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Scientific research and the theory of countervailing power

- November 23, 2009

Seth reports on a report, funded by the sugar industry, that found bad effects of a diet soda additive called Splenda.

The background of the study is a delightful tangle. Seth reports:

One of the authors of the Duke study is a professor of psychiatry, Susan Schiffman. An earlier study of hers had pro-Splenda results. . . . Drs. Abou-Donia and Schiffman admitted that some of the results recorded in their report submitted to the court were not actually observed or were based on experiments that had not been conducted. . . .

Results in the report that were based on experiments that had not been conducted . . . that seems pretty bad to me! On the other hand, as Seth points out, maybe “the only way doctors learn about bad side effects of this or that drug is when drug reps selling competing drugs tell them.” In this case, it’s the Sugar Institute, not a drug rep, but maybe the same idea.

It reminds me of what Phil and I said when trying to publicize our work on decision making for home radon exposure. There’s no radon lobby (radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally) and so there’s an asymmetry, with various organizations motivated to oversell radon risks and scare people, and not too many people on the other side.

P.S. I’d never actually heard of Splenda before, but I do remember the controversy in the 1970s about saccarhin–I seem to recall that rats were getting cancer after being fed the equivalent of 800 bottles of diet soda a day–and then I remember there was something called Nutrasweet, so I guess Splenda is another one of these. It’s pretty funny that I’m so removed from pop culture to be unfamiliar with Splenda, a substance that I’m assuming is omnipresent, given that Seth discussed it without feeling the need to identify it at all to his readers.

P.P.S. It says in the press release that a trial has been set for January 2009, so maybe there’s more news on this.