Rant: The problem with not researching your sources! 2

This post is starting with a rant. Its probably ending with one too. I am so fed up today having spent a couple of hours on a wild goose chase for an original source for a well- cited ‘research” study

It all started when I read this article online from a source that generally impresses me with its information,  written by a man who is somebody that I have a lot of respect for and I am sure that he has helped hundreds of people understand emotional eating. However he often writes things like this:

“………..In another unusual study, researchers from Sweden and Thailand joined forces to determine how cultural preferences for food affects the absorption of iron from a meal. A group of women from each country was fed a typical Thai meal – rice, veggies, coconut, fish sauce and hot chili paste. As fate would have it, Thai women enjoy Thai food but Swedish women don’t. This proved to be a crucial metabolic fact, because, even though all the meals contained the exact same amount of iron, the Swedish women absorbed only half as much as the Thai women. To complete this phase of the study, both groups received a typical Swedish meal – hamburger, mashed potatoes, and string beans with the exact same iron content. Not surprisingly, the Thai Women absorbed significantly less iron from their Swedish meal……..”

I read this and I think “Hip hip hooray!” proof that one has to enjoy ones food in order to absorb nutrients. I truly want to believe this theory, as I am sure that many others do. But, the cynic in me wants to check the source out. So, there starts my wild goose chase. I google the study only to be faced with a screen full of search items that are written by other people directly quoting the above paragraph. Actually taking me further away from the source that I am seeking. I start sniffing about in the Tufts archives as my original source states that Tufts University were the ones that revealed this information. Finally, I find the volume of the journal that this information apparently came from and I laughed out loud when I found the page with the article on that has been so widely cited:

“…….Researchers from Sweden and Thailand found that out some years ago when they collaborated on a study that looked at how well iron was absorbed from a meal fed to women of two different cultures……….”


This is a Tufts University publication and they write things like “researchers” without referencing the actual identities of the researchers! That to me means nothing. Unless you can tell me who the researchers were, when it was, what it proved and if it was a significant and credible study as far as I am concerned that study does not exist.

But I am determined to try and prove to myself that our current processing of scientific information is not this flawed, so I am searching archives of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Thus far I have garnered that in fact this was not one single study as the above quotes would have us believe but separate studies done at separate times. One in Thailand, one in Sweden and each study only had 30-35 participants so in my opinion not a big enough number to prove anything about the general population. To top it all off, this is the title to the study that I am currently reading in The American Journal of Clinical journal_logoNutrition:


“Iron Absorption in Southeast Asian Diets: The role of various factors that might explain low absrption”

absrption. Really.

Who is reviewing the credibility of these publications if nobody is even proof- reading them?! That is the title in a Journal of Clinical Nutrition and its spelt wrong! How can I be expected to take these researchers seriously when nobody is even looking closely enough to spell the title? How can I expect them to interpret statistics correctly if they cannot even watch what they are writing!

So basically, in todays blog I am not doing to review this study until I can look past the mis-spelt title.

What I found was that people often just regurgitate erroneous information on the internet and quite frankly I think its getting dangerously close to becoming the standard for what clinicians and therapists are using for a knowledge base. Just look at the digging that I had to do today to find that in fact, the paragraph that is splattered all over the internet is fundamentally flawed. It is much easier to just accept when one reads, in that sense ignorance is a bliss indeed.

Check what you read, and if you quote studies do me a favor and quote the original source or do not bother.

On the plus side, today has reinforced my trust in my own intuition and has made me more adamant than ever not to get seduced by appealing looking sources of information. Like doughnuts, they look good and can be very tempting in the heat of the moment, but are bad for you in the long term.

P.s. If anyone can find a study to prove that  original source that I cannot find, or that Tufts source is valid please let me know as I still really want to believe that these sources are credible! Please!!

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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2 thoughts on “Rant: The problem with not researching your sources!

  • Jessica

    Hi, I found your blog while looking for the original source to the same article on iron absorption. I eventually found the article – and you have the right title title too, except it is the second of two articles that you want, apparently… (Hallberg, Leif, et al. “Iron absorption from Southeast Asian diets. II. Role of various factors that might explain low absorption.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 30.4 (1977): 539-548. APA) The link is here: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/30/4/539.full.pdf
    If you scroll to the discussion, you’ll find the interesting conclusions that were so widely discussed (but not cited!)

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi Jessica

      Thank you for taking a minute to wrote here and post that link 🙂

      I did find that second paper, but I found it so different than those that were citing it that I still am not sure that this is all that there is?
      I am so glad that you found my blog, I worry that it gets lost in the world of wordpress!

      What are you studying that required that you look up this – just out of interest?