I have often felt that "The Economist" is one of the best-edited publications around. Since it primarily involves economics, and there is no scientific basis to it beyond supply and demand, it is easy to appreciate writing and editing, the same way I could be impressed if the world had a great magazine devoted to astrology.

Sometimes "The Economist" forgets its wheelhouse and ends up looking more ridiculous than Javier Baez swinging at something so far off the plate the catcher was lucky to grab it.

Case in point; their pseudo-intellectual hot take on "ultra-processed" foods. It is a meaningless term, only manufactured when organic food activists trying to get GMOs banned decided to go after "processed" food, and quickly discovered they knew so little science that even organic bread blessed by a tribal Shaman had been processed. So they created a new term and nutrition academics trying to seem relevant scrambled for a way to define it.

In the case of The Economist, they create correlation arrows - centenarians in locations and what their habits are - but then infer causation. Clusters don't work that way. Erin Brockovich became famous because she and the lawyer she worked for and other grifters like Tom Girardi convinced PG&E that they could convince a California jury(1) that a clump of diseases was linked to water. Even though science knew it was impossible.

The Economist suggests Seventh Day Adventists live longer because they don't eat a lot of "ultra-processed" food. Except I didn't grow up eating "ultra-processed" food either, but because I lived in poverty. We lived on a subsistence farm, we couldn't even afford pesticides, we sure weren't buying Beefaroni.

Will I still live longer even though I am not a Seventh Day Adventist? If I do live longer, is it because I grew up in poverty?

Who knows? That is the problem with writers taking economics thinking, find two curves you like that can be placed on each each, and entering the world of science and health. You have to invoke nonsense like "nutritional psychiatry", which has even less credibility than String Theory and Evolutionary Psychology. It is 'grain brain' shoddy methodology mixed with 'food is medicine' alternative beliefs. 

Economists and economics writers are used to having no predictive power, or at least having it be inconsequential - China does not care what white women in western journalism think about Chinese economic policy - but prediction is a fundamental tenet of science.

All food is processed. Calling some of it ultra-processed is capricious and arbitrary, our mitochondria, our whole biological energy mechanism, can not tell the difference. A decade ago, food evangelists tried to do this stiff with corn syrup also, but where stumped when asked how our bodies could tell the difference between "high fructose" corn syrup whose use by parents was epigenetically being blamed for autism, and organic honey. The fructose was the same.


(1) Or anywhere in California, and they are right, coastal California either hate science or are shockingly stupid, because for decades they have been the go-to location for jury trials that have no science basis and things like vaccine denial. In the case of Erin Brockovich, there is no more cancer in Hinckley, California than anywhere else, and residents got $10,000. The lawyers got $133,000,000.