For some reason, I can’t seem to escape Chicken McNuggets. About a month ago, I expressed my complete amusement over an “investigation” of Chicken McNuggets done by everyone’s favorite crank and quackery promoter, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com. I’m tellin’ ya, it was like Inspector Clouseau with a microscope when Mike Adams expressed amazement that Chicken McNuggets looked strange and alien when viewed under a microscope. Hilariously, he’s at it again:
The Health Ranger’s forensic food investigation of Chicken McNuggets two months ago is making new waves across the industry. A new study published in the American Journal of Medicine appears to have been inspired by the Natural News publishing of photos revealing “strange fibers” in Chicken McNuggets, and it is now exploding across the mainstream media.
“Chicken Nuggets Contain Skin, Tissue, Blood Vessels and More,” blares one headline.
Another headline from The Atlantic says, “The Three Grossest Sentences You’ll Read About Chicken Nuggets Today.”
All the stories refer to a forensic microscopic investigation of chicken nuggets revealing that they contain all sorts of mysterious ingredients which are not chicken meat.
What Adams and The Atlantic are referring to is a study that examined chicken nuggets published in the American Journal of Medicine by Dr. Richard deShazo, UMMC professor of medicine, pediatrics and immunology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The study is entitled The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads “Chicken Little” and, I must say, it’s an example of a study type that I’ve never seen before: The pathological examination of a processed meat nugget. The study itself doesn’t reveal specifically which nuggets were studied, mentioning that the investigators went to two restaurants from national fast food chains in Jackson, MS and purchased a box of their chicken nuggets. Presumably (although it is not stated in the article), one of these restaurants was a McDonalds. After reading the rest of the methods, I must say that this is about the skimpiest paper I’ve seen published in a medical journal in a long, long time. Basically, all these guys did next was to pick one chicken nugget at random from each of the two boxes of chicken nuggets that they had purchased. These two chicken nuggets were then fixed in formalin and processed for standard histology by being embedded in paraffin and stained with standard hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) or trichrome stain. Here’s what the investigators found:
The nugget from the first restaurant (Figure 1) was composed of approximately 50% skeletal muscle, with the remainder composed primarily of fat, with some blood vessels and nerve present (Figure 1A, trichome stain, 40). Higher-power views showed generous quantities of epithelium and associated supportive tissue (Figure 1B, H&E, 400), including squamous epithelium from skin or viscera (Figure 1C, H&E, 100).
The nugget from the second restaurant (Figure 2) was composed of approximately 40% skeletal muscle (Figure 2A, trichome stain 40). Here too, there were generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue (Figure 2B) and bone spicules (Figure 2C, both stained with H&E, 400).
Wow! Big surprise! It’s not as though it isn’t common knowledge that chicken nuggets are basically no more than processed “extras” from the chicken; so it’s not surprising that there would be skin, connective tissue, and the like there. Besides, as anyone who likes fried chicken knows, the skin can be the best part, particularly when breaded and fried up. Even in baked chicken the skin can be quite good. It’s also rather silly to be shocked that there were blood vessels found. Regular chicken meat has blood vessels in it and, yes, nerves too. These are structures that are commonly found embedded in or attached to muscle, which is all that meat is, anyway. Finally, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of fat in these “nuggets” as well. Basically, this is about as close to a “Well, duh!” finding as I can think of, and seeing deShazo express amazement at his findings in one of the all-time dumbest research press releases I’ve ever seen made me torn between headdesk or facepalm. He even recorded a video for his press release and expressed disbelief that chicken nuggets might not be as healthy to eat as lean chicken:
The other thing about this study is that it’s not really a study. Think about it. All these doctors did was to take two chicken nuggets, fix and stain them, and look at them under the microscope. There was no effort to make sure that there was a representative sample of the chicken nuggets. There was no effort to look at multiple sources and make quantitative estimates of meat and fat content. There was no evidence that they used image processing to give a reliable quantitative estimate fo fat versus muscle content. Basically, all they did was to have a pathologist “eyeball” a couple of fixed, stained chicken nuggets. It’s not a scientific study. Heck, it’s barely even an “autopsy” of chicken nuggets. It’s basically a quick observation written up in a very short article and published. Seriously, if the American Journal of Medicine accepts bottom-feeding minimal publishable units (MPUs) like this so readily, it’s clearly not a particularly good journal. If you’re going to do a study like this, then do a study. Don’t just look at a couple of chicken nuggets under the microscope and publish a paper. I can see the three steps here:
- Look at two chicken nuggets under the microscope.
- Write up a quickie paper about what the pathologist saw and publish it in a bottom-feeding journal
- Do a press release and a video
ProfitGet all sorts of media attention that isn’t deserved.
It worked, too. The press ate it up, at least for one news cycle, with stories showing up:
- The Three Grossest Sentences You’ll Read About Chicken Nuggets Today (The Atlantic)
- Just what is in that chicken nugget? (Reuters)
- Chicken Nuggets Contain Skin, Tissue, Blood Vessels and More: Study Finds (Nature World News)
- Chicken nuggets at fast food restaurants contain as little as 40% meat
- What’s Actually In A Chicken Nugget? (Huffington Post)
These are all basically regurgitations of the University of Mississippi’s press release. In this, they are actually even worst than Mike Adams’ treatment in that at least Mike Adams writes mostly his own prose and puts his own spin on it, as deceptive as that spin might be. On the other hand, Adams does, as usual, get a bit carried away:
What I appreciate about all this, by the way, is that Dr. deShazo’s team has reproduced and confirmed my original scientific findings. This is encouraging, as it means the Natural News Forensic Food Lab is now inspiring other scientists to test our findings and independently reproduce them. This is yet more confirmation of the value of the original scientific research we are conducting here at Natural News while publishing exclusive, original stories that break new ground in investigative journalism.
Possibly, but I doubt it. Adams’ “study” was published on August 16. It usually takes a heck of a lot longer than two months to get a paper published, even one that is as thin gruel as this one is. Peer review alone usually takes at least a month. Even if the paper is accepted on the first round, it’s usually at least another month or two before the manuscript is turned into a full-fledged publication, even with early publications. No, it’s highly doubtful that deShazo was inspired to fix and stain a Chicken McNugget or two and have a pathologist buddy of his look at it under the microscope. Also, even though deShazo’s paper reads as though it took a couple of hours to throw together, including looking at the chicken nuggets under the microscope. Of course, even that’s far better than the crappy attempt at “food investigation” that Mike Adams has done, because there were real doctors involved and a real pathologist looking at the sections.
Unfortunately, Adams promises us lots more where that came from. Perhaps the most gut-bustingly hilarious part of Adams’ take on this study is to follow. Now, please, before reading this next excerpt, put down any drinks you might have. Swallow any drink or food you might be in the midst of drinking or eating.
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We also welcome scientific journals who wish to publish our upcoming original research to contact us more details. We are on the verge of publishing some of the most exciting, original and groundbreaking research the food industry has ever witnessed, and we are open to invitations from scientific journals who wish to benefit from the enormous exposure and publicity that will come from publishing our upcoming research, all of which adheres to strict scientific methods, integrity and reproducibility.
Clearly, Adams doesn’t know how publishing in scientific journals works. Scientific journals, at least reputable ones, don’t beg people like Mike Adams to publish their work. Scientists submit papers to journals and the manuscripts undergo peer review. If the manuscript is good enough and scientifically rigorous enough, the journal will publish it. Of course, the thought of Adams bragging about his research adhering to strict scientific methods and being highly reproducible causes a great nausea in the pit of my stomach, but it shouldn’t be anything that a little of the product of our pharma overlords shouldn’t be able to take care of.
In the meantime, as I’ve pointed out before, although I do occasionally partake of McDonalds and other fast food maybe about once a month or so, I’m not a big fan of Chicken McNuggets or other chicken nuggets. I just don’t like them all that much. So it’s not as though I have a dog in this hunt. Personally, I accept that chicken nuggets are made of some of the less—shall we say?—high quality parts of the chicken. I accept that they’re loaded with fat and all fried up in oil. They’re not particularly healthy as a food choice, and most people realize that. None of this means that it’s not worthwhile to occasionally remind people of these facts. However, papers like the University of Mississippi paper are basically “Well, duh!” studies that aren’t particularly well done and don’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.