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Yvain comments on Cheerios: An "Untested New Drug" - Less Wrong

5 Post author: MBlume 15 May 2009 02:26AM

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Comment author: Yvain 15 May 2009 11:06:13AM *  152 points [-]

This is a beautiful example of politics at work.

Cheerios claims on its box that it can "lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks". This is false. It is based on a "study" sponsored by General Mills where subjects took more than half their daily calories from Cheerios (apparently they ate nothing but Cheerios for two of their three daily meals). No one eating Cheerios in anything resembling a normal way would get close to this effect; therefore, it is false and misleading advertising. If General Mills wants to market Cheerios as a drug, it needs to meet the normal standards for drug evidence, and it doesn't.

So far, so good. Either you approve of the FDA's decision and think it's important to hold cereal companies to a high level of accuracy, or you think they should relax their standards and allow more leeway to food advertisers. Either one would be a legitimate response. But look at what happens:

A few sources correctly title the story, eg "Cheerios Aren't A Drug, FDA Says". The majority choose to go the other way and title it something more inflammatory like "Popular Cereal Is A Drug, US Food Watchdog Says", which is of course the opposite of what it said. It's the inflammatory outrageous headlines that get put on blogs and Reddit (now reworded further to "WTF? FDA says Cheerios are a drug")

Then all the usual suspects take the mistitled blown-out-of-proportion story and look to see whether or not this supports their preferred political narrative. For example:

Independent Institute (a libertarian think tank):

"The Obama administration blunders onward in its “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian) absurdities."

Freedom News Blitz ("The News Freedom Lovers Devour"):

"Do you get the feeling that since we are experiencing a severe recession, the Food and Drug Administration is running out of honest businesses to harass and persecute?...Certainly, it appears the old virtues of free enterprise, hard work, self-discipline, saving money, weighing the short-term consequences against the long-term consequences, etc. are unpalatable to the vast majority of people. So they allow the false promises of politicians, civic leaders and pseudo-intellectuals to mislead them.

So yes, we went from "please don't use poorly designed made-up studies to make spurious medical claims" to "hard work is unpalatable to the vast majority of people" in two steps. Remarkable, ne?

And then the media goes into one of its periodic vicious feedback loops and started reporting on the reporting, adding a little more liberal bent at each pass. From Reuters, here's Cheerios, Cereal of Liberty. The article starts with "Disputes over food-label claims are always political" and quickly moves onto "But the current, insane iteration of the American right has walked several steps past the crazy line...For them, wholesome, "American" foods are a-OK. Eurocommie foods are right out."

Three steps and now we're at "Eurocommie."

In the last phase of the decline from "reasonable question about cholesterol lowering properties of cereal" to "complete proof humankind as a species is doomed", someone opens the floodgates to Mordor and a horde of semi-human blog commenters swarm out, ready to add their "opinion" to the "discussion". From here and here:

"Ha - I guess the makers of the liver corroding, memory erasing cholesterol drugs, must have whined about this to their best friends, (the guys they pay off to legalize these poisons) the FDA."

"Sorry mister.g but you folks are delusional in the USA. You buy into everything and I mean everything. That is why you are the sickest, poorest industrialized economy going and you can inject GOLD into dog poop but it will still be dog poop. If you think it's worth eating to get to that golden nugget in the center you go right ahead. Unbelievable."

"Unapproved though (non-Obama worship) is not approved by your government overlords. Americas are too stupid to understand what is a cereal and what is a drug. You will be eliminated."

Four steps from "Don't lie about cholesterol on your cereal box, please," to "Obama will kill everyone who disagrees with him."

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 15 May 2009 04:21:47PM 16 points [-]

With all due credit to MBlume for raising the topic, I wish Yvain's comment here had been a top-level post. This is an excellent demonstration of the progression of the mind-killer effect.

Comment author: MBlume 15 May 2009 04:28:15PM 6 points [-]


Comment author: thomblake 15 May 2009 03:59:18PM 9 points [-]

off-topic, but good use of 'ne'. I applaud this.

Comment author: Raw_Power 15 November 2010 01:28:05PM 0 points [-]

You guys must be having fun living in the USA. Such disparities.