Calorie Lab Posts Lies, Defends Itself by Attacking the Messenger

"Calorie Lab" is a website that ordinarily publishes more or less useful commentary on diets and diet plans, generally skewing to the reality-based side, but this last week they published a very credulous workup of Stanley Burroughs and his "cleanse" diet plan here.

The article presents the diet in a more or less legitimate sounding light until the last few grafs. That was extremely troubling to me, so I posted this comment on the article:

This sort of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is not merely wrong; it’s actually dangerous.

Anyone willing to take diet advice from a man who didn’t even acknowledge that germs make people sick is treading a dangerous knife-edge of stupidity.

Please keep your articles to medically-responsible subjects.

While the online followup from the Calorie Lab editor was a bit snarky, I tried to keep it light. However, I received the following in my mailbox:

On Jul 17, 2008, at 9:02 AM, Mark Schrimsher wrote:

Did you actually read it? We said the guy was a crank and felon, and
then hoisted him by his own petard with quotes from his nutty book.

My reply read as follows:

But the article was preceded by a lengthy description of the diet. The excoriation came last. It was readable as an endorsement, and followup comments by others indicated a credulous acceptance of his teachings.

Mark Schrimsher then followed up with this incredible defense:

Yes, our normal pattern is to neutrally describe something like this,
and then after that to offer more op-ed evaluation. There are other
sites that simply rant against pseudoscience and the like, and because
of that they're not getting ads or making any money, the writers
aren't getting paid, and they don't have much of an audience. That's
the sort of thing you have the luxury to do on a personal hobby blog
without a payroll.

But in this case we trashed the guy before and after the neutral
description of the diet, which wasn't so neutral anyway in that there
were sarcastic asides peppered throughout.

Check out YouTube and Flickr for "master cleanse": For better or
worse, this is completely mainstream, with upper middle class people
buying Whole Foods 365 Grade B maple syrup by the gallon.

If you want to help out, go over to Wikipedia and try to edit some
sense into their Master Cleanse article. I've been making changes, but
there is some idiot reverting everything that is against the diet. We
need to gang up on him.

We have an order in with the Placer County, California, Department of
Vital Statistics for a copy of Burroughs' death certificate, which
will hopefully yield some more material to trash the guy, since I bet
he died of something he claimed his treatments would cure.

Oy! Yes! Unbelievable! Not only was I taken to task for pointing out the stupidity of the diet, but I was blamed for being truthful, accused of being a "hobbyist", and my legitimate objections were blown off as being, in essence, just so much whining.

I've added the full text of my reply here:

On Jul 19, 2008, at 6:51 AM, Mark Schrimsher wrote:

"Yes, our normal pattern is to neutrally describe something like this,
and then after that to offer more op-ed evaluation. There are other
sites that simply rant against pseudoscience and the like, and because
of that they're not getting ads or making any money, the writers
aren't getting paid, and they don't have much of an audience. That's
the sort of thing you have the luxury to do on a personal hobby blog
without a payroll."

Wait. You're saying you're presenting a crank diet plan, which is known and documented to be dangerous to those that use it, for the money?

Um.

That can't really be the message you want to send, can it? I mean, you can't seriously be sending me the message that you're doing it for the money, can you?

"But in this case we trashed the guy before and after the neutral
description of the diet, which wasn't so neutral anyway in that there
were sarcastic asides peppered throughout."

You'd better explain that to the others who've followed up, defending him, then. (You might have noticed that mine is the sole 'anti' voice in the crowd.) Or would you prefer me to do it?

"Check out YouTube and Flickr for "master cleanse": For better or
worse, this is completely mainstream, with upper middle class people
buying Whole Foods 365 Grade B maple syrup by the gallon."

Okay, so somehow now it's my fault that an entire retinue of undereducated people are starving themselves at the behest of this guy?

Listen. Just because 50,000 coyotes are eating roadkill jackrabbit doesn't mean I should do it too, even if I'm a goddamned coyote.

"If you want to help out, go over to Wikipedia and try to edit some
sense into their Master Cleanse article. I've been making changes, but
there is some idiot reverting everything that is against the diet. We
need to gang up on him."

No, no, no, no, no. If YOU want to help out, it is YOUR responsibility NOT to publish apparently-sustaining works on these diets, particularly not those that CALL THEMSELVES A HOW-TO, as your article does, under the aegis of a site that dispenses otherwise-valid dietary advice.

"We have an order in with the Placer County, California, Department of
Vital Statistics for a copy of Burroughs' death certificate, which
will hopefully yield some more material to trash the guy, since I bet
he died of something he claimed his treatments would cure."

You should have waited to go to 'press' until after you had that. As it is, you're trying to make me out to be the bad guy, the lone crank, when you *know* I am right. Look again at the comments on the article, and ask yourself who's really being irresponsible here.

Folks, I could really use some help here in shutting down this stupid idea that Burroughs's diet is somehow valid. EVERY OTHER COMMENT on that article is favorable. Calorie Lab is being insanely irresponsible in their stand, and their unwillingness to back down, post a retraction or even publicly acknowledge their mistake could compromise the health of dozens, or possibly hundreds.

Their hand-waving that they're waiting for a coroner's report is utterly irrelevant. They've published shoddy advice as a diet plan, it's being supported by other readers (look at the other comments on the post), and they're trying to make me out as being the villain here.


Crossposted from my pad.

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