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The China Study Discredited

the china study discredited

I’ve answered plenty of reader questions about The China Study over the years. Most simply ask, “I appreciate the research and thought you’ve put into getting us this information about how pre-industrial diets can help curb the diseases of industrialization (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.), and I support your conclusions 100% based on my own experience. But I have friends who have read The China Study, and they say that it’s real, hard science disproving what you’re promoting. What’s your response to them?”

I’ve never written a post about The China Study, so rather than point them to my own content, I point them to a hodge podge of various posts online written by people whose scientific judgments I trust as more valid than my own — some are doctors, some have Ph.D.s in nutrition research, and some are just folks who are science junkies. While I’ve found those handful of articles to be helpful, I’ve never found any one of them individually to be all that comprehensive or thorough.

That changed yesterday.

Now, I’ve finally read what I consider the go-to article online for helping folks in love with The China Study see the light. The post is written by someone who took the raw data from The China Study and mapped it out to see if she could draw the same conclusions that the famous book’s author (T. Colin Campbell) drew.

After spending a solid month and a half reading, graphing, sticky-noting, and passing out at 3 AM from studious exhaustion upon her copy of the raw China Study data, blogger Denise Minger decided it was time to voice her criticisms. And there were many.

Her 9,000+ word essay is as thorough as they come, and she concludes with this thought:

In sum, “The China Study” is a compelling collection of carefully chosen data. Unfortunately for both health seekers and the scientific community, Campbell appears to exclude relevant information when it indicts plant foods as causative of disease, or when it shows potential benefits for animal products. This presents readers with a strongly misleading interpretation of the original China Study data, as well as a slanted perspective of nutritional research from other arenas (including some that Campbell himself conducted).

In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. His education and experience is no doubt impressive, but the “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking. Ultimately, I believe Campbell was influenced by his own expectations about animal protein and disease, leading him to seek out specific correlations in the China Study data (and elsewhere) to confirm his predictions.

So, if you’ve been wanting an in-depth rebuttal to T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, go read her 9000+ word summary conclusion. And if you want even more detailed analysis, take a look at the complete series of articles she’s posted over the past month as she’s dissected both the raw data and the famed best-selling book.

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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19 Responses to The China Study Discredited
  1. levendevoeding
    July 8, 2010 | 4:41 pm

    The China Study Discredited #chinastudy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. lo
    July 8, 2010 | 5:30 pm

    Thanks, as always, for the good reading. Can’t wait to get my teeth into that data… always great to see someone standing up and fighting when they know they’re right.
    .-= lo´s last blog post …Greens- Theyre Whats for Dinner- Saag Tofu =-.

  3. Soli @ I Believe in Butter
    July 8, 2010 | 7:38 pm

    Oh I am so glad you did this. I only had scant familiarity with the study but wondered about it in light of what I know about traditional foods.
    .-= Soli @ I Believe in Butter´s last blog post …Real Food On The Big Screen =-.

    • KristenM
      July 9, 2010 | 4:18 pm

      Well, it’s Denise who did the hard work. Her analysis is so well done, so neutral in tone, that it seems like it should be in a scientific journal somewhere instead of just on her blog. Please be sure to read her analysis and comment there, too. :)

  4. austingunter
    July 9, 2010 | 12:13 pm

    @beepalmer You should at least skim this nutrition article:

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. Kate
    July 11, 2010 | 2:19 pm

    ‘he “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking.’

    I think this is the most critical point made in the excerpt you posted. It’s one most people miss. It’s one scientists themselves don’t seem to realize. The fact that they are scientists does NOT mean that their evidence and their work is more important than anyone else’s. It does not mean that someone who is not a scientist and thoroughly and critically studies an issue is automatically wrong. Scientists are often thoroughly arrogant simply because they are scientists and they do the “real” work. Drives me insane.

    Thanks for posting.
    .-= Kate´s last blog post …Harvest House =-.

    • Tonia
      September 6, 2014 | 6:14 am

      What a stupid post with u made! I dont go to a farmer if I need a doctor. I dont read a book about science u make if u are not a scientist. Most books about science are made by doctors which are not scientist and never worked first hand on that field so are they trustable? Dr Cambell is a scientist and worked directly on the fields he wrote about so why he cannot state that on his book? Most people are so ignorants!

  6. davidhwalker
    July 13, 2010 | 4:56 pm

    @austingunter thanks for the heads up on that! RE: The China Study potentially debunked. will def keep this in mind.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  7. LJ
    July 15, 2010 | 4:16 pm

    How can you discredit a massive comprehensive collection of scientific studies that took 25 years to complete in 1.5 months? Seems pretty ridiculous to me! I’ll take the 25 years of scientific data anyday over 1.5 months of one person trying to disprove it.

    • Kymus
      July 21, 2010 | 7:08 am

      LJ, you’re relying on logical fallacies. It doesn’t matter if it took 25 years or 100 years to compile the data, nor does it matter if it took 1.5 months or 2 days to debunk it. Because one factor takes more time does not make it right. It doesn’t take 25 years to understand that doing research on powdered casein and then applying those results to a whole food and saying that casein should be avoided is dishonest science. Really, if you pay attention to the latest studies as they come out, you’ll know that Campbell and his cohorts at the PCRM are being continually discredited in regards to their views on fat and animal products.

      • Kymus
        July 21, 2010 | 7:09 am

        addendum: if you’re not familiar with the term “logical fallacy”, look it up. Namely, affirming the consequent and appeal to the majority.

  8. John
    August 2, 2010 | 9:58 am

    Firstly, people existing on living food look better and healther and suffer less disease than any one else I have ever seen.

    Secondly, the hippocrates centre support the China Study, and you’ve lost your mind if you say that centre doesnt cure what Medicine has failed at “curing”.

    Thirdly, you might just want to spend some time on pubmed, and read the real research being done by the very scientists the Western World love and rely on. They will show you clinical studies done on a myriad of diseases and their link with meat, fish and/or dairy products.

    Regardless of whether you feel the data presented in the book may be biased, you might want to look at the apparently un-biased data being presented by the multi-trillion dollar meat and dairy industry…but I wonder….who would I trust the most?

    And if you couldn’t care less either way, cant we all just eat less meat and reduce the taxing of this planet on the supply of meat to the hungry revenous humans constantly thinking or desiring that next juicy steak? If you dont believe in the China study, do your own research. I think you’d agree, the largest meat eating cultures are the unhealthiest. That’s enough for me, regardless of scientific research or whatever crap a trillion dollar industry wishes to feed everyone.

  9. John
    August 2, 2010 | 10:00 am

    Further to another comment. How can you discredit a study without any of your own research? I think I remember reading an article on discrediting the claims that smoking was bad for you. Or that Aspartame is harmless. Funny how easy it is to discredit, but difficult to replace with any of your own valid data.

  10. Brenda
    August 21, 2010 | 4:37 pm

    It is very easy to lie with statistics (read the book “How to Lie With Statistics”) and that is why you can find studies proving one thing is true and other studies proving that very same thing is false. But about nutrition, have you done your research? Can you name one culture/society that is vegetarian, always has been, and is thriving and healthy? Outside of the Biblical Garden of Eden, I don’t think you can.
    If animal milk (cow, goat, yak, whatever) is so bad for us, then why is it, back in the days before formula was thought of, that when a baby that couldn’t nurse from his/her mother that he/she would be given cow or goat milk. And that baby would live. If dairy is so bad for us, then surely it would kill a baby, not help him to thrive. In fact, I have a friend whose baby was sick. She had trouble keeping anything down, tried most or maybe all the formulas out there. Finally, my friend gave her baby fresh, real milk (from cows that are allowed outside to eat all the fresh green grass they want) and her baby lived, finally gained weight and grew and is now a healthy young lady.
    I’ll tell you what is bad, though. It is the milk that you can buy in any grocery store. Why is it bad? Because the cows are kept in a barn all day, every day. They are fed corn, soy, and who-knows-what-else along with some hay and pumped full of drugs to keep them “healthy” and giving lots of milk. More milk than they were designed to make. The government says this milk is good for you “out of one mouth” and “out of another mouth” the government says this milk is not good for you.
    One more thing, the studies showing meat makes us sick probably used meat from animals from CAFO’s.
    Oh, btw, you ask “who would I trust most?”, I assume that’s between Campbell or the meat and dairy industry? NEITHER!

  11. Chris Masterjohn
    September 24, 2010 | 5:50 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    In addition to Denise’s spectacular and awesome work on The China Study, you might also enjoy my latest post, which is a comprehensive review of Campbell’s animal research. It reveals some pretty surprising omissions:


    • KristenM
      July 13, 2011 | 2:48 pm

      Thanks Chris!

  12. adamas
    January 21, 2012 | 3:31 pm

    Denise Minger, and Chris Masterjohn are both associates of the Weston A Price foundation: Notably criticised by quackwatch.Dpon’t belive me? Look it up, google is your friend. In fat, 99% of the ciritcisms of the china study i have come across are directly linked back to weston A Price foundation persons or resources.
    An epidemiologist myself, Mr. Mingers 1.5 months of data trulling reads like gibberish… She has no basic understanding of epidemiological principles, and embarrasses herself with how poorly she misunderstands the basics of scientific investigation. caveat emptor. go look it up.

  13. nary light
    February 25, 2013 | 9:24 am

    It’s hard for me to believe that somebody (oh, I forgot, you’re an “epidemiologist”) is taking “quackwatch” seriously, since quackwatch exists solely to discredit anything that doesn’t fit with the allopathic medical/pharmaceutical/commercial agricultural paradigm and their backers. quackwatch is about the quackiest thing out there.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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