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How NuSI Reflects One Fable of Aesop

Mountains will labour: what’s born? A ridiculous mouse! (Ep.II.3, 136–9)

Back in about 1995 on USENET in a particular “newsgroup,” one of the other frequent posters was David Friedman (son of Milton). There was also an individualist-libertarian sort of publishing company I was a fan of, and its head had been posting about how he was going to further be posting something really revolutionary, life changing, and on and on. The baiting, suspense, and morsel feeding went on for a couple of weeks and then, finally, the earth-shattering post was published and David was the first to reply:

“The mountain roared, and gave birth to a mouse.”

I have never forgotten that. It was an excellent lesson delivered in a single sentence. David was very good at that.

I was reminded of it when, after I published my shock and awe over the grotesque compensation NuSi paid to various Presidents, VPs, and a single director, one of my French readers opined:

La montagne qui accouche d’une souris.

“It hurt the mountain’s butt so much that it found it justified to reward itself for so little.”

Maybe I’m wrong. It has been four solid years and NuSI has produced a singe small pilot study, conducted a larger one that concluded in latter 2014, and a year and a half later, they have been unable to get the results written up and published—which, incidentally, is a big fat clue for me about how this is going. They say other studies are already in the pipeline. How many people will be diagnosed, have amputations, suffer coronary events, get cancer, or die in the interim?

I’m not feeling any particular sense of urgency, but at least people are making millions combined, as those who donated waited for what was touted The Manhattan Project. NPR said that. Forbes said that. Even Tim Ferriss—who was on the list of science advisors at the outset but has been mum ever since—said that.

You know what? The only way this resembles The Manhattan Project is in the Top Secrecy. Nobody wants to say what went wrong and if you think nothing is going wrong, there are bridges for sale in the most ironic of places. …It’s quieter around here than a litter of mice with mountainous parents.

As expected, there are opposing views. We saw them in what what we’ve gleaned so far in the the to-be-published study. And, now, we’re seeing them in the revelations that Anthony Colpo broke yesterday.

Now look: I don’t begrudge people for making money. Money might not buy happiness, but it sure makes life a lot more fun. Heck, overseas flights aren’t free, nor are lightweight carbon-fibre bikes.

And I certainly don’t begrudge people for making lots of money; more money means more options in life.

What I do detest are the exorbitant salaries paid to people who run these supposedly non-profit health organizations. You know, the ones devoted to finding a cure for this or that health condition, but after fifty years or more have little to show for their efforts. Certainly not a cure, just a bunch of conferences held in exotic locations, and millions upon millions paid to CEOs who lived the high life, while the poor plebs who donated to them continued to suffer cancer and heart disease just as frequently as ever.

This sham was elucidated beautifully in Unhealthy Charities: Hazardous to Your Health and Wealth, by Bennett and DiLorenzo. Before you give one single cent more to any health organization, I strongly suggest you read this book (they’re selling copies as cheaply as 1 cent on Amazon). It may have been written back in 1994 but rest assured, nothing has changed – except that nowadays the CEOs of these non-profits get paid even more handsomely.

And I’ll be perfectly frank: So far I see little in NuSI – nor its best-known staff member – that indicates it will achieve anything different. As of May 9, 2016, NuSI has already churned through millions of dollars and nicely fattened the bank accounts of its founders, yet the only research of note it has produced is a metabolic ward study that found an isocaloric ketogenic diet did not cause any greater fat loss. It did, however, accelerate the loss of precious lean tissue.

Which is what I’ve already been saying for the last 11 years.

For FREE.

I’ll categorize these opposing views into three.

FANBOYS AND GIRLS

Dismissed.

LABOR THEORY OF VALUE

This is the notion that someone’s compensatory value is determined by a function of the length and breadth (long and hard) of their labor, and not the contribution to the supply and demand dynamics in a marketplace for the profitable delivery of a product or service on offer.

It was principally popularized by Karl Marx. And it permeates all statehood and social interaction to this day. It’s one Big. Fucking. Problem.

People always want you to know how hard and how long they worked on some thing.

It’s beyond the scope to give you all the arguments that render it pathetic, so I’ll just relay what an acquaintance of mine has said for the couple of decades I’ve know him (paraphrasing):

‘I don’t care how long, how hard, or how dirty your hands got making mud pies.’

OPPORTUNITY COST

This is my favorite. It’s related to LToV, above, but a bit more explicit.

The idea here is twofold.

  1. This is Gary Taubes’ and Peter Attia’s market rate of compensation.
  2. This is less than Gary Taubes or Peter Attia could have earned elsewhere.

I’m going to save #1 for my next post on How To Do A Manhattan Project, but both suffer the logical fallacy of begging the question before you even get started. But let me just tackle #2 here.

Opportunity cost is a microeconomics term whereby we seek to better understand why a firm does one thing and not another, or doesn’t change from one thing to another. Or, it seeks to integrate intangible costs into a “calculation” for doing any of the forgoing. Remember that economics is a social science. In other words, what makes it complicated is that you’re dealing with the behaviors and choices of people who are economically engaged in creating, producing, distributing and trading various values.

It’s not only economic or P&L calculations that motive people to choose doing one thing over another. For example, if it was all just “how much money can I make in the shortest time,” everyone would be crack dealers—until the market collapsed from oversupply, everyone was in prison, or both.

In the case of Gary and Peter, one thing I do believe is that they had a deep passion for this and on a passion level, I love The Manhattan Project metaphor. But be careful in using that, because you’re soliciting donations, not offering a product or service with contractural terms of refund. The Manhattan Project had a no-failure clause.

So, there are a couple of ways to refute this. The first is the most simple: ‘oh, you can make more elsewhere, doing something else? Then either go do that, or shut the fuck up and stop your whining. Do your fucking job.’ Simple enough?

The second is, beyond the begging the question fallacy (they are assuming that they really could earn more, without evidence), that it’s no more a ‘cost’ than it’s a cost to buy stock in a company. The intended spiel goes: they have so sacrificed (opportunity cost) in order to bring you this solution they worked fingers to the bone on (Labor Theory of Value).

It’s a gambit. If they succeed, then opportunity cost was an investment that paid off. They’re famous, get speaking gigs with lavish honorariums, get book deals, etc., and labor theory of value is as meaningless as wondering how many hours Robert Oppenheimer put in towards making the first three atomic bombs.

…It’s only in failure that the foregoing fallacies are brought to the forefront to defend their failure and why they ought be paid very well anyway. You might charge me with question begging on that score alone, since it’s not yet absolutely known whether NuSI is a failure or not.

A mouse. So far.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

22 Comments

  1. Thhq on May 10, 2016 at 12:38

    The mouse they have labored so hard to defeat is fructose. Look at Table 6.4 in the attached.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=02hYBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA91&lpg=PA91&dq=nhanes+vs+usda+sweeteners&source=bl&ots=fl2WAuAr-e&sig=sjPnPtFGpK002JU9w7NX78nKxP4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwim2YzGnNDMAhVM42MKHRuaAEUQ6AEIKDAF#v=onepage&q=nhanes%20vs%20usda%20sweeteners&f=false

    From 1970-2009 dietary calories from refined carbs (all glucose, mostly from grain starches) have increased 25%, calories from added fats have increased by 25% (primarily from vegetable oils), and calories from fructose have increased by 1%.

    Taubes Bad Boy Calorie fructose is in full mouse retreat according to NYT.

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/upshot/soda-industry-struggles-as-consumer-tastes-change.html?referer=

    But the elephant obesity has not left the room. Cordain was right about this. Do not fear the apple, broccoli and sirloin. Fear the processed food composed of starch and fat.

  2. Martin on May 10, 2016 at 14:30

    As mentioned elsewhere, the salaries are not the problem. The problem is the lack of transparency. Perhaps it is very difficult to set up and run appropriate studies. If so then fine. But NuSi’s supporters and everyone else who is interested should learn about it. Quitting without saying anything is the worst thing one could do. Very disappointing…

    • Richard Nikoley on May 10, 2016 at 15:38

      And on that point I agree with you completely.

      I’d add that it’s this point then that makes the compensation obscene.

    • sassysquatch on May 11, 2016 at 06:04

      Martin – in response to your post from the previous RN article post: Anthony Colpo was not advocating the use of processed sugar or Coca Cola (on a large scale). His point was about these low carb gurus calling sugar ‘toxic’ or ‘poison’. Gross exaggeration and sensationalist language to say the least.
      Some sugar, even processed sugar, is not going to hurt most people. And as Rich is finding out with his ‘Peat’ experiments, a high sugar diet can often be very therapeutic.

    • Bret on May 15, 2016 at 19:35

      Martin, I believe the real problem is the existence of non-profits to begin with, a problem caused by taxes so high that they indisputably stifle progress, a problem caused by pandemic ignorance and government dependence. People think ‘profit’ is a bad word, and I just want to beat the shit out of them for that.

      Richard’s exposure of these NuSI folks is right on, but I still can’t get angry at them. I could defend them by rambling about their path to the present state (and the good intentions paving it), but bottom line, they took a good deal. And I consider the government responsible for creating that deal (and of course the citizens at large tolerating that government) to be far more culpable for this kind of corruption than the recipients thereof.

      Call me a silly, amateur economist, but the former seem to be deeper at the root of this problem than the latter.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 16, 2016 at 07:29

      Ha.

      Bret, you haven’t commented in a while, I think. I think we had some dust up over something. Can’t recall.

      Anyway, was watching a program last night and saw a C-130 do a short takeoff and thought of you. And now here you are. 🙂

    • Bret on May 18, 2016 at 07:31

      “I think we had some dust up over something.”

      I think you’re right, but I’m sure it was rhetorical at the core, if not wholly. Nothing personal. I’ve just been busy with other stuff recently.

      Have been keeping an eye on the blog, though, and I’m glad you’re still holding everyone’s feet to the flame. The circle jerk echo chambers elsewhere became quite tiresome some time ago.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2016 at 20:46

        Hey Bret. Can you indulge a curiosity?

        I think the C-130 is perhaps one of the best aircraft designs in history in terms of versatility.

        For example, could you give me the rough size of the takeoff and flight envolpe for an empty cargo bay, minimal fuel load for a short trip, vs full fuel load and cargo bay loaded to placard limits.

        I’m guessing it’s wider than the sloppiest fuck ever.



    • Bret on May 19, 2016 at 17:45

      Richard, I can dig that up for you, but it will take a couple of days (not in the best position at the moment to reference my publications).

      You want to know takeoff distance, climb performance, and service ceiling? Let me know if anything else in particular.

      I can tell you though you are right…it is wide. But I’ll bet the C-17 has a really big difference, also. Maybe the C-5 also, new designs of which are rated to take off at over one million pounds heavy…freaking crazy. Unfortunately, can’t get you the numbers for those two, at least not in any timely manner.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2016 at 17:48

      Oh, don’t put any time into it. Was just idly curious in off top of head figures. Could probably Google it all up. But yea, wide. Huge.

  3. Bruno on May 10, 2016 at 14:47

    I’m sensing another mouse emerging from Ray Cronise’ butt with his promised blockbuster, “Our Broken Plate.” He has raised nearly $100K using Kickstarter to write a book that will espouse water fasts and Vegan diets. How long does it take to write a book and why would one need that much money to do so? His last crowd-funded “shell-shocker” was a simple little paper saying we eat too much and live too warmly. Again, done with much fanfare and lots of donations. I know plenty of people who write papers and books that don’t beg for money.

    I think a lot of these guys (Taubes, Attia, Cronise) have illusions of grandeur with very little substance.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ourbrokenplate/our-broken-plate

    • Richard Nikoley on May 10, 2016 at 15:54

      In Ray’s defense over the Broken Plate Kickstarter, it got way way overfunded. Forgot what he asked for, $10k maybe, and it was ten times that. He also spent tons of his own money (tens of thousands) on various equipment for his in-home lab, has done crazy experiments on himself.

      Vegan diet ain’t going to happen and Iv’e told him in email it’s fucktarded many times. Small bits of animals make nutritional differences. Fasting is no duh. Always has been.

      We’ll see. He’s pretty damn citizen scientist though, paying for and doing his own research.

    • Thhq on May 10, 2016 at 16:10

      My average US DIET Calculation based on 2010 USDA food availability is 45% digestible carbs, 43% fats and 12% protein.

      To the HFLC community the question is how much more fat do we have to eat to make the obesity go away? Our fat consumption far exceeds that of leaner and healthier countries.

      To the vegetables the question is how much less protein do we need to eat to make the obesity go away? Right now our diet matches the macros of Cheetos. The vegan superfood.

      As Alphonse Allais observed, ca va mieux? Fat is up, protein is down, yet we are still obese.

  4. Bobby on May 10, 2016 at 15:23

    Any idea why Peter Attia left the project?

    • Gemma on May 10, 2016 at 22:23

      “Any idea why Peter Attia left the project?”

      Maybe we have to ask Eades…

      From http://eatingacademy.com/personal/2016-update

      Sam May 3, 2016

      Peter, I noticed that Chris Ochner left Nusi after just four months as CEO. Seems like the organization is in turmoil. I hope the mission is intact. I find it hard to donate funds to an organization that lacks stability. Can you add any color?

      Peter Attia May 4, 2016

      I have no involvement with NuSI, Sam. You’ll need to contact them directly.

      AND

      Martin May 2, 2016

      Any thoughts on this: NuSI Hall Study: No Ketogenic Advantage (ICO 2016) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiUyjMjuLl0) ?

      Bob Niland May 6, 2016

      We really need to wait for the paper, and any supporting data, to be published.

      A brief casual interview with one PI known for having a specific advocacy on CICO, is basically fodder for wasted debate. I suspect this trial resulted in some learnings, perhaps multiple, but we don’t yet have the full picture.

      Peter Attia May 7, 2016

      Well said. Also, Mike Eades just posted this response: https://web.archive.org/web/20190801195446/https://proteinpower.com/drmike/2016/05/06/contradictions-and-cognitive-dissonance-the-kevin-hall-effect/

      Is it arrogance or cowardice? I cannot decide.

  5. gab on May 11, 2016 at 05:12

    The way I look at it, a very wealthy family found a way to ‘donate’ money to their favourite charity as a means to reduce their taxes.

  6. Thhq on May 11, 2016 at 08:24

    I’m rethinking the USDA’s minor increase in fructose in the 1970-2010 period. Something is missing from all the USDA macronutrient data. Alcohol. And I can’t find any detailed information on whether trends are up, down or sideways. Keys remarked in 1959 that it varied widely, and 10-20% of total calories would be possible for some people.

    While fructose might not be up much, what about increased alcohol consumption as a major contributor to the obesity crisis? Anyone have some stats?

    • Thhq on May 11, 2016 at 08:58

      I’ve found a fair amount of information indicating a decline in alcohol consumption for the period when Taubes was formulating his fructose ideas. So an increase in alcohol consumption was apparently not confounding his concept. This report is typical of the historic data.

      Currently US per capita pure alcohol consumption is about 10L per year. That would be about 150-200 kcal per day, or 5-10% of typical American diet. While not insignificant, it is small compared to France and Italy. At the current level I wouldn’t expect alcohol to be a major trigger for US obesity.

  7. hap on May 11, 2016 at 09:35

    The fact that you can reverse diabetes in some if not many people…….says something. Glucose control by medical..ie insulin does not do the trick. Apparently some radical changes in diet and other choices will. All things being relatively equal, insulin will cause weight gain. While the matter seems complicated, the prescription is not. How many times does it have to be said…….we eat toofucking much and a lot of it is heavily processed and a few government approved synthetic items s are thrown back in. We obsess about exercise. BFD

    Kind bars….which used the word healthy on packaging just settled with the fda…..because fat in he bar is not approved healthy. Sugary children’s cerealsmay use healthy…..no fats and added back b vitamins.

  8. thhq1 on May 13, 2016 at 05:52

    I don’t know where to put this. I was interested in whether some fats were more easily metabolized than others. George Henderson dug out this fascinating piece of work on relative oxidation rates for different fat types.

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/4/905.full

    IMO it looks especially good for lauric (coconut), and especially bad for stearic (tallow and butter). The mono and polyunsaturated vegetable oils fall in between.

    I suspect that the body’s ability to metabolize the fats quickly has something to do with whether they get stored. If stearic is only 13% oxidized in 7 hours, and if there are excessive amounts in the bloodstream, it’s likely going to the adipose. On the other hand, if lauric is 43% oxidized in the same time frame, there will be much less available to store.

  9. Bret on May 15, 2016 at 19:55

    ‘I don’t care how long, how hard, or how dirty your hands got making mud pies.’

    Oh God, this. I run into the same issue in the military. I’m sure it’s true everywhere, but it hits home for me. People often spend their entire day chasing around & “accomplishing” bullshit…stuff that isn’t even their primary duty. They think they’ve accomplished so much, simply because somebody (not even their own boss, or boss’s boss) told them to do each of the things they did. At the end of the day, they can’t even figure out how to turn those countless hours of “effort” into written content for their performance reports, because their impact to the unit’s stated mission (or the service’s at large) was completely nonexistent.

    I worked directly for my O-6 for about a year, and the amount of time I had to spend wading through sticky shit (in a bureaucratic, computer kind of way) just to get something decently useful done was mind boggling. And I know this is going on in every government agency out there, and every huge corporation…and even for the small and medium businesses, who have to bend over backwards “complying” with government nonsense.

    As for NuSI altogether, while I do respect both Peter and Gary for forcing the discussion out there initially (pre-NuSI, really), I am not surprised that their effort has gone nowhere. Even back when I was a devoted low-carb enthusiast, I always thought their limited manpower was going to stop them from getting anything productive or informative done.

    Probably can’t say the same for Gary, but I’ll bet Peter has started to wake up on the chronic ketosis bit. When even self-proclaimed paleo bloggers and podcasters are slamming the approach (and with good reason, given its lack of evolutionary context), the jig is up.

    These guys should both give carbs the same respect in academic circles that they demand for fat. And so should everyone else.

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