two things: effectiveness and credential agnosticism. Think Linux. Think Wikipedia. Think open-source software. The point is, there are more millions of talented people who laboriously—and more can—give of their time and efforts—because they can’t not—than there are people of significant talent who won’t lift a finger without a contract, notoriety, back-end deals, and so on. There are tons of talented and able people who will Just Do It and see what happens. They have no investments in million-dollar educations and thousands of hours of schmoozing money spigots to protect.

The world is changing, naturally.

The 90%: The Sediment, Strata, Edifice, Nuts And Bolts

Unlike an experiment I predict will fail—like NuSI—to do the impossible and create and Atomic Bomb of health clarity in a few years—I instead propose the building of a city, tantamount to K-25.


The K-25 gaseous diffusion plant: the single largest and most expensive Manhattan Project site.

This wouldn’t be government or institutionally funded, so cost control is paramount. Job #1 would be to locate a very large, cheap piece of land, preferably with structures of sound foundation that can be rehabilitated and repurposed. Think of it as re-creating Epcot Center. Think Detroit for cheap and available.

In the end, you want a veritable city that, since cut off from the outside world in a very targeted manner, will require capital infusions. But, if a good to increasingly large portion of your test subjects inside the gate are employees and trade is encouraged then it could, over time, develop its own economies toward defraying project costs.

You’re building some sort of hybrid of city, campus, and “prison.”

The prison part is what the study is all about. This is the control, and the control is ALL relevant data your cold heart can imagine. And so here’s the next part of the building. All data is collected, and that’s part of the deal for being there. All food is disbursed from a number of different facilities, Epcot like, but it’s all tracked. All caloric intake is accounted for. Every calorie, and you develop better and better methods to measure it.

On the output side, all energy expenditure is tracked, and rest and sleep. Fitbit and other devices already give data for this, but it can be specialized and improved and could integrate with centralized trackers that measure each subject’s every move, 1984 style. Perhaps even implants (voluntary, of course), but the wherewithal even with fuzzy data is already there.

I don’t want to delve too deep here. Use your imagination. Essentially: people sign up for a job in a walled city, agree to have literally anything and everything measured, including the bacterial makeup of their shit.

The Software

…Notice I’m not taking about who we find to pay millions to as President, Directors, Vice Presidents, Rain Makers, Movers, or Shakers?

Capital infusion would likely be necessary—just as buying the land and building out structures—to create the foundational database. Curiously enough, this is where I have a good deal of [ancient] knowledge. It was about 1993 when Microsoft came out with Access 1.0 and I went to town with it. Having a decent background in software programming in college, I dove in an created many iterations of my own software to backbone my company in operations intelligence for over ten years. I was able to do it all on my own until the 15-employee mark and other sophistications such as interfacing with the financial transactions network and such. I had reached a point of diminishing returns for developing myself, and handed it over.

But is was another lone developer, a Pakistani who took it to many higher levels over the next five or so years, earning about a half-million over that time. We moved quick, and he could move quick.

Transparency and Wiki

This is where you really give a middle finger to NuSI-like establishment philosophy.

It’s all open source, in a Wiki-like environment, where the data collection, the database storing it all, and the front-end query and data display features evolve constantly—with everything being backward and forward compatible. All new versions subsume all previous data and all older versions with all data up to their endpoint are accessible in the version in which all was gathered, up to the point of departure to the new.

Involving the worldwide public in this way would likely ensure a constant stream of operational-capital donations (much like Wikipedia itself), such that something they can monitor with a fine-tooth comb, have an influence in changing if they’re up for the effort of it, and have access to data diversions to their heart’s content will be very enticing.

It might even motivate an evolutionary move to a new paradigm in the way such stuff is done, rather than the Soviet way.

It also could shoot off other health and fitness initiatives based entirely on the wealth of data collection. Sky. Limit.

We Already Know What it Will Show

It should be obvious that the data will show:

  1. Those in chronic caloric surplus will gain weight over time.
  2. Those in average caloric balance will sustain weight over time.
  3. Those in average caloric deficit measured against expenditure will lose weight over time.

We already know this. But, how about some deep resolution?

  1. What is it that “makes” a person eat too much, too often?
  2. What is it that “makes” some people stop at some level of such overindulgence while others just go and go an go?
  3. Is it carbs, per se?
  4. Or is it the kind of carbs? Or, the kind of fats? Or both in combination?
  5. What role does the gut biome have in all factors?
  6. Does exercise help (we know it does) more because of energy expenditure or because of hormonal or other metabolic-signalling pathways? In other words, is ‘move more, eat more or less’ a better meme than ‘eat less move more?’
  7. What role do highly engineered processed foods play? Is it more about the nutritionally vapid but calorically dense intake, or more about the potential hormonal effects that motivate more consumption while demotivating exercise?
  8. What’s the role of internet, TV, and other moveless diversions.
  9. Etc.

…It will never happen. Even though most people in the know can give pretty educated guesses about all of the foregoing, we don’t really want to know, because it would put us all (including me) out of a job or influence peddling.

…I can always blog about politics and socialist bullshit, so I’m game. But it’s really like looking at the U.S. tax Leviathan. No way there will ever be meaningful reform, because there is a multi-billion industry built around tax compliance. Yes, that’s right. We spend billions to ensure that not a single penny gets stolen from us that’s not a legal taking.

Should the U.S. actually make the tax code as simple as a few questions on a postcard, it would put millions of companies with employees out of business overnight. It would also significantly lighten the load for millions of companies, as they could lay off tons of employees in terms of bodyweight, and sever relationships with firms they pay tens and hundreds of thousands to annually in order to comply with exactly how much money is stolen from them.

That may strike you as a diversion. It’s not. Nobody is particularly interested in having final resolution into the obesity problem. Everyone has plausible deniability because everyone can say that’s what the really want, but they really don’t.

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  1. thhq on May 18, 2016 at 17:51

    Nice digging. K-25 brings back memories of interviewing at Hanford. I was not offered a job and went to grad school instead. I would have been working between the inner and outer containment walls in an old reactor building, designing million gallon double-walled waste storage tanks. They were replacing the old single wall tanks which contained boiling nuclear waste and were rusting out and leaking. They had maps that projected how long it will take for the waste to reach the water table. Science marches on. I can only guess what happened in the USSR.

    NuSI is not in the same league as the Manhattan Project. Fearless Leader Taubes earned his doctorate in spin. He doesn’t even have enough clout to carry out a decent 6 month starvation study. But if NuSI reran the Keys study using Atkins induction macros, it might qualify as the Atkins Mini Manhattan Project. We’d learn a lot more from that than from what they’ve done so far. And I think enough is known now that the patients would survive starvation Atkins.

    As Oppenheimer said in 1945 “I am become death the destroyer of worlds”. He wasn’t kidding. As Donald Duck said in 1944 “I am invincible! I am doom itself!” He was full of shit. NuSI falls in the same category. Big talk, small results.

  2. Spuds MacKenzie on May 18, 2016 at 19:01

    I feel like a K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant after a few TBS of raw potato starch. ;-)

  3. Hap on May 18, 2016 at 22:05

    Ha…..sounds like you want to build some sort of benevolent Church of Scientology..

    Lord of the flies comes to mind. The hierarchy will develop……and corruptions not far behind.

    And tax “compliance” industry. A double whammy like negative interest rates. Take your money and then you pay for the privilege of complying, then it all goes down a rat hole. What is the opportunity lost for individuals to deploy their money in pursuits of their own preference? Nothing like allocating capital in the hopes of productive enterprise.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2016 at 06:23

      Could be, Hap, but operating it roughly like Wikipedia with full transparency by concerned people in the public worldwide would be the best shot at avoiding corruption. A true non-profit where everyone sees exactly how their donations are spent and for those with the desire, an active role in the process.

  4. Resurgent on May 18, 2016 at 22:07

    Well done Richard..! Fantastic !!

    “That may strike you as a diversion. It’s not. Nobody is particularly interested in having final resolution into the obesity problem. Everyone has plausible deniability because everyone can say that’s what they really want, but they really don’t.”

    That is the nature of the Animal..! And you have done well to Free it…!!

  5. Gemma on May 19, 2016 at 05:43

    A good post. And thanks for the link to Colpo, this one:

    One has to read it till the end…

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2016 at 06:48

      Exactly, Gemma. I emailed Anthony yesterday to tell him his righteous indignation was spot on.

  6. kayumochi on May 19, 2016 at 08:16

    This from the year 1330 on how to lose weight. What do we see? Intermittent fasting. Exercise while fasting. The eating of plain foods, not rich. Bulk, fiber, vegetables. Sunshine and sex.

    “They should eat foods of little nourishment, great bulk, and quick digestion, and often bathe before they eat… they should eat many vegetables with sharp vinegar dressings… they should exercise frequently and swiftly before eating, and tolerate hunger. They should accustom themselves to eating once a day and sleeping less, and they should drink old and fine wine…. sleeping little and in a hard bed, frequent sex, and spending time in the sun and in warm houses all make a fat body become slender.”
    Maino de’ Mainieri, Regimen sanitatis

  7. Tim Steele on May 19, 2016 at 09:43

    Richard – Art Ayers has been badgering me for two years to create an app that does exactly as you suggest here. Possibly this could all be done with some free apps tracking calorie intake, health issues, food logs, etc. Let it run for a couple years and then start compiling the data or have it so people can mine the data however they please.

    That crazy “potatoes=hypertension” paper was the result of 20 years worth of food questionnaires done on paper and mailed to someone. Just think what could be done if someone linked to FitBits and iPhones.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2016 at 10:24

      I have to disagree.

      I have a Fitbit. The movement is easy and automatic. The most important part, intake, is self reported and when you want to.

      No way around it. If you really want to know, you have to have prison lockdown.

    • Hap on May 19, 2016 at 15:05


      I think you may have a good idea. RN likes the prison lockdown….I countered with the already existing Church of Scientology. they like to imprison and control shit. They have a lot of dirt on folks, so appropriately intimidating and ensuring compliance. Lots of enthusiasm. While the app thing is not perfect as RN says, it still has some merit. A lot of people would possibly buy the app or even the gizmo to participate. this would skew the results but that doesn’t mean it would be worthless. Designing the app might even provide the basis for introducing validated models in nutrition research for more wide use …by self recruitment and in a community controlled environment. If really open people would form groups and “self certify”. If Bullshit, then anyone could call them out. Could the data be corrupt …yes….could it be unreliable….yes… but not necessarily useless and perhaps even very revealing.

      And tim…if you might do a favor , if communicating with Dr Ayers….and perhaps have him contact me regarding heparin and why it might affect cardiac metabolism to switch from glucose to FFA?…or at least be an adjunct to fasting for this purpose.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2016 at 17:24

      This already exists. Get a Fitbit. You can enter every morsel of food you eat (sources USDA database).

      Problem is compliance. Some days I enter, some days I don’t, some days are half assed and it’s a total wing it estimation if you go to a restaurant. Then there’s wearing the tracker itself. I can’t stand to sleep with it.

      Nope, there is only one way to do this, and that’s the right way. If you don’t have verifiably high quality data, then you have nothing and the war just continues on because nobody can be held to accept any result since all results they don’t like are dismissed on the basis of crapy, inconsistent, incomplete, incorrect, fudged or defrauded data.

      Lockdown. Voluntary of course. And incidentally, I would envision this as a revolving door, like a job. People coming and going all the time. Thing is, while there the data is as pristine as it can be, 24/7.

  8. Edster on May 19, 2016 at 12:03

    Am I missing something? I thought that good scientific method was based on trying to *disprove* a hypothesis. I’d think it would be pretty easy to show that LC is a crock of shit. Time these folks went and read their Popper… but then again I guess there’s no easy money to be had in showing your pet theories are bullshit. If it wasn’t for RN and AC I’d need to turn to hard drink to cope!

  9. thhq1 on May 19, 2016 at 12:15

    I was too late for the Manhattan Project, and was not even involved in that mop-up operation at Hanford. But I saw a lot of it post-hand. In grad school, two of the labs in our deparment were national historic sites, one being the lab where U235 was isolated, and the other being the lab where P239 was discovered. We took King’s Separation Processes. The text is cheap on Abebooks, and is interesting because of the discussions of the processes used in the Manhattan Project. For instance, the separation coefficient to take reactive U235 out of inert U238 is miniscule. According to King the original plan was to use a large number of Lawrence’s cyclotrons to do it atom by atom.

    But then it was discovered that a slightly higher separation coefficient results from making UF6 gas and doing the separation by gas diffusion. Hence Savannah River’s huge T-25 facility.

    This was the Manhattan Project as I knew it. Thousands of acres, multiple university labs, and as much of the flow of the Columbia and Savannah Rivers as was needed for coolant. When you look out across the Hanford Reservation today you see strange ferroconcrete mesas like this one.

    Only on Planet Taubes would anyone believe that NuSI is on this scale.

  10. Cathy on May 20, 2016 at 07:42

    Richard, I know this is WAY off topic, but since I don’t do facebook or twitter, I didn’t know how to get this to your attention. This article appeared in the online version of the Wall Street Journal today and will probably be in the print edition tomorrow. I thought, in light of the wheat articles and the carb articles, too, it is apropos.

    • Hap on May 21, 2016 at 10:59

      I’m all in on this bread thing.

  11. thhq1 on May 21, 2016 at 14:27

    Read the section on the Seven Countries in the attached article if you want to see what a Manhattan Project on nutrition looks like.

    This study has a depth and scale of participation which NuSI does not have. It can be criticized for being too fat-focused. But if you read some of the individual country studies you’ll realize how far reaching it was. Japan for instance. Even Weston Price Foundation tips their hat to it.

    While WAP maintains their strong pro-saturated fat and anti-Keys biases, they mine the data collected during the study. Whether they agree with the conclusions or not, the Seven Countries defined the baseline for several Japanese populations in the 1950’s which could be followed for decades after.

    Now compare NuSI’s navel-gazing study of CICO vs Atkins weight loss dieting. It’s a lightweight study with a four hour half life, like Lawrencium. Seven Countries has a half life of 3-4 generations.

  12. […] How To Do A Real “Manhattan Project” Nutrition Science Initiative […]

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