Friday, October 29, 2010


The NY Times has come up with a blockbusting expose on the gross-and we say gross for obvious reasons-dishonesty of the city's health commissioner, a quacking fabulist named Dr. Tom Farley. The Times story, based e-maiils obtained through a freedom of information request, details how Farley overrode all of the concerns of subordinates-including his head nutritionist-as well as those of an outside expert adviser, to promote an anti-soda ad that was totally without scientific merit: "In the midst of a legislative fight over taxing sodas last year, the New York City health department put together a media campaign about how drinking a can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.”

The claims were flat out false-and Farley knew it, but didn't give a fig-and he should be terminated for disseminating utter falsehoods on the public's dime: "But behind this simple claim was a protracted dispute in the department over the scientific validity of directly linking sugar consumption to weight gain — one in which the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, overruled three subordinates, including his chief nutritionist. “CAUTION,” the nutritionist, Cathy Nonas, wrote in a memorandum to her colleagues on Aug. 20, 2009. “As we get into this exacting science, the idea of a sugary drink becoming fat is absurd.” The scientists, she said, “will make mincemeat of us.”

Farley's response? It's okay to bend the truth curve as long as we are doing so in a good cause-another example of how the public heallth ideologues, but particularly those in the NYC DOH, corrupt science in the name of forcing people to alter their behavior in directions mandated by the health nannies: "But Dr. Farley argued that the advertisements had to have a message that would motivate people to change their behavior. “I think what people fear is getting fat,” he wrote."

Scaremongering, now that's a really healthy way to go about changing the lives of the average New Yorker-and it certainly isn't the first time that this has happened. When the city banned indoor smoking, Farley's evil twin predecesser Dr. Tom Frieden said that exposure to second hand smoke was causing 1,100 deaths in the city every year. We'd love to see the DOH e-mails on that whopper-and the liklihood is that Frieden pulled that number right out of his rectum.

But smoking has been so demonized, that you can corrupt data and say anything at all-and the impunity of the self righteous has so metastasized that they have gone from tobacco mythmaking to soda-and use the evil tobacco bogeyman to unfairly tar the soft drink bottlers with the same brush. Unfortunately, it is science that falls victim to the public health demiurge-leading to an unheallthy debate over important policy initiatives being based on utter falsehoods and frightening exaggerations.

We saw the same phenomenon with menu labeling. Nere the DOH didn't have the decency to forward its calorie posting proposal to the city council for oversight and review-allowing the unelected Board of Health to determine that this intrusive and unproven methodology should be foisted on the city's fast food operators despite zero evidence that the initiative had any efficacy whatsoever.

And what was the result of this social experiment? Fast food operators were forced to expend tens of thousands of wasted dollars for an effort that proved to have no impact on those fast food customers that were the most in need of weight loss-and it was the skinny and wealthier customers who were most impacted. The measure remains, however, as a monument to the ideological rigidity and bad faith of the health czars-success is not a prerequisite with the Bloombergistas when it comes to forcing health mandates on New York's public.

What emerges from the e-mails, is how truth is the first victim of self righteousness: "But the e-mails, which were obtained by The New York Times under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, also show what happens when officials try to balance science and public relations and toe the line between disseminating information and lobbying for a cause...But Ms. Nonas, along with at least two of her colleagues and a Columbia University professor they consulted, expressed strong doubts about the weight-gain message of the video and urged the department to rethink it. They pointed out that, on an individual basis, the conversion of calories into fat depends on factors like exercise, genes, gender, age and overall calorie consumption. "Basic premise doesn’t work,” Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics and clinical medicine at Columbia, said in an e-mail to Ms. Nonas on Aug. 18, 2009."

Didn't matter to Dr, Strangelove: "The dissidents marshaled medical journal articles, including a study of twins showing that a significant part of the variance in metabolizing calories was because of genetics. As Dr. Farley and Mr. Cowley pushed back, Ms. Nonas tried to come up with a compromise. What was “defensible?” she asked in an e-mail to Harvard and Columbia professors. “What can we get away with?”

The answer: when you are progating for the supposed public's good health, you can say and do anything even if it is contradicted by scientific evidence-and if you are Falsifying Farley, you can override the professionals working for you: "Then, on July 1, 2009, Sabira Taher, who holds a master’s degree in public health and is the campaign manager for health media and marking for the department, wrote to Ms. Nonas raising doubts about the video’s message. “I think Dr. Farley really wants to say something about ‘gaining 15 pounds of fat in a year,’ ” Ms. Taher wrote. But she had reservations. “We know gaining and losing weight isn’t that cut and dry — some people can drink and eat whatever they want and still maintain their weight without doing an incredible amount of exercise to burn off the extra calories. I think going this route would raise a lot of skepticism within the public about our message.”

Doesn't matter: "But Dr. Farley had the final word. “I understand that there is inter-individual variation and the experts’ caution,” he wrote on Aug. 20, 2009. “But I think what people fear is getting fat, so we need some statement about what is bad about consuming so many calories.” Dr. Farley said he had reviewed other studies, a couple of them “quite old,” that “within the margin of error” would support the idea of a gain of 10 to 15 pounds. “So I favor the 10 pound sentence, but maybe keeping even a little more wiggle room,” he wrote. He suggested less certain language, saying that soda “can make you gain” weight, and he proposed a disclaimer at the end, along the lines of “assuming no other changes in diet or physical activity.”

And what happened to the small print disclaimer? "Just before the video went up, Ms. Nonas sent another message to Dr. Rosenbaum, explaining what the video would say. “I think this is broad enough to get away with,” she wrote. But she wanted to know “what the guru thought.” Dr. Rosenbaum wrote that the advertisement was “misleading in that there is no reference to energy output changes.” The disclaimer Dr. Farley had proposed about diet and activity had been dropped."

What is now clear, is that the NYC DOH should be placed under the supervision of the NYPD's Bunko Squad-if it is still in operation. We have a health commissioner who is willing to blatantly lie to the public-and a mayor who is so self righteous himself that he allows the prevaricator to remain on the job without even a slap on the wrist.

The health fascists are at war with the American people-and now the mayor and his minons are taking aim at the poor food stamp recipients; a cohort of low income people who make great guines pigs to experiment on: "The soda tax proposal was eventually dropped from the state budget, but the mayor escalated his antisoda campaign this month by requesting permission from the federal government to bar city residents from using food stamps to buy sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages."

But, as in all wars-even one that is as phony as this one-the first casualty is the truth. What the Times story reveals are public health professionals willing to go to any length to promote policies that have no basis in science-as long as they advance an ideological agenda. You may agree with the war on soda, but if you allow these folks to get away with this corruption of science, it won't be long before they jump to the next public enemy, one that you may feel is quite benign-and brazenly utilize phony science to justify their new crusade.

The Farley Follies then is Sodagate-and exposes this putative health professional as just another dishonest special pleader without portfolio. If he's not stopped here, it will become more difficult to stop him and his ilk elksewhere-and the food stamp experiment on the poor will devolve into a situation that finds us all unwillingly stuck to the doctor's petrie dish.