Statement of CSPI Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman

The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.)

It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s central thesis—the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.  As one of BMJ’s two reviewers noted, the article never should have been published as an “investigation by the BMJ” when it is “better described as an opinion piece, editorial, or even an example of lobbying literature than an independent investigation.”  The same reviewer noted Teicholz’s undisclosed role in urging the beef industry to lobby Congress against the Guidelines and her undisclosed relationship with a lobbying group, Action Now Initiative.

The BMJ’s decision to stand by its flawed “investigation” is particularly disturbing in view of the journal’s 2014 response to the independent statins review panel and audit convened after the BMJ published two articles containing errors on the adverse effects of statins in October, 2013. In their 2014 response, the BMJ’s editors promised that “additional flags and warnings are now put in place for particularly controversial articles.” Yet the BMJ not only published Teicholz’s flawed article, but issued a press release in which BMJ editor Fiona Godlee said that “the [DGAC] has abandoned standard methodology.” Today, the BMJ also labeled that statement as incorrect.