Last month, I explained why I thought that Jezebel got the Adria Richards controversy wrong. I am sympathetic to many of Jezebel’s feminist goals, but bending the truth to suit an ideology does more harm than good in the long term.
Now, Jezebel seems to be misrepresenting a scientific study because that study does not support the feminist stance on body fat.
Here’s what happened. Yesterday, Jezebel published an article criticizing two studies from the UK that explored the link between BMI, alcohol intake, and liver disease. The problem is that the author of the piece, Anna Breslaw, misrepresented (or misunderstood) one of the studies.
I could not find the actual study online. But here is how Science Daily summarized the studies’ findings:
More than 107,000 women across the United Kingdom who took part in the study were classed with a low or high BMI (<25 or ≥ 25) and a low or high alcohol intake (between 0-15 or over 15 units per week). … The study found risk was significantly increased in the group of women with a high BMI and high alcohol intake, with these participants more likely to suffer from chronic liver disease.
So, according to Science Daily, the study shows that both drinking and being overweight are a bad combination for liver health. In fact, heavy drinking and high BMI is the worst possible combination in terms of BMI and drinking level.
Breslaw even seemed to acknowledge this in her piece:
[T]hose with high BMIs and high alcohol intake were most likely to suffer from liver disease.
What’s baffling is what Breslaw says next. She insinuates that the study does not show that having a high BMI can be dangerous for a woman’s health, because of this statement from the lead researcher:
“Based on this research we know that a person with low BMI and high alcoholic intake has a greater risk of developing chronic liver disease compared to a woman with a high BMI who doesn’t drink very much … [but] this is an important first step in the right direction.”
Breslaw seems to think that because having a high BMI and not drinking is safer for your liver than having a low BMI and drinking heavily, that there’s no significant link between BMI and liver disease. Or maybe she thinks that it’s anti-feminist to counsel women to watch their BMI for the sake of their livers. This is a dangerous line of thinking. Not only is a high BMI, standing alone, believed to be a risk factor for chronic liver disease, but the study Breslaw criticizes unambiguously claims that a high BMI in combination with heavy alcohol consumption can be a factor in liver disease.
Most regular readers of Jezebel know that the site is part of the “anti-fat-shaming” brand of feminism. In fact, Jezebel has a whole line of stories filed under “weighty matters,” and many of these stories agitate for the anti-fat-shaming philosophy. Specifically, the anti-fat-shaming articles criticize various ways that society stigmatizes people (and especially women) for being fat.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea that people shouldn’t be needlessly shamed for being fat. In fact, that seems like basic decency. But sometimes scientific research takes a backseat to politics. If Jezebel were to criticize a study’s methodology, that would be a valuable contribution to scientific debate. But merely screaming “fat shaming!” helps nobody, and is in fact counterproductive.
Image courtesy of Horia Varlan.