Note: Check back at the Runner-Ups list and 10th through 8th Biggest Assholes if you haven’t already seen them. And later today for the “6th Biggest Asshole in American History” along with the…drum roll please…Top 5 Biggest Assholes in only the next few days.
John Hickson (of the Sugar Association or Sugar Research Foundation)…This is by far the least well-known person in the “Biggest Assholes” list. But he’s had an arguably bigger impact than some of the others, spearheading what is believed to be one of the first instances of false science in the food industry, a corporate-backed study the Sugar Research Foundation put out.
In the mid-60’s, he had Harvard scientists including Mark D. Hegsted (later a USDA official) and Frederick J. Stare (Chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department) produce a fake study saying fat was primarily responsible for heart problems, and minimizing the effects of excess sugar on the heart. The results meant that it would be decades before anyone seriously thought to look back into the link between sugar and poor health. And by pointing the finger at fat, the study all but guaranteed the public would want a reduced-fat diet that was—you guessed it—high in sugar. The Sugar Research Foundation (an arm of what is today just called The Sugar Association) essentially increased profits by getting more sugar put in products to offset the poor taste that results by taking the fat out.
Although not single-handedly, this study absolutely gave rise to the obesity wave, high-sugar culture, diabetes epidemic, and has had a negative impact on heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart attacks, the exact opposite of what this “fake news” study said would happen. Fewer people have heard of this incredibly influential study than the fake-cigarette studies Big Tobacco put out, and the more current falsifying of climate change data put out by Exxon-Mobile. This study only became known in 2016, nearly fifty years after it changed the focus of heart problems from sugar to fat, and that’s a hell of a reign for fake science.
Asshole Adjacent: Obviously, Frederick J. Stare and Mark D. Hegsted (the scientists who actually falsified the data) deserve just as much blame, and I’d like to give a dishonorable mention to all the other industries (Big Tobacco, Fossil Fuels, Pharmaceuticals, Coca-Cola and Food in general) that have falsified, as well as the Scientists, Doctors, Economists (as revealed in the Oscar-winning documentary “Inside Job,” Ivy League-backed economists were also working for Wall Street), think tanks, “research labs,” and an entire industry of flim-flam that now exists. Every time a Saudi Arabia-backed lobbying firm writes a bogus think piece or a McDonald’s-endowed university produces “a groundbreaking new study!” to say pink slime isn’t harmful, you can thank the False Data-Industrial Complex covertly produced and hidden by the Sugar Association. Now more than ever, it’s time to learn the history of corporate-backed flim flam so we can learn how to defeat it in the future.