Retraction Watch on a Recent Low-Carb Diet Study | Vol. 3 / No. 28.2

Maybe don’t use mice next time, because nobody really wants their study to end up on Retraction Watch. 

Photo: Global Panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0


Now, I’m not going to go along with the low-carb diet as the instant panacea that the now-deceased Mr. Atkins might have done, but there do seem to be circumstances in which certain types of diets low in carbohydrates might be worth trying, especially if you’re having issues with heart disease and diabetes (and/or metabolic syndrome). As always, see a trained professional before doing anything too drastic.

But a recent study published in Nutrition and Diabetes (back in February) got people in a flutter because it said low-carb diets could cause people to actually gain weight, even though the majority of the evidence (with all the usual caveats) suggests the opposite.

Well, now there are calls for its retraction.

Retraction Watch (gosh I love them) have been reporting the story, which has scientists wide-eyed about the quality of the study (or lack thereof). The researchers apparently studied low-carb, high-fat diets in a grand total of a mere 17 mice. The tiny number — remember, that’s roughly half on the diet and half as controls — is a little odd in itself, but so is the choice to use mice at all. As one researcher put it, “you only study mice when it would be unethical to study humans. There are many human [Low Carbohydrate High Fat] studies already…so why study mice?

And according to another researcher, even in the mice the results were ambiguous at best.

You really should check the whole thing out at Retraction Watch, as the descriptions of all the things wrong with the study would take far more time than I have on this two-bit little blog I run. But it’s nice to know that even when the peer review process comes up short (and trust me, it does sometimes) there are people still looking and still trying to keep everybody honest.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.