A False Balance
In reality, the equal share of articles on each side of the equation is somewhat misleading. The relationship is more complicated than either/or. It also fails to account for the rebuttals to some of the studies done on either side, whereby researchers criticize the methods other researchers used to come about their conclusions.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]If you contol for bullets, guns don’t pose any risk. If you control for cholesterol, neither does saturated fat.[/quote]
In particular, I want to highlight one rebuttal to a meta-analysis done on the “saturated fat is neutral” side.11 In the meta-analysis which arrived at the conclusion that saturated fat plays no role in heart disease, the researchers nearly 50% of the studies analyzed were adjusted for blood cholesterol levels. The method through which saturated fat exerts its damaging effects is increasing blood cholesterol levels, so adjusting for this factor obscures the relationship.
As example, let’s imagine we’re analyzing the number of deaths due to guns. While we’re performing our analysis, we decide to control for bullets. Now, we’re looking at how many deaths are caused by guns but not bullets—chances are we’ll find very few deaths and determine that guns do not, in fact, kill people.
Obviously, the above scenario is absurd. It’s easy to understand that guns can kill and that the method through which they kill is bullets. However, it’s equally as absurd to control for cholesterol when examining how saturated fat affects heart disease risk. Saturated fat affects heart disease risk through cholesterol—if we ignore cholesterol levels, then we’re highly likely to find that saturated fats have no observable effect on risk.