Lore of Nutrition – Prof. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros

One good thing about the just-released  “Lore of Nutrition“, documenting the campaign (allegedly) orchestrated by myself and others against an A-rated Professor with thousand of citations, hundreds of articles, many books, regular international speaking gigs, and constant (fawning) media coverage is that it leaves you in no doubt as to who the victim is (spoiler alert: it’s the celebrity scientist).

Another of the book’s virtues is that it contains fewer falsehoods (at least about me) than Noakes’s previous ruminations on my (alleged) role in his persecution, as outlined in Daryl Ilbury’s “The Quiet Maverick“. In fact, by comparison to this statement in the Ilbury book (where only one out of six claims is true), I’m beginning to think he’s losing that “fire in the belly”, or whatever it is that Lewis Pugh has.

As for the book’s veracity in a general sense, I’ll leave that for you to judge. This is not intended to be a review, but rather just a corrective to the paranoid and conspiratorial bits that deal with me and others who have the same or similar names to mine (which I’ll get to in a moment).

We’re told (as per the extract above) that I’d be dealt with “fully” in the book, so I was surprised to see my name appearing only 24 times. But that’s probably just the rice talking, and 24 times is perhaps already 23 times more than is needed to swat away such a trivial distraction.

Seven of those 24 appearances are in fact on one page, from a chapter by Marika Sboros, who makes “a detour here to talk about Rousseau because of his family background and his active opposition to LCHF and Noakes.”

Misrepresentation #1

I’m not “actively opposed” to LCHF. I’m actively opposed to binary and evangelical thinking, speaking and writing about LCHF, and to Noakes’s penchant for doing precisely that. I’ve in fact explicitly noted that I don’t have a view on the diet itself, on many occasions.

Misrepresentation #2

Sboros refers to Prof. Jacques Rossouw (my father, a topic I’ll come back to) as “one of Noakes’s most implacable foes”. Given that Prof. Rossouw has written 2 (I think? Maybe three?) journal articles referring to Noakes, and appeared in one public debate with him, the bar for “implacable” seems to be set really low here.

Misrepresentation #3

Sboros says “I can probably count myself lucky that Rousseau devoted only one nasty post to me”. Ah, right, that’s the one where I talk about Sboros and her column about

one of [her] favourite sources of health information: Mike Adams, AKA the Health Ranger”, and remind readers that Mike Adams is the man behind “Natural News”, the site that argues that Microsoft are developing eugenics vaccines. And that HIV doesn’t cause Aids. It also publishes David Icke, the man who thinks the world is controlled by reptiles from outer space, who live in underground tunnels and take on human form.

You could call that “nasty”, I guess. Although that’s a pretty neat way to evade the fact that you’re purporting to be a health journalist while simultaneously (evidently) being willing to suspend all your critical faculties.

Misrepresentation #4

Sboros says that I have recently begun “back-pedalling”, and now “plaintively claims that he always said that Noakes could be right”. Odd, then, that my second-ever column or blog post on Noakes, from October 2013, said “Professor Tim Noakes might well be right in his advocacy for a low carb, high fat diet”.

Misrepresentation #5

Sboros says that I claim to “never to have accused Noakes of bad science”. (Citation needed, but absent.)

I recall saying that I’ve never accused him of being a quack, but can’t even find that on Twitter. I have, however, written many columns and blog posts that are explicitly about Noakes and his epistemological impurity, so can’t see why I would deny that I’ve accused him of bad science.

Misrepresentation #6

Rousseau’s critics on social media have at times questioned why he does not declare his significant conflict of interest (that his father is Professor Jacques Rossouw) when attacking Noakes.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, and told Sboros in an email, I was writing about Prof. Noakes

long before my father was at all involved. I can’t think of any example – except for one case – where I have ever mentioned my father, the WHI, etc. The one case in which I did mention him (post the Centenary Debate) certainly included this disclosure. I don’t write about “things including my father”, because I’m not a scientist. I write about reasoning.

There’s a conflict of interest only when interests conflict, to put things in terms plain enough that even LCHF evangelists might recognise. I haven’t been in the business of defending a diet, or my father’s publications, etc., but more typically in the business of assessing the merits of reasoning and argument (rather than evaluating the scientific studies themselves).

When I started writing about this stuff, it was around 9 months before my father’s first engagement on the issue. What I’ve been concerned about relates to my areas of interest, not his, and I’ve rarely expressed any opinion on the research at all. Instead, I’ve mostly focused on the ways in which LCHF evangelists express certainty despite operating in a context of (a fairly typical) scientific ambiguity.

Misrepresentation #7

Sboros, on the topic of why my name is “Rousseau” and my Father’s’ is “Rossouw”, says:

I found his explanation naive at best. He said that he changed his name legally 25 years ago because he did not want anyone to link him to the country’s then ruling National Party, the architects of the apartheid regime that had made South Africa the pariah of the world. I wondered if Rousseau genuinely believed that people automatically assumed that anyone with an Afrikaans name supported apartheid.

I responded to Sboros’s persistent emails and Twitter trolling – including to the University executive, who at the time (and at this time) were busy trying to avoid riots, and presumably had more important things on their minds than the names of junior staff members – in the hope of getting her to leave me alone.

All I said on this topic – about a decision made when I was 20 – was “I changed the spelling of my last name over 25 years ago, for political reasons (because I had the view that an Afrikaans last name might – at the time – make people assume I was a National Party supporter).”

It was a simple political gesture, perhaps naive, but certainly not sinister or worthy of this snide commentary.

Misrepresentation #8

Sboros then moves on to Dr. Signe Rousseau, my partner, who apparently just “parrots” what I say, and who, in a Food, Culture and Society article,  “doesn’t think to mention her conflict of interest: that she is the daughter-in-law of Professor Jacques Rossouw”.

Except, perhaps, in an endnote accompanying the only mention of Prof Jacques Rossouw in the article in question, where she notes: “For purposes of full disclosure, Jacques Rossouw is also the author’s father-in-law”?

For the LCHF-devotees reading this:  is it really plausible that a “journalist” interested in the truth could miss the endnote?

Misrepresentation #9

Sboros moves on to my coverage of the LCHF Summit, which was somewhat ironically praised at the time for its fairness (as was my defence of Noakes with respect to the silly HSPCA hearings), where she says

he made much about the fact that some speakers preferred to talk of a ‘healthy-fat’, rather than a ‘high-fat’ diet, as if he thinks Noakes is promoting a high intake of unhealthy fats.

The point (if you read the post, rather than cherry-pick an idea from it) I was making in that report was that the initial flurry of LCHF publicity recommended saturated fats rather uncritically or unreservedly, whereas later commentary started being more attentive to separating animal fats (for example) from others, and the “healthy” rather than “high” was an interesting shift for that reason.

As for where I might have gotten the idea that Noakes was promoting a high intake of unhealthy fats, it’s from things like this, which hardly create the impression of a nuanced approach towards the sorts of fat one consumes:

Misrepresentation #10

We’re nearly done. So far, Sboros has been doing all the motivated reasoning, but Prof. Noakes himself takes the time to address the subject of Mr. Jacques Rousseau, with reference to Dr. Martinique Stilwell’s Mail&Guardian article titled Is Tim Noakes the Malema of Medicine . What you don’t know (and what no reasonable person would believe) is the following:

I’ve met Dr. Stilwell only twice, once briefly after the UCT Health Sciences Centenary debate between my father and Noakes in 2012 (the topic of a full chapter in the book), and later in a chance encounter at Cavendish Square about a year ago. Nic Dawes was the editor of the M&G at the time, and commissioned this article (after I instructed him to do so). (That’s not true.)

In short, there’s no vendetta, and if there is a conspiracy, I don’t know of it. Some people (like me) just think Prof. Noakes expresses contingent and as-yet-unproven claims too boldly, in a way that runs ahead of available evidence, whether or not they end up being proven true.

Misrepresentation #11

As described in Chapter 1, Rousseau was using his blog to show me up as a scientist who had ‘lost his way’.

No, I’m using my blog to do what I’ve always used it for – taking matters that are in the news, or of public interest, and using them as examples for illuminating cognitive biases and errors in reasoning.

That task is made easier by using cases that people are familiar with, and given the media saturation that LCHF and Prof. Noakes (despite the vendetta/persecution etc.!) maintains, this case offers numerous examples to use in that sort of work.

Misrepresentation #12

In 2006, Time magazine named him [Prof. Jacques Rossouw] one of its 100 most influential persons in the world. A special event to acknowledge this achievement was held at UCT in May 2006. His son, Jacques Rousseau, represented him. Rousseau said of his father: ‘What drives him is doing his bit to decrease ignorance and confusion, and he’ll continue to hold that committed attitude for as long as he’s got something useful to say – regardless of whether it’s appreciated or not.’

Yeah, not so much. There was no event, and I didn’t represent him at this event that didn’t happen. The UCT Monday Paper, our (at that point) weekly campus newspaper, contacted me for a quote after learning that my father had been named as one of Time‘s 100, and I gave them that quote. Presenting things the way that Noakes does here simply serves to further the narrative of conspiracy, and of my being in cahoots with my father in a conspiracy that doesn’t exist.

At lunch today, I was chatting with some Rossouws and Rousseaus (don’t worry, Banters! Your implacable foe is not in town!) about fake news, Internet trolls and the like, and whether we should simply ignore them or whether we should at least still try to assert the primacy of facts.

We concluded that the truth still mattered. So, this is not a review, as I said at the top, but after being told I’d be “dealt with” in this book, I thought I had to at least read the sections of the book that pertain to me – seeing as I was pretty confident that they would include misrepresentations, if not clear falsehoods (as in the Ilbury book) – and provide my perspective on some of its claims.

Even though I’m fully aware that the LCHF crowd won’t allow the mendacity of (especially) Sboros and Noakes, described here, to influence their perceptions – and even though I’m fully aware that those genuinely hostile to Noakes will also use this to feed their confirmation biases – these are the facts.

For what that’s worth.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.