Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New York Times attempts to justify shaky "Death by Vegan" column

NOTE: I respond to an e-mail sent by The New York Times' public editor leter to Matthew Bate (pasted below).

Dear Matthew Bate,

Thank you for writing about the Nina Planck essay, “Death by Veganism,” published Monday (May 21, 2007) on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. I don’t know that Ms. Planck’s comments are “inaccurate,” I do know that they are debatable. I asked David Shipley, the editor of the Op-Ed page, for his thoughts. He said, “I think Nina Planck is on firm ground in her Op-Ed. Her reading of the science is that it is indeed the case that children (and all of us) need animal-derived nutrients, and she’s able to summon studies backing up her assertion – just as the vegans are able to summon up studies showing that you can indeed survive on plants alone.” My own view, which I expressed to Shipley, is that, given how important and fraught with emotion the subject of children’s nutrition is, the Times owed its readers an Op-Ed by another contributor debating Planck. Because there is science to support another view, it should have been aired at the same time, or very close to the same time. David Shipley’s view is that, “Op-Ed readers understand that they are reading an argument and that there is almost always another side to the argument.” I’d feel better if the Times had actually presented that other side in this particular instance.

Clark Hoyt
Public Editor

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

Regarding your letter to Mr. Bate, the point is Nina Planck in her "Death by Veganism" column did not back up any of her information with any studies that veganism is bad, not one single one. If you look at Nina Planck's own Web site justifying the information in her column, she says she got all of her information from a single family practitioner. She did not say she looked at any studies. She does not make simple opinionated arguments in her column. She makes declarative statements about veganism. The reality is that the consensus of the scientific community is that a vegan diet is healthy. It does not back up Planck's position. If a person is going to make allegations and assertions in his or her writing, it needs to have some citation. She provides none in the column. On her Web site, Planck says she had many sources, but the only one she lists is the family practitioner. She does not mention any sources in her column, not one. Planck does not have a nutrition degree of any kind, so we can not trust the declarative statements she makes about nutrition. We also know that medical doctors get little if any nutrition training in medical school. This family doctor, who was unnamed on Planck's Web site, could talk about tests he has performed and demonstrated the results of those, but he can not actually talk about nutrition. He does, however, make a serious accusation on her Web site: "I have seen cases of severe anemia and protein deficiency in vegan infants resulting in hospitalization and blood transfusion." Now, if this is true, it speaks poorly of those particular vegan parents, but because one doctor may have seen something that he is assuming has to do with veganism doesn't mean he can extrapolate that to make assumptions about all vegans. Why isn't this doctor (I hope he is basing his information on actual tests he performed.) documenting these cases and presenting his findings in a peer reviewed journal if he is so concerned about what veganism can mean for all vegan infants? I'm guessing he doesn't have the evidence to back him up. There is plenty of information out there about raising vegan children and plenty of documented evidence that infants can be raised in a healthy manner on a vegan diet, but any person (including meat-eaters) who gets pregnant needs to become informed about the child's nutrition needs. Doubt that the consensus among the scientific community that a vegan diet is healthy at all stages of life, then look at what the American Dietetic Association states: "Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence." The New York Times has every right to use its opinion pages to show a wide variety of opinions, but even the opinion pages should have some journalistic standards. By printing Planck’s column, the Times diminished its credibility. If I wrote an opinion piece about how black people are genetically inferior to white people, I would be way out of line. Planck was way out of line in her column. I do hope you can address this matter in one of your future columns.

Andrew --- (a loyal New York Times reader)
Harlingen, Texas

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