It wasn’t Kolata’s first drive-by. She cited Hirsch in a memorably hostile review of Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories in October 2007, that dismissed his exhaustive reporting out of hand. (Kolata had her own, competing diet book out at the time, Rethinking Thin, meaning that she probably shouldn’t have gotten the assignment.) From her patronizing lede (“Gary Taubes is a brave and bold science journalist who does not accept conventional wisdom”) to her weirdly personal ending (“I am sorry, I am not convinced”), she knew something was wrong with the book, only she didn’t know what. “[T]he problem with a book like this one,” she wrote, “which goes on and on in great detail about experiments new and old in areas ranging from heart disease to cancer to diabetes, is that it can be hard to know what has been left out.”

Poor Taubes. No one warned him that 600 pages of evidence were never going to be enough. The theory that weight gain boils down “calories-in, calories-out” is the last man standing in the diet wars. The principle anchors the comforting American belief that personal responsibility explains all of our ills. It validates all that wasted time on the treadmill that people like Kolata and others endorse. It keeps us watching shows like The Biggest Loser. It leaves the door open to low-calorie, high-carbohydrate food products that make the economy hum, are portable, do not require we learn to cook, make children stop crying, and taste good. Any efforts at reporting science to the contrary will always have a rough road.

 

Paul Scott is a writer who lives in Minnesota. He has written for The New York Times and Men's Health, and is the recipient of a National Magazine Award.