By Michael Collins
A widely publicized study claiming that there is no demonstrated difference in nutritional value between organically and conventionally grown foods just appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Broad mainstream media coverage produced headlines like Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce. The media failed to mention one point that may be of major interest.
The study relied on a statistical technique called meta-analysis. Over 200 plus scientific journal articles were combined as the data set for the study. The article co-author with recognized expertise in meta-analysis, Ingram Olkin, applied for a grant from Council of Tobacco Research (CTR) in 1976.
CTR was part of the infamous Tobacco Institute, an industry group of cigarette manufacturers. Ingram was on the faculty of Stanford University at the time. The authors of the current study diminishing the value of organic foods are also from Stanford University, with Olkin listed as a professor emeritus.
Olkin applied to the CTR to conduct a project on the statistical methods used in the Framingham Heart Study, the landmark project linking cigarette smoking with increased risk of heart disease. From publicly available tobacco industry documents, we find this from cigarette manufacturer lawyers:
“I met with Dr. Olkin and Dr. Marvin Kastenbaum [Tobacco Institute Statistics Director] on December 17, 1975, .at which time we discussed Dr. Olkin’s interest in multivariate analysis statistical models. Dr. Olkin is well qualified and is very articulate. I learned, in visiting with Dr. Olkin, that he would like to examine the theoretical structure of the “multivariate logistic risk function.”