Monday, November 12, 2012

Patrick Luciani's Gigantic Soda-Loving Straw Man Rises to Fight Again


I've written about Mr. Luciani's arguments before. To boil them down to their very essence, he believes that obesity can and should be managed individually. That presumably with appropriate education and encouragement, obesity could be conquered.

This time Mr. Luciani is taking aim at the recent OMA call to action which included among other things, taxing energy dense and nutritionally bereft sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

Now I'm all for differences of opinion, but what gets to me is when someone who clearly knows better, resorts to straw men, logical fallacy, fear mongering and data cherry picking to make their case.

His most recent piece starts out with these two lines,
"What makes us fat? According to Ontario’s doctors the culprits are junk food and sugary drinks. That’s why last month the Ontario Medical Association issued a list of policy recommendations that would treat junk foods on the same level as poisons."
Really? When I read the position piece by the OMA it was pretty clear to me that the OMA agrees with Mr. Luciani, that obesity is highly complex, but yes, dumbing down the OMA's report into a straw man from the get-go is a good way to bolster a crappy argument. And poisons?  Good grief.

He then stuffs in more straw by starting off his next paragraph with another misinformed and damning nugget,
"As much as the OMA hates to hear it, the causes of obesity are much more complicated than its report dares to admit."
Actually the OMA's all over that. They're not, as Mr. Luciani's now gigantic straw man suggests, hanging their hat on soda and junk food taxes and suggesting sodas and junk food are the simple cause and cure for what ails us, what they're doing is identifying specific interventional targets that may help as part of a much larger fight. Here's the OMA on what they actually think is needed,
"Just as no single intervention has been proven effective against the tobacco epidemic, no one or two isolated approaches to obesity prevention can hope to be effective. Ontario must set an aggressive course, with a comprehensive, multi-pronged suite of policies, in order to meet these challenges — and it must do so immediately."
Next Mr. Luciani cherry picks historian John Komolos (sic - his name is actually John Komlos) and states that according to Dr. Komlos, obesity rates have been rising steadily since the 1920s. Indeed, that's what Dr. Komlos' article concludes, but I can't imagine what it has to do with Mr. Luciani's current argument except to add more straw, especially given Dr. Komlos' own note in that same article (bolding mine),
"Of course, changes in dietary habits including the anchoring of a fast food culture in the social fabric reinforced and greatly exacerbated the trend toward increasing weight."
Moreover Dr. Komlos concludes his paper with this call to arms - one very much akin with the OMA's,
"The finding also implies that policies to attenuate or reverse the trend will have to reach deep into the social fabric and take into consideration that such socio-economic forces generally change at glacial pace."
Now Mr. Luciani launches into the thrust of his argument. That given obesity's incredible complexity, soda and junk food taxes are a useless initiative,
"This is further evidence that blaming junk foods or sugary drinks for the rise in weight over time is too simplistic. In light of those two factors, the OMA’s shame and blame policies don’t have a chance against the myriad causes of obesity."
As I've written before, this argument is the, "that single sandbag over there isn't going to stop the flood" argument; that clearly the complexity of obesity is such that soda and junk food taxes alone are unlikely to make a difference. Of course the OMA knows that which is why it's calling for, "a comprehensive, multi-pronged suite of policies", with soda and junk food taxes being included among them.

But here's his most insane bit of straw. He spends the bulk of his piece building up the argument that obesity's incredibly complex and that consequently simple interventions like taxes can't possibly help, and then he states that the solution despite incredible complexity, are doctors who will help society lose weight simply,
"by monitoring and advising their patients on weight control"
Honestly, the whole piece makes me wonder who Mr. Luciani is working for, as from my perspective, the incredible amount of straw and spin from such a reportedly intelligent man makes me wonder about the integrity of his motives for repeatedly writing such misguided misinformational missives.