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Stanford Study Flawed: Organic Produce May Be More Nutritious After All 305

Posted by samzenpus
from the eat-it dept.
assertation writes "A few weeks ago an article was posted to Slashdot referring to a Stanford Study stating that organic produce, contrary to popular belief is not more nutritious. According to Mark Bitman of The New York times the Stanford study was flawed. A spelling error skewed the results as well as the study ignoring several types of nutrients."
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Stanford Study Flawed: Organic Produce May Be More Nutritious After All

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  • by Archfeld (6757) * <treboreel@live.com> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:15PM (#41555333) Journal

    just not covered in nasty pesticides and such. If it is tastier that would be a plus but I'd settle for not likely to introduce dna altering substances into my system.

  • by stevez67 (2374822) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:22PM (#41555383)
    They both grow in dirt (organic and conventional), they are the same plant, they don't, on balance, have more or less of anything than the rest of the fruits and vegetables. Bottom line if you want to pay 3X as much for your food buy organic. If you just want to eat and get the most nutrition for your $$, buy conventional. And don't forget, we can't feed the world's population organically. Can't be done!
  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:33PM (#41555437)
    First off, this is an editorial from the opinion section of the New York Times - hardly considered the once and future source of "News for Nerds - Stuff that Matters".

    Second, this is not a scientific article. It is an editorial. Yes, I suppose Mister Bittman has a valid opinion, even some good supporting information to demonstrate that he has some understanding of the subject under discussion. Nonetheless, I don't think Mr. Bittman is even remotely what would be considered an expert in the areas of horticulture, agriculture, food production, nutrition, animal husbandry or any of at least a dozen other disciplines which might make his opinion any more informed than my own.

    Not to criticize Mr. Bittman - he is an editorial author providing articles for a major news outlet. He has written a well thought-out, interesting editorial - but that's all. He doesn't have direct evidence to refute the findings of the Stanford Study - he doesn't even have any direct criticisms of the methodology employed by the Stanford group (which he should have, IMHO). What he has is an editorial opinion - well expressed, thoughtful, but at the end of the day still just his opinion.

  • A flawed rebuttal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jammer170 (895458) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:36PM (#41555443)

    This rebuttal is exactly why news reporting is so poor. This author has no scientific training, and his specific claims of the study being flawed betray that lack. To make his point he has to redefine the definition of nutritious from "more nutrients" to "lacking pesticides". This is why scientists are needed to peer review results - not some John or Jane Doe off the streets, or a certain New York Times journalist in an opinion piece.

    The study is very clear - for a certain set of nutrients, organic produce does not have more than regularly grown produce. At no point does the author of this rebuttal ever attempt to show otherwise. The fact that the study didn't test everything doesn't make it flawed. The interpretation of the results - that organic produce is no more nutritious than regular produce - may be flawed. If the study contained the most important nutrients, then the interpretation is correct. Personally I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to the Stanford scientist over the journalist until some serious peer review comes in. Frankly, there's nothing to see here but some journalist with an overblown sense of his own abilities.

  • by quantaman (517394) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:38PM (#41555455)

    Lets look at the meat of the article

    In fact, the Stanford study — actually a meta-study, an analysis of more than 200 existing studies — does say that “consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

    Since that’s largely why people eat organic foods, what’s the big deal? Especially if we refer to common definitions of “nutritious” and point out that, in general, nutritious food promotes health and good condition. How can something that reduces your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria not be “more nutritious” than food that doesn’t?

    Because the study narrowly defines “nutritious” as containing more vitamins.

    So his problem is the authors were dishonest because they didn't adhere to his incorrect definition of nutritious.

    And near the end
    Like too many studies, the Stanford study dangerously isolates a finding from its larger context

    That's a feature, not a bug. The role of a research paper isn't to make some broad sweeping conclusion, it's to carefully explore a narrow question, were the organics more nutritious, and on that question the answer was no.

  • Re:COME ON! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nutria (679911) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:42PM (#41555471)

    No you haven't. That idiot from the NYT has a really, really, really wrong definition of the word "nutritious".

  • by MattskEE (925706) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:09AM (#41555549)

    You missed some important points when you draw your conclusion:

    That's a feature, not a bug. The role of a research paper isn't to make some broad sweeping conclusion, it's to carefully explore a narrow question, were the organics more nutritious, and on that question the answer was no.

    This very important section of the article (emphasis mine) is conspicuously absent from your post:
    Yet even within its narrow framework it appears the Stanford study was incorrect. Last year Kirsten Brandt, a researcher from Newcastle University, published a similar analysis of existing studies and wound up with the opposite result, concluding that organic foods are actually more nutritious. In combing through the Stanford study she’s not only noticed a critical error in properly identifying a class of nutrients, a spelling error indicative of biochemical incompetence (or at least an egregious oversight) that skewed one important result, but also that the researchers curiously excluded evaluating many nutrients that she found to be considerably higher in organic foods.

    At this point that given that two research institutions have published metastudies with opposite conclusions, and that errors and oversights have been identified in the Stanford study, I'd have to say that the jury is out on this topic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:30AM (#41555631)

    Seriously? There are a lot of pro-Monsanto shill accounts on slashdot? Slashdot, the place where people form opinions on agriculture practices?

    The shill accusations at Microsoft, Google, and Apple get ridiculous enough, but at least they have some skin in the game.

    As for the article: the first five paragraphs had no substantive information whatsoever. The next three try to redefine nutritious such that the study results fit his purposes. Why didn't he just stick with arguing that not having trace pesticides was a valid discriminant, rather than trying to make nutritious about something other than nutrients? At absolute worst, the science reporting was flawed, not the study, by this argument. You have to *read* to understand; anybody going by headlines alone has already made their decision.

    The next bunch of paragraphs is more blithering.

    Then the paragraph about the spelling error on flavonol links to an article that appears to actually be written to by a competent person with a valid rebuttal. No credit for burying a link to a real rebuttal in a bullshit one.

    Then four more paragraphs of babbling.

  • by quantaman (517394) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:32AM (#41555649)

    You missed some important points when you draw your conclusion:

    That's a feature, not a bug. The role of a research paper isn't to make some broad sweeping conclusion, it's to carefully explore a narrow question, were the organics more nutritious, and on that question the answer was no.

    This very important section of the article (emphasis mine) is conspicuously absent from your post:
    Yet even within its narrow framework it appears the Stanford study was incorrect. Last year Kirsten Brandt, a researcher from Newcastle University, published a similar analysis of existing studies and wound up with the opposite result, concluding that organic foods are actually more nutritious. In combing through the Stanford study she’s not only noticed a critical error in properly identifying a class of nutrients, a spelling error indicative of biochemical incompetence (or at least an egregious oversight) that skewed one important result, but also that the researchers curiously excluded evaluating many nutrients that she found to be considerably higher in organic foods.

    At this point that given that two research institutions have published metastudies with opposite conclusions, and that errors and oversights have been identified in the Stanford study, I'd have to say that the jury is out on this topic.

    Sorry, I did notice that section of the article but forgot to address it. Partly that's a bit of scientific he-said she-said that I don't have the expertise to evaluate, but the other part is I don't really trust the reporter.

    The reporter has both shown a strong bias towards organics, and a willingness to bend facts (the tortured definition of nutritious) to unfairly attack the author's integrity. So I don't know if the Kirsten Brandt study was a good one, or if the excluded nutrients were important ones, or if there's any one of a dozen other reasons that those sentences could be misleading. The Standford study could be wrong, but this NY times article won't be the one to convince me, this reporter already lost my trust and I'm not going to take him at his word.

  • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:12AM (#41555785)

    Exactly what I was thinking when I read it - he basically seems to think that scientific studies are done to push their findings and make hard conclusions, rather than experiments that publish their findings. It was the ridiculous new media he's a part of that made the assumptions and conclusions he has issue with.

    It's almost amazing how horrible his understanding of scientific studies are when he talks about how it was "narrowly defined" (generally a GOOD thing!) and "isolates the findings from a larger context (also important to good science - the worst studies are the ones that try to make sweeping conclusions based on their results).

    Basically, don't knock the study, it was just a summary of collected data that was very clear about what it was saying. Knock the clueless journalists and pundits (of which BIttman is clearly one) for pretending it was any more than that.

  • by plover (150551) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:52AM (#41555933) Homepage Journal

    This article is so incredibly biased that it's hard to discover what's actually wrong with the Stanford research. This one reads like a raving lunatic jumping up and down because "the study didn't account for pesticides!" Well, it was a study that compared nutrition based on the nutrient content of the different production methods of food. Imagine that - they studied a bunch of numbers and totaled up their findings. Note that they did not study "which is worse for the environment", or "which food contains more residual agricultural chemicals", or "which tomato tastes better", or "which food contains more antibiotic resistant bacteria", yet those were the arguments he continually raised. That was not what this study studied!

    Then he blames the study because “[t]he researchers started with a narrow set of assumptions and arrived at entirely predictable conclusions." Again with the "not really surprised" response. What did he think they were supposed to do, poll the newspaper food editors and ask them which variables to study? If they don't start with a specific set of assumptions and control for as many variables as possible, the results will be meaningless. So he's outraged because they didn't pick his particular variables? Get over it.

    Now, could someone study the amount of residual pesticides in ordinary produce versus organically grown produce? Of course. Could someone study the human health effects of those doses of residual chemicals? Sure.

    I, too, would like to see the study go even further. I'd ask the researchers to add just a few more data points and have it become meaningful not just to outraged food writers but to all Americans. They should compare the nutrition value per dollar spent in the grocery store, instead of nutrition values per gram. Then the food writers can publish that right next to the unemployment and poverty statistics, and maybe they can write another article about "how low-income people are ruining the ecology of this country because they don't buy as much organically grown food as gainfully employed newspaper food editors." Then we'd could measure his reaction to having both organically grown and genetically modified tomatoes being thrown at him.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:11AM (#41555991)

    Ya, one big pro-organic person said "duh" when he was told of this result. The point of organic isn't about the nutrition, it's about the other things.

    Too many people get all their basic knowledge from the internet and their neighbors, and they get it all wrong. Especially with foods and nutrition there are a huge number of just stupid ideas floating around and you can not dissuade those people that their idea is wrong because they read it on the net.

    The other factor is the person who diets, exercises, stops smoking, and also some fad health thing; when the person feels better they claim it is of course due to the fad health thing (colon cleansing,raw food, more water intake, acupuncture, inacupuncture, etc).

  • Re:COME ON! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rioki (1328185) on Friday October 05, 2012 @03:02AM (#41556161) Homepage
    But "organic" was never about better products!!! It was ALWAYS about the ecological impact. It is about treating animals well, not killing non farm animals (e.g. insects) and ruining the land by doing massive mono culture and massive pesticide use. The better quality aspect came later, but it was never a focus of the movement. Why are we even debating it...
  • Re:COME ON! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hoboroadie (1726896) on Friday October 05, 2012 @04:08AM (#41556369)

    For some reason nobody else seems to be pointing out the fact that organic vegetables taste better. This alone compensates for any price differential, if you like to enjoy eating.

  • by Paradise Pete (33184) on Friday October 05, 2012 @04:30AM (#41556457) Journal

    Next time he's getting some oral favors, he should scream, "OH MY GOD YOU'RE EATING MEAT!"

    If there's a "Times to not make someone angry" list, I'd say that'd be in the top five.

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