Commentator Brendan O’Neill made an interesting point in a recent column in the Weekend Australian suggesting that being “offensive” is a key part of human progress. He noted that Copernicus “offended” the Christian authorities of his day by claiming the earth were not the centre of the solar system. The suffragettes offended Victorian orthodoxy. I would add that Semmelweis offended doctors of his time by claiming that hand washing was needed after working in the morgue.

Today people seek to take “offence” at anything they do not agree with. Taking offence is the get out of jail free card for those not wanting to debate issues. We saw recently that the “offencerati” were more outraged by a political cartoon highlighting the plight of indigenous children than by the actual plight of these children. Worse still is a gaggle of regulators ready to pounce on anything deemed “offensive” by anyone regardless of how trivial or non-existent.

Surely in science and health, debate and new ideas are still valued? After all that is how science progresses, by questioning current ideas. Sadly no. Professor Tim Noakes is being pursued by authorities in South Africa. This is because he dared to post a tweet about low carb diets being a healthy option. In Australia, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Authority (AHPRA) has banned an orthopaedic surgeon from giving patients dietary advice.

Let me repeat that. A doctor has been banned from talking about diet, weight loss and obesity. He sees the impact of excess weight on joints and is keen to help his patients by offering more than just surgery.

The hearings were conducted behind closed doors so it is impossible to get the details. It is not even clear whether the “complaint” was made by a patient or by another doctor. Suffice to say Dr Garry Fettke supports eating less carbohydrate and more fats. He is, as I understand, sympathetic towards a paleo diet. That would appear to be his “crime”.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted, again, the problem we have with nutrition and exercise research. Most studies are poorly designed and observational. Hence we get lots of conflicting results.

There is much opinion and very little fact when it comes to nutrition, and that is fine. We don’t know everything.

Yet what we do know is there is no evidence anywhere in the world showing that fats in the diet are a problem. We have no evidence anywhere that shows saturated fats are a problem in the diet. We have one major trial showing that a Mediterranean diet is far superior to a low fat diet in heart health. We also have a major study showing that it is consumption of refined carbohydrate (sugar), which is the primary cause of type two diabetes and obesity. Even the US Food Authority no longer lists cholesterol as a nutrient of concern.

The low fat diet fad beloved by public health has been a failure. They will not concede they were wrong

In short it appears Dr Fettke has offended the powers that be by promoting ideas that differ from orthodoxy. And for that he is to be punished. He is in a medical sense, politically incorrect.

To quote from another piece by O’Neill “That’s another nasty aspect of PC; it is designed to suppress debate, to obscure reality itself”. Whilst he is not referring to this matter the quote is apt. Dr Fettke stands accused of not bowing to the orthodoxy of the PC nutrition establishment. He has offended their sensitivities by daring to question orthodoxy. And for that he must be punished. The principal behind this is exactly the same one, which saw witches burned at the stake in the 1300’s

It is a genuine concern that in 2016, those in power seek to crush ideas and people just like in the dark ages. Totalitarians still behave the same way. At least with modern communications it becomes public, putting pressure back on the authorities to justify their actions. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, to advance the world we need more people to be “offensive”.