As Decnavda pointed out, fat politics makes for strange allies. Case in point: Right-wing columnist (and science fiction/fantasy novelist) Orson Scott Card’s latest column is a pretty decent fat rights column. (Link via Big Fat Blog). Here’s a sample:
When you look at the gloomy prediction that obesity will chop two to five years off the lifespan of overweight individuals, you find out that the study this was based on made some very iffy assumptions, relied on old data, did not look at potential deaths from underweight, and ignored the possibility of future advances in medicine.
Even with all those iffy assumptions and omissions, the study only showed a death rate increase of four to nine months. The “two to five years” warning is a wild guess based on what might happen in future decades. In other words, it’s a made-up number.
And you could look at the same stats, change the assumptions in perfectly reasonable ways, and reach the conclusion that the increase in deaths due to obesity will be zero.
Although Card highly praises W. Gibbs’ recent, terrific Scientific American article on obesity (and well he should praise it, a lot of his column is cribbed from it), he singles out one aspect of it for criticism:
Gibbs (and some of the critics he cites) thinks it’s significant that many or most of the studies that supposedly support the claims about a “fat epidemic” were funded in part by the weight-loss industry.
Aha, one thinks. So they have a motive! It’s about making money from people who want to lose weight!
But that’s absurd — pure conspiracy theory.
Card goes on to claim that Gibbs had jumped “to the conclusion that people are overtly dishonest,” had committed “irresponsible journalism,” and “should be ashamed of himself.”
Unfortunately, in his eagerness to club Gibbs, Card parted ways with the facts (note his conspicuous lack of direct quotes from Gibbs to support Card’s accusations). No where in the article does Gibbs “leap to the conclusion that people are overtly dishonest”; Card should have had the honesty to inform his readers that this is something he was reading between Gibbs’ lines, not something Gibbs actually said.
Nor is worrying about funding logically the same thing as suggesting a conspiracy theory, and it’s deceptive of Card to say it is. Most of the funding for obesity and diet related research comes from corporations who have a lot invested in supporting the theory that obesity equals death and weight loss equals health; those companies are, as Card admits, going to fund researchers who “share the same assumptions.” That’s not dishonest, but it does create a legitimate concern that the field is structured in such a way to give researchers whose work supports “fat = death” a prominence and funding unrelated to the scientific merit of their work.
In short, it’s possible that “funding bias” has caused the entire field of obesity and diet research to be strongly biased towards a particular view of the issues, regardless of scientific merit. Being concerned about funding isn’t the same as accusing people of conspiring or of deliberate dishonesty, and it’s Card’s accusation against Gibbs that is “journalistically irresponsible.”
I was also struck by this passage:
Yet they are condemned, ridiculed, treated hideously — often by medical professionals to whom they have come for help. You think fat people don’t know how they’re despised? You think they don’t want to be different?
It’s especially galling because the people mocking them are often of that tribe that doesn’t gain weight no matter what they eat. In other words, it’s easy for them to stay thin because their bodies burn up whatever they eat. People like that should keep their thin little mouths shut when fat people are being discussed, because they have no idea what it’s like to be heavy, or what it takes to lose the weight, when it can be lost at all.
First of all, although Card’s rhetoric has appeal, I wonder how true it is. It seems to me that many of the most fanatical fat-bashers are among the 5% of dieters who have successfully lost weight (unlike the 95% for whom diets fail).
Second of all, considering Card’s incredibly hateful views towards lesbians and gays, it would be appropriate to point out that queer-haters are often of that tribe that couldn’t be attracted to the same-sex no matter how hard they tried. People like that should keep their hetero little mouths shut when gay rights are being discussed, because they have no idea what it’s like to experience same-sex attraction, or what it’s like to be denied substantive legal equality just because you love someone of the “wrong” sex.