In the 1960s, Edmund Wilson reviewed Vladimir Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. Wilson barely knew Russian and his review was a travesty. Everything was wrong. Nabokov wondered if it had been written that way to make sense when reflected in a mirror.
I thought of this when I read recent remarks by “celiac experts” in the New York Times. The article, about gluten sensitivity, includes an example of a woman who tried a gluten-free diet:
Kristen Golden Testa could be one of the gluten-sensitive. Although she does not have celiac, she adopted a gluten-free diet last year. She says she has lost weight and her allergies have gone away. “It’s just so marked,” said Ms. Golden Testa, who is health program director in California for the Children’s Partnership, a national nonprofit advocacy group. She did not consult a doctor before making the change, and she also does not know [= is unsure] whether avoiding gluten has helped at all. “This is my speculation,” she said. She also gave up sugar at the same time and made an effort to eat more vegetables and nuts.
Fine. The article goes on to quote several “celiac experts” (all medical doctors) who say deeply bizarre things.
“[A gluten-free diet] is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini [medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center] said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”
Where Testa provides a concrete example of health improvement and refrains from making too much of it, Dr. Guandalini does the opposite (provides no examples, makes extreme claims).
Later, the article says this:
Celiac experts urge people to not do what Ms. Golden Testa did — self-diagnose. Should they actually have celiac, tests to diagnose it become unreliable if one is not eating gluten. They also recommend visiting a doctor before starting on a gluten-free diet.
As someone put it in an email to me, “Don’t follow the example of the person who improved her health without expensive, invasive, inconclusive testing. If you think gluten may be a problem in your diet, you should keep eating it and pay someone to test your blood for unreliable markers and scope your gut for evidence of damage. It’s a much better idea than tracking your symptoms and trying a month without gluten, a month back on, then another month without to see if your health improves.”
Are the celiac experts trying to send a message to Edmund Wilson, who died many years ago?