Michael Greger and “How Not to Die” (Except of Boredom)

Internet nutrition advice peddler and Humane Society of the United States rep Michael Greger certainly seems like a credible commentator on what to eat—he has an M.D., after all. But what if this white-coated proselytizer of veganism wouldn’t get hired at a hospital?

Greger’s credentials as a nutrition expert should be under question as we look at his new book, How Not to Die, released last month.

The book is what you’d expect from Greger: a meandering tome arguing for veganism as a way to ward off various diseases. It is voluminous but leaves a lot to be desired. Greger makes the case that, for example, eating certain things increases one’s risk of certain ailments. The question is, by how much? An educated decision relies on relative risk. If the risk of eating bacon every day is that it increases the risk of a certain cancer from 1 in a million to 1.1 in a million, one may well decide that it’s worth the risk. (Is a life without bacon a life worth living?) We all die of something.

In a similar vein of non-context, Greger tries to link pork to the transmission of Hepatitis E virus. The US eats around 15 billion pounds of pork every year, and the CDC calls Hepatitis E “rare.” It’s little things like this that call into question the whole book’s meaningfulness.

The website FiveThirtyEight has a nice write-up on why you can’t trust nutrition research that provides more food for thought—such as the fact that everything from lemons to carrots (you know, vegan foods) has been “linked” to cancer—but you get the idea. Greger overwhelms the reader with data, making it extremely difficult to mine through, or he simply cherry-picks. That’s certainly his right, but people should understand that Greger has an ideology and agenda. Given the density of the book, it is unlikely to change any minds, but instead provide reinforcement for the already devout.

Is Greger even a credible commentator? The blog Science-Based Medicine (which is run by medical doctors) has criticized Greger, and includes him in a piece last week calling out Joseph Mercola, who is regarded as an Internet quackery merchant.

Here’s some more info. After Greger’s graduation from Tufts medical school, records with the state of Maryland indicate that he only did a brief internship at a hospital—not a full residency—and never passed board certification. In other words, Greger is arguing that diet is preventive medicine, but has no certification from the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

Moreover, a photo that Greger uses for himself shows him wearing a white coat labeled “Lemuel Shattuck Hospital,” where he did his internship 15 years ago. He is no longer affiliated with the hospital and doesn’t even have a medical license in Massachusetts any longer, according to Commonwealth records. In fact, it is unclear if he has ever seen a patient.

Wearing the coat of a hospital you’re not affiliated with seems quite deceptive. Not as bad as the HSUS vice president who had a phony Ph.D.—which is illegal in some states—but still bad. How can we trust Greger if he misleads on such a thing?

Greger is also not a researcher in the traditional sense. A PubMed search reveals no peer-reviewed studies published by Greger. There are a few commentaries listed under his name, but these tend to just take the “party line” of HSUS.

In short, Greger is simply reading studies that others did and offering commentary. Anybody can do that. Greger’s book made a New York Times bestseller list, but the Times notes that some retailers report receiving bulk orders. Perhaps a pile of Greger’s books is littering the hallways at HSUS right now. One way or the other, the doctor is out, and the hack is in.