to the Editor | VegSource
Robert Cohen and
to the editor by Stephen Kaufman, MD The views expressed in Letters to the
do not necessarily reflect those of VegSource
12, 2002 -- I suspect a lot of people have been confused by the
voluminous exchanges between Robert Cohen and his critics. In my
opinion, the most important issue, Cohen's trustworthiness, has
been lost among some tangential issues and angry exchanges. Cohen
frequently analyzes medical reports and offers nutritional advice,
which activists have accepted as truth (in part, I think, because
of his compelling, dynamic speaking and writing style).
Can Cohen be
first questioned Cohen's analysis of the Hjartaker et al. report
. Walsh could not understand how Cohen could make the remarkable
claim that Hjartaker et al.'s data revealed the exact opposite of
the authors' conclusions. Walsh suspected that Cohen had fabricated
data as the only possible way that Cohen could arrive at the amazing
statement that moderate or high milk consumption leads to a 6.4
times greater breast cancer risk than low milk consumption.
Hjartaker et al. found that those who consumed "low" quantities
of milk in combined childhood and adulthood had less than the expected
number of breast cancers, given the numbers of women in the "low"
group compared to "moderate" and "high" groups.
For no apparent reason, Cohen claimed that the number of expected
breast cancers in the "low" group was roughly equal to
that of the "moderate" group plus the "high"
group. However, this made no sense, because the number of women
in the "low" group was far lower than those in the "moderate"
plus "high" groups. With his evidently fabricated data,
Cohen then concluded that the Hjartaker et al. group had perpetrated
a fraud and that the number of breast cancers among low milk consumers
was much less than the expected number.
Cohen to justify these calculations, and Cohen refused (on the dubious
grounds that Walsh is an "infiltrator" and a "stalker").
I carefully reviewed the study, and it seemed clear that Cohen must
have indeed fabricated data. Trying to be fair, I privately asked
Cohen to explain his calculations, but Cohen initially evaded my
questions and then cut off communication on the grounds that I had
that Cohen had fabricated his data, I publicly challenged Cohen
to explain his calculations. As I expected, he continued to obfuscate,
claiming that his essay at notmilk.com clearly explains his analysis
and demanding that those who question him answer unanswerable questions.
These open exchanges encouraged other people, including vegan journalist
Baumel, to request an explanation. If Cohen could provide an
explanation, it would have been easy to do so. He hasn't provided
an explanation because he can't.
has made many dubious scientific claims posted at his web set
and distributed to his 4400 member (moderator only post) firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though he generally makes authoritative claims, they are in fact
poorly documented (at best) and people must accept his claims
largely on faith. His fabricated analysis of the milk/breast cancer
study, alone, demonstrates that he cannot be trusted. The articles,
letters, and e-mails regarding Cohen published at vegsource.com
reveal a pattern of unfounded, misleading claims. Many of these
dubious claims evidently serve primarily financial concerns, promoting
his soy milk machine over competitors. (See http://www.vegsource.com/articles/061399.notmilk.htm
2. Cohen portrays
himself as scientific. Yet, the essays at vegsource.com and my
own analysis betray the falsity of Cohen's assertion, written
in response to the Walsh critique, that "The 1000+ columns
that I have written contain real science, and my analysis of scientific
fraud have continuously withstood the rigorous scrutiny of peer
2/8/02 message "True Evil Is Exposed"; www.vegsource.com/articles/cohen/
"The Sad Truth About Robert Cohen").
3. Cohen has
maligned Hjartaker and colleagues, claiming they are perpetrators
of "THE FRAUDULENT STUDY OF THE CENTURY." In fact, Hjartaker
et al. themselves readily acknowledge their study's limitations
and advise caution in interpreting their data. Hjartaker kindly
answered my questions about the study, and I have no reason to
believe that she and her colleagues are not honest, decent people.
However, Cohen goes farther than raise doubts that milk protects
against breast cancer. He accuses the authors of fraud and says
that their data shows that milk causes breast cancer. In fact,
Cohen's claims are the fraudulent ones.
campaign against Stephen Walsh has been ugly and false. Walsh
is a dedicated vegan advocate who has raised valid objections
to Cohen's writings. Cohen has responded with a vicious hate campaign
(see, for example, www.notmilk.com/forum15.txt,
2/8/02 message "True Evil Is Exposed"), prompting some
people to call for Walsh's dismissal from his position as a trustee
of the Vegan Society.
5. We have
no control over Cohen's private web site and e-mail list, but
giving him 10 presentations at AR2002 (www.animalrights2002.org/schedule.html)
tells the world that the AR movement stands behind him.
data, particularly when done to denounce somebody's academic work,
is sufficient grounds for dismissal from an academic institution
(e.g., college, graduate school, teaching staff) and to be ostracized
by colleagues. These are the standards of academia. If the animal
advocacy movement is to be taken seriously by thoughtful, educated
people, we must have standards of integrity. Similarly, we do
not deserve the respect of anyone of who values truth in advocacy,
truth in advertising, or journalistic integrity if we countenance
dishonesty within our own ranks while denouncing dishonesty among
I have had no
axe to grind with Cohen. Prior to Walsh's revelations, I had some
respect for Cohen's work (admittedly I had not examined it closely)
and my few personal interactions with him had been pleasant. However,
I now find his behavior outrageous. I'd like to think it's not just
me. While I am academically oriented (I am an Assistant Clinical
Professor at both Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
and Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine and I have several
published papers and a chapter in the ophthalmology literature),
I think integrity should transcend the walls of academia. How can
we hope to win the hearts of minds of thoughtful people if we don't
show high standards of integrity?
I dread the
prospect of Cohen being a prominent speaker at a conference for
hundreds of young AR activists anxious to learn how to be more effective
advocates for the cause.