Interview with Gary Taubes (part 12)

INTERVIEWER Did you ever hear of Israel Ramirez? He was one of Mark Friedman’s colleagues.

TAUBES That’s the Ramirez you quoted. I forgot that. I didn’t put it together, because I always knew him as I. Ramirez. I saw that, too — here’s my other carp, and then I’ll stop. It doesn’t do any good to have somebody discuss my arguments who hasn’t read the book.

INTERVIEWER I asked him to, so it’s my fault.

TAUBES Then other people see someone refuting me, and they don’t care whether they read the book or not. You know what I mean?

INTERVIEWER Well, I appreciate that it would be irritating.

TAUBES The problem is, you can’t ask Mark, because I know what Mark thinks of the book. He’s read it — he read it in draft and critiqued it for me. He’s in the book, so you can’t ask him, either, even though he would probably say tremendous things about it. You have to find people whose research I don’t discuss. I’ll tell you one guy who would be worth knowing what he thinks: George Wade. He’s at U. Mass Amherst. He did these rat experiments. He’s an expert on animal reproduction and I sent him a draft of the book, and I didn’t ask him to critique it, but I was asking him a fact-checking question and I sent him a copy of the book and he never got back to me. I don’t know if he read it or not. I’d be curious what he thinks, because he was my revelation, Wade. He shifted my paradigm.

INTERVIEWER You said something about that in your Berkeley talk.

TAUBES He was the one who got me to realize that we overeat because we get fat; we don’t get fat because we overeat. That’s the paradigm shift, the literal paradigm shift. He’s describing his ovariectomized rat experiments to me. That’s how he did it.

INTERVIEWER Do you know about someone named Michel Cabanac?

TAUBES Yeah, I read a lot of Cabanac’s stuff. I forget what the details were. I only remember that I was disappointed and decided that he was missing the point.

INTERVIEWER Well, he had a big effect on me, at least. His idea is that I’m sure there’s a set point, but that’s an old idea. The new idea is that the set point depends on what you eat. He had some ideas about that.

TAUBES Well, that’s the thing. There is a settling point, whatever you call it. The weird thing is that insulin regulates the settling point. It obviously goes up and down. It obviously goes up, anyway.

INTERVIEWER He might not disagree with your book. I asked him “Can insulin regulate the settling point?” I thought that was unlikely, but he didn’t; he thought, “Why not?”

TAUBES Insulin levels correlate with weight, with fat. The question is whether insulin goes up because we get fat, or we get fat because insulin levels go up. There’s always two ways of interpreting the observations in this business. So the establishment viewpoint is that insulin goes up because we get fat. I tracked that belief down to see if there was evidence for it, and indeed, there’s not; there’s a sort of misinterpretation of these experiments done by Ethan Sims 40-odd years ago. On the other hand, it’s easy to show that you can manipulate insulin levels by manipulating the carb content of the diet. If you manipulate the carb content of the diet, then the question becomes, does insulin and the weight still track? So the hypothesis is insulin regulates the settling point and the question is how do we test that rigorously to find out of that’s indeed what’s happening.

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