Thursday, October 11, 2012

Scapegoat Activism.

I was about to go to bed when I saw an article being promoted by @HuffPostFood on Twitter that said, 'the dark side of soda'.  Curious, I clicked on the article and discovered it was yet another ridiculous piece from Michael F. Jacobson of the ill-named Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The article blames soda for amputations, impotence, and painful dentistry.  Clearly, this is meant to shock people.  I don't know why I expected anything reasonable from that organization.

We live in a time where we can have as much of whatever it is that we want.  With that, we should be mindful of overdoing it; eating too much(guilty), drinking too much, et cetera.  Anything consumed in excess will carry with it certain negative consequences.  Anything.  

Knowing that, should we proceed on a route of zero tolerance, with the logic that if we can't have too much of something then we shouldn't have any of it or should we proceed with the totality of the diet in mind and try to engage in all things in moderation?

Jacobson talks about how we used to enjoy 6.5 or 10 fl oz servings of Coke or Pepsi, but now we have 20 fl oz and up of these beverages and... well, you know... amputations.  He goes on to mention Big Soda, by which he means Coca Cola and Pepsico.  He doesn't mention smaller companies that make the same sort of beverage to sell in organic groceries... 

He goes on to promote an animated short called The Real Bears, which is an attack against the aforementioned Big Soda.  Once again this should be of little surprise to people.

Michael F. Jacobson and the CSPI commonly engage in what I call, 'Scapegoat Activism'.  You see, they have built a big, expensive institution that must be constantly fed with new members and donors.  'All things in moderation' is not a very good recruiting tool, but fear, hysteria, and misinformation are.  So what they do is pick a villain, put the word 'Big' in front of it to signal to you that this is a big, profit hungry corporation that not only doesn't care about you, but hopes to separate you from your money while killing you, and then blame all of society's ills on that one villain.

The villains are things like conventionally grown fruits and veggies, Happy Meal kid's toys, food coloring, and of course, big soda.

They employ a couple methods for scaring people to their side.  One is through giving you some information, but not enough to dissuade you from becoming irrationally afraid.  For instance, they'll have an article talking about the evils of caramel coloring and how it will lead to cancer, but they'll leave out the information about how much of that coloring you would need to ingest to maybe get cancer and how that number means you could never drink enough cola to get there.  Two is through using the same logic that Bush used as rational for a whole manor of policies.  It's the whole, 'if A = B and B = C, then A = C' crap.  Oversimplification would be a vast understatement.

The problem with that method is that food doesn't really work that way.  Our diets are fungible, meaning that we have a certain number  of calories/sugar/sodium and the sources of those things will change from day to day.  You can spend a lot of calories on certain things and still be ok so long as you make room for it.  This is how Michael Phelps could eat 12,000 calories a day and weigh 165lbs and not 1,000lbs, because he offsets the caloric intake with exercise.  It's how that one guy was able to eat a Big Mac every day for 25 years and not be fat.  There is absolutely no data showing that people got amputations, impotence, or cavities from soda alone.  It's the totality of the diet that matters, not a short term indulgence, and not one item in the diet.

He needs new villains to drum up membership, donors, and credibility so more people believe him and so he can publish another article with a new villain to start the process over again.  That, my friends, is Scapegoat Activism.  Don't let yourself get played.


  1. Corporations and and other businesses are always said to have an "agenda" and so are not to be trusted. But how about the so-called "consumer groups",environmental organizations etc.?
    You are absolutely correct in pointing out that their income comes from donations, and scare tactics are the way to go.
    Michael Crichton's book "State of Fear" does a good job of explaining this culture of fear mongering.

  2. Thats true that are fungible, meaning that we have a certain number of calories/sugar/sodium and the sources of those things will change from day to day, and this make affect.


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