Michael Fumento Loses It Over Bloggers

I’ve always been a fan of Michael Fumento, even when I disagreed with him, so it’s extremely disappointing to see Fumento lose his cool in this fallacy-filled attack on bloggers and blogging.

Fumento has a legitimate complaint about a handful of bloggers, but choses to react with ad hominems and hasty generalizations about bloggers in general.

It’s interesting that he uses the exact same tactics against bloggers that people on the Left have tried to use against him over the years.

Fumento really has a blind spot when it comes to weight loss issues. His entire career, for example, has been spent pointing out that epidemiological studies that find very small increased risks aren’t all that reliable. But when it comes to weight gain, his book on the topic includes charts pushing claims of very small risk factors for being slightly above a person’s ideal BMI. A few years ago, Reason published my letter-to-the-editor making exactly this point,

Weighty Questions

Jacob Sullum’s review of Michael Fumento’s Fat of the Land and Richard Klein’s Eat Fat (“Fat Chances,” February) was disappointing since it didn’t address head on the dispute between Fumento and Klein over the evidence that obesity contributes to increased mortality. This is important because in his zeal to attack gluttony, Fumento appears to directly contradict previous claims he has made about the reliability of epidemiological studies to measure increased mortality.

In a 1995 op-ed piece, for example, Fumento refers to a study that found secondhand smoke was associated with a 19 percent increase in mortality and concludes, “At the time, many people including myself criticized the EPA report, saying [with] such a small apparently increased risk (so tiny, in fact, that the medical community has rejected much larger ratios as being conclusive on other potential carcinogens)…that the tiniest problem could throw the whole thing off.”

But now Fumento apparently accepts American Cancer Society claims that men 19 percent overweight have a 15 percent increased likelihood of death. What ever happened to the difficulty with “such a small apparently increased risk”?

Fumento also repeats the claim that 300,000 people die every year from obesity, but as Marcia Angell wrote in a recent New England Journal of Medicine editorial, “[A]lthough some claim that every year 300,000 deaths in the United States are caused by obesity, that figure is by no means well established. Not only is it derived from weak or incomplete data, but it is also called into question by the methodological difficulties of determining which of many factors contribute to premature death.”

As Steve Milloy of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition put it, the 300,000 figure is “classic junk science.” Apparently the limitations and difficulties of epidemiology, which Fumento discusses so well in his book Science Under Siege, are irrelevant when one strikes out on a crusade to save people from themselves.

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