RIP: The great cholesterol scam (1955 – 2015)

Your doctor still probably believes that cholesterol in the diet translates into cholesterol in the bloodstream, that there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and that “bad” cholesterol bears a statistically significant relationship to heart disease. Every one of these propositions is false.

I refer you to an excellent article by Matt Ridley “cholesterol is not bad for you”, who  writes:


Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol found in your blood from scratch, and adjusts for what you ingest, which is why diet does not determine blood cholesterol levels. Lowering blood cholesterol by changing diet is all but impossible.

Nor is there any good evidence that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease or shorter life. It is not even a risk factor in people who have already had heart attacks. In elderly people — ie, those who have the most heart attacks — the lower your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of death. Likewise in children.

From the very first, the studies that linked the ingestion of cholesterol and saturated animal fats to cardiovascular disease were not just flawed, but tinged with scandal.

It is well worth reading the rest. What I have to say here  reflects upon the course of this great fallacy. The cholesterol scam bears a strong relationship to the anthropogenic global warming scam.

1) it is propagated by scientists on a non-scientific mission.

2) it is believed because it plausibly explains an observation (increasing global temperature [for a time], increasing heart attacks from smoking in the 1950s and 60s). It taps into large anxieties about too much wealth, too much happiness, in western societies. There must be sin somewhere, and the public is ready to flog itself in the cause of a secularized idea of God, uh, I mean Good.

3) the causal relationship is weaker than first supposed; the research is found to be sloppy, the facts have been fudged, subsequent studies do not fully support the original claims, nevertheless the orthodoxy is promulgated all the more harshly for being doubted.

4) by now, powerful economic and ideological interests have taken hold. They supply an ongoing source of funds and opinion to ensure the perpetuation of the alarm: in the case of cholesterol, the margarine industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical establishment, and in the case of AGW, the tribe of bureaucrats and leftists who seek to control markets, whose god of Marxism had failed, and who needed a new god (Gaia) to justify their rule.

5) The skeptics who have patiently argued on the basis of facts that the science of each phenomenon was weak, are ostracized by the opinion establishments of medicine and global warming. Cranks, but the cranks are right and the orthodox priests and Levites are wrong.

6) Eventually, after fifty or sixty years, the subject of discussion just changes. In the case of cholesterol, the evidence gets weaker and weaker, and the problems caused by too much sugar consumption (obesity, diabetes), caused in part by people not eating enough fats and meats, reaches a stage where it can no longer be ignored.

7) the retreat of the orthodoxy is covered by a smokescreen of fresh concerns for some other catastrophe. No admissions of error or apologies for wrecked careers and following bad science are ever issued. Time flows on, bringing neither knowledge nor greater understanding of the role of folly in human affairs.

8) stages 6 and 7 have been reached in the cholesterol cycle; they are beginning in the anthropogenic global warming scam. Fifty years from now, there will still be clanking windmills in the North Sea, but whether they will be still linked to a power grid is less likely, and whether anyone will pay attention is doubtful. The lobbies that keep them there, however, will still exist.


These long term fashions in intolerant error should cause all people to question the intelligence and wisdom of the human species. I call these schools of thought and action “phologiston”,  after a disproven but thousand-year-old Greek theory of what fire was.

There are two major sources of metaphorical phlogiston in modern society: the climate people and the medical profession.

Phlogiston is the ancient term for a substance that was imputed to exist in all things  that prevented combustion. Phlogiston was necessary in a Greek idea of a universe. Without phlogiston, everything would burn, because it was in the nature of all things to seek to rise from the four sub-lunary elements below (earth, air, fire , water) to the empyrean , the zone beyond fire, outside the orbits of the five planets around the earth. This was the hidden metaphysical postulate, which they never questioned. (All summaries of obsolete world views make them look ridiculous; they were not, they were merely in error).

If all things naturally wanted to burn up, then something must prevent combustion, and this substance was called “phlogiston”. From premise to assumed force. No one questioned the premise for more than a thousand years.

So when Priestly and Lavoisier said that combustion was a process of  oxygenation, and proved it by showing that certain things gained weight when burned, phlogiston lost credibility to a newer, chemical idea of burning.

Note that phlogiston is an idea predicated on a larger world view, and is  introduced to explain the operations of that world view. That things do not normally burn is something that needs explanation in the Greek world view.

Correspondingly, in the modern world view in North America and Europe, the fact that needs explaining – I propose for your consideration –  is “why are we so rich?” and the answer we get out of post-Christian secularized guilt is: “We must have done something wrong.”

The assumption of a secularized guilt is the underlying assumption. Heart attacks are  punishment for overindulgence in highly nutritious food; global warming is punishment for our thoughtless depredations upon Gaia. A future perspective may laugh at the modern human propensity to consider prosperity and health as occasions for guilt, just as we denigrate the Greeks for assuming all things want to burn their way to the empyrean sphere of a geocentric universe.

I tell you folks, the longer I live, the more truth I see in Chesterton’s remark – attributed to him – that when people cease to believe in God, the more likely they are to believe any nonsense that comes their way. Save your beliefs for absurdities like the Christian religion, and keep your mind clear to detect the bullshit constantly propagated in the material world.  It will not lack for targets, I assure you.





Bravo, well said Sir! My thoughts exactly. That last statement just diminished the whole article for me. Shouldn’t have bothered me but it did.

Beyond Salvage

Yeah. Strange and unnecessary potshot at the end. It ruins an otherwise good article. Makes me question if the author is just on a vendetta against the evil doctors that pissed him off, just like he is on a vendetta against a pastor/priest/church that pissed him off. Regardless it was an unnecessary and the comment will color what I think was a good article.

Donald Sensing

As I wrote seven years ago, environmentalism is a religion in its own right (or, Left):

Environmentalist religion explained.”

“At bottom, modern environmentalism has discarded scientific rigor to embrace something not much different than Leninism, the desire to control the major components of the way individuals live. From there it is a short step for environmentalism to Leninism’s successor: Stalinism, the desire to control every aspect of the way we live. That’s our future, minus the gulags. We hope.”

As for your snark about the “absurdities like the Christian religion,” I take it you have not actually studied the evidences for Christian faith, and I will leave it at that.


At least you understood what I was trying to say, Stephen.If the phrase is good enough for Tertullian it is good enough for me. Credo quia absurdum.


I have studied them and I account myself a quite orthodox believer. Belief is not grounded in any materialist understanding of the world, which is perhaps to say a quite different thing than what I previously said.

Walter Sobchak

When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.

This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts’ book “The Laughing Prophet: The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton” (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in “The Oracle of the Dog” (1923): “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.” Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: “‘It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: ‘And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'” Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts. Nigel Rees is credited with identifying this as the source of the misattribution, in a 1997 issue of First Things

As Umberto Eco wrote:

“G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it – he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

“The “death of God”, or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church …”


So wait. If Christianity is an absurdity (and I would assume other religions as well), and the bullcrap spewed by the world is absurdity as they find belief in stupidity rather than God, what was your point exactly? The article was very good up until that line. Then you lost me.

Was it meant sarcastically? As in, the idiots who promote these new religions like AGW accuse Christians of believing in the absurd, but have the inability to see how they hang on to complete BS?


I actually liked the ending bit on Christianity. To explain to the commenters who didn’t get it: one of the author’s conclusions is that it is inescapable human nature to believe in absurdities. If so, he suggests that Christianity provides a less harmful set of absurdities than the modern secular alternatives. This may in fact be true.


Sorry, but the elephant in the room is that there are THREE “major sources of metaphorical phlogiston in modern society”

Darwinism/materialistic evolution being the third, and the most pronounced. Once people started accepting the hand-waving arguments and smoke-screens for this, they were ready to accept anything, including people being told what the weather was despite what was outside their own window.

Maurizio Morabito

These facts underline the sad truth that science isn’t the Unshakeable Truth Seeking Process that we’ve been led to believe, rather the momentary interpretation of observations made within a particular world view.

Sometimes one is left wondering how what looks to a person as incontrovertible objective scientific evidence, is instead a silly objectionable prejudiced interpretation to others.

Another good example apart from phlogiston and cholesterol, is Precambrian complex life, thoroughly denied by the Scientific Establishment for decades despite what look to us as self evident fossils telling a different story.


Most excellent comparison, and a reality check on politicized “science”. I’ll be referring to your ‘eight steps of scam’ in future debates on AGW and diet.


Thank you Randal for your polite comment. Continue reading this and other blogs of the same ilk and you will see plenty of evidence that man is not causing global warming through burning fossil fuels. He is certainly causing plenty of other damage – overfishing, overgrazing, and so forth, but AGW as a scientific theory is plenteously disproven. Which is why “they” changed the subject to climate change.To the extent that AGW – with the emphasis on “anthropogenic” meaning man-caused – is a scientific proposition: it is wrong.

Earth Expansion

So the author makes a distinction between a belief in God and the Christian Religion. I’d be inclined to take an even harder line and make it between thinking and believing.
Draw it (if you can) through the spangle of stars and fairy stories we grew up with as children. Not for nothing is “wishing upon a star” a powerful motif.

The long slow retreat from AGW - Barrel Strength

[…] I have previously maintained that the anthropogenic global warming  (AGW) scare resembles the chole…. No government agency will announce that cholesterol is neither good nor bad; there will be for a long time a slow leakage into public consciousness that new studies show the whole thing to be based on false evidence. […]

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *