The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Journo skewers University of Sydney scientists on shonky sugar study

By Rory Robertson (Economist and former-fattie)

I'm arguing near and far for the retraction of a deeply flawed scientific paper - The Australian Paradox - published by Dr Alan Barclay and Professor Jennie Brand-Miller last year in the journal Nutrients.

Background: The University of Sydney scientists last year claimed a profound scientific observation: "an inverse relationship" between sugar consumption and obesity, the Australian Paradox! Yet their four sets of valid sugar indicators trend up not down in their own charts (see Figures 1-4 in ). Huh?

Anyway, the authors were skewered this week by a widely respected journalist who documented less-than-ideal scholarly conduct (shall we say) on the way to their published rebuttal of my critique: ... z21hP5IgYR

Importantly, the scientists' main argument in response to a devastating critique was absolutely false.  Did you notice the slippery disappearing made-up claim of up to 14kg per person per annum worth of raw sugar being consumed by ethanol production. The significance of that (false) claim is that it tended to shift the trend for (human) consumption in Figure 1 from up to down.

But the made-up excuse "crashed and burned" because the real answer is zero. Ouch! (The key "Ethanol/Cars consumed a big chunk of the available sugar" excuse is found at the bottom of page 2 at ... ERTSON.pdf while the authors' published rebuttal - sans key argument - is at ... 1-s003.pdf )

So there is no good reason to think that the apparent consumption of (added) sugar declined substantially, as claimed, between 1980 and 2010.  Accordingly, it's clear that the so-called Australian Paradox is not even a puzzle - it's just plain wrong, because sugar consumption and obesity have tended to move in the same direction.

In my opinion, the key question is WHY the exact moment that Dr Alan Barclay and Professor Jennie Brand-Miller agreed with each other that it was time to quietly retract without acknowledgement their made-up false claim about ethanol production/cars consuming big chunk of the available sugar, somehow was NOT also the right moment to agree to formally correct or retract their entire error-ridden paper?

The unreasonable delay in removing the clearly false but supposedly twice-verified claim of "The Australian Paradox!" - an extraordinary "inverse relationship" between sugar consumption and obesity - from the scientific record increasingly has reasonable people wondering when a series of inadvertent errors deliberately left uncorrected becomes scientific misconduct? ( ) Any thoughts, anyone?

Best wishes,
Rory Robertson (economist and former-fattie)