Memo To The Vegan Fringe: 100-Person Studies Are A Two-Edged Sword

Pity Poor Neal Barnard of the deceptive Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The Psychiatrist-turned-tofu-evangelist seldom stops touring the country, insisting to anyone who will listen that a meat-free, egg-free, dairy-free diet is the cure for whatever ails you. We’d call it a snake-oil act, but that wouldn’t be vegan. This week Barnard is in Syracuse, New York promoting an anti-meat book that he claims can “reverse” diabetes—at a speech sponsored by Natur-Tyme, a “health and wellness” store whose other guest consultant this month is a “holistic veterinarian.” We’re not joking.
The Natur-Tyme website includes a prominent disclaimer:

“The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or other treatment.”

And now that we thought to look, PCRM’s own website does too:

“The medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site.”

Agreed. No one should believe that what Neal Barnard and PCRM are spouting should be mistaken for actual medical advice. Glad we straightened that out.
But in an interview yesterday with the Syracuse Post-Standard, Barnard sounded an awful lot like a medical-advice-dispenser. “I think this [vegan diet] is the best diet that has ever been developed for anyone with Type 2 diabetes or anyone else,” he claimed.
Based on what, exactly? The Post-Standard reports that Barnard’s big diabetes study, “published in 2006 in the journal Diabetes Care, involved 99 individuals with Type 2 diabetes in the Washington, D.C., area.”
Wow — 99 whole people! CCF was there to fire back, telling the newspaper that this is far too small a sample to draw any real conclusions about what’s healthy or unhealthy. Quipped our research director: “It’s the equivalent of me gathering half my neighborhood and having them stop eating cheese.”
Neal Barnard seems perfectly willing to base sweeping scientific conclusions on the studied habits of tiny groups of people. So if he wants to be intellectually consistent, we expect Barnard to start promoting the results of this week’s nutrition bombshell from Oxford.
Scientists at the British university tracked 107 people (eight more than in Barnard’s diabetes experiment) and found that vegetarians and vegans were six times more likely than meat-eaters to suffer from brain shrinkage, because of a deficiency in vitamin B12.
Memo to Barnard: Making scientific mountains out of research molehills can cut both ways. That is, provided your brain hasn’t already shrunk too much to recognize it.

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