David B. Allison

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David Bradley Allison
David B. Allison, September 2014.jpg
David B. Allison speaking at an awards presentation
Alma materVassar College, Hofstra University
AwardsLilly Scientific Achievement Award from the Obesity Society (2002), Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring,[1] Mark Bieber Award from the American College of Nutrition in 2016.[2]
Scientific career
InstitutionsIndiana University-Bloomington
ThesisToward an empirically derived typology of obese persons (1990)

David Bradley Allison (born 1963) is an American obesity researcher, biostatistician, and psychologist. He is the Dean of The Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington [3] and one of the top 10 scientists in the world awarded the most NIH grants.[4] Allison was previously Distinguished Professor, Quetelet Endowed Professor, and Director of the NIH-funded Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).



According to data analyzed by the journal Nature, Allison has ranked in the top 10 for most federally funded grants.[5] Allison has been described as one of the leading skeptics regarding commonly issued nutrition advice.[6] Author Judith Stern wrote "He is also known for challenging conventional ideas, exploring novel hypotheses, and holding himself and others to rigorous standards of evidence."[1] Although Allison has had some critics regarding his stance on questioning the link between consuming any one particular food and obesity, he has been defended by others and praised for his strong adherence to solid scientific practice.[7][8][9] For instance, author Terence Kealey referred to Allison as a “heroic guerrilla,” noting Allison's willingness to question the evidential bases of cherished beliefs in nutrition such as the special value of breakfast consumption.[10]

Allison was the founding Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Genetics, finishing his term in 2017.[11] Allison is a fellow of the National Academy of Medicine, and was recently appointed to the Academy of Europe.[12][13] He also serves as a frequent consultant and expert witness in the legal setting.[14]

The University of Alabama at Birmingham recently established the Ronald L. and David. B Allison Endowed Scholar Award and Fund to honor Professor Allison and his father, Ronald, and to provide support for junior faculty who do not yet have R01 funding from the National Institutes of Health. UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences Assistant Professor R. Drew Sayer was named the first Allison scholar, in 2021.[15]

On June 23, 2021, the Nathan Shock Centers Coordinating Center held a webinar entitled Best Practices for Using Animals in Aging Research featuring presentations by Arlan Richardson, Ph.D., Catherine Kaczorowski, Ph.D., and Allison and moderated by Steven Austad, Ph.D.

Selected awards and honors[edit]

  • Recipient of The Obesity Society's 2021 Friends of Albert (Mickey) Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifetime of outstanding contributions to the field of obesity in terms of scholarship, mentorship, and education.[16]
  • Appointed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) ad hoc committee to address inaccurate and misleading information about biological threats through scientific collaboration and communication in 2021.[17]
  • Recipient of the American Statistical Association's San Antonio Chapter 2020 Don Owen Award in recognition of excellence in research, statistical consultation, and service to the statistical community.[18]
  • Recipient of the 2020 Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Nutritional Science Award by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and its Foundation.
  • Testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s hearing “Strengthening Transparency or Silencing Science? The Future of Science in EPA Rulemaking” as a member of NASEM’s Reproducibility and Replicability in Science Committee. Held November 13, 2019.[19]
  • Selected to receive The Harry V. Roberts Statistical Advocate of the Year Award from the American Statistical Association, 2018.
  • Elected to European Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2018.
  • Elected to the Academia Europaea, 2017. Academia Europaea is the only Europe-wide Academy with individual membership from Council of Europe states and other nations across the world and is an organisation of eminent, individual scientists and scholars, covering the full range of academic disciplines.
  • Received the Thomas A. Wadden Award for Distinguished Mentorship from the Obesity Society, 2017.

Promotion of scientific rigor[edit]

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Allison's group that details myths and presumptions about obesity, and that the scientific community must be open and honest with the public regarding the state of knowledge and should rigorously evaluate unproved strategies.[20] In a 2016 article in the journal Nature, Allison and his colleagues found that mistakes in peer-reviewed papers are easy to find, but hard to fix.[21] Allison has been funded by the National Institutes of Health to teach courses on identifying causal relations in the study of obesity, and exploring traditional and non-traditional techniques that give investigators a broad spectrum of approaches for intervention and preventative treatment of obesity.[22] The National Institutes of Health is currently funding Allison to explore statistical tools to improve research reproducibility, replicability, and generalizability so as to contribute broadly to fostering fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and promoting the highest level of scientific integrity in the conduct of science.[23] Allison was a speaker and lead organizer for the Reproducibility of Research and Issues of Analysis at a COLLOQUIA of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2017.[24] The American Statistical Association awarded Allison the 2018 Harry V. Roberts Statistical Advocate of the Year Award for "Distinguished and longstanding contributions in sound methodology, research integrity, and clear exposition of complex statistical concepts, especially in the globally important fields of nutrition and obesity."[25]

In his book Supersized Lies: How Myths about Weight Loss Are Keeping Us Fat and the Truth about What Really Works, Robert J. Davis, PhD, wrote, “…[M]uch of the conventional wisdom about weight and obesity from experts and the media – and what many of us accept as established fact – is unproven or flat-out wrong. No one has been more outspoken on this issue than David Allison, an iconoclastic obesity researcher who’s dean of the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. A groundbreaking paper he coauthored in the New England Journal of Medicine identified a number of widely believed obesity-related myths and unproven assumptions, which the study concluded are ‘pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press.’ While Allison says scientific knowledge regarding obesity has increased and that there have been advances in the field, he thinks that much of what we hear is ‘nonsense and conjecture that masquerades as fact.’”[26]

In 2021, on Innovators: A Podcast from Harris Search Associates, hosted by Richard Skinner, PhD, Allison spoke on “The Challenged Authority of Science: Research, Public Health & Public Policy.” Regarding whether the scientific community is currently in crisis, he said, “It’s a shared community view that says we no longer accept the current circumstances. We must up our game. … We have accepted that there are threats and lesions in credibility, reproducibility, rigor, replicability, transparency that are unacceptable. … We see that mistakes are not uncommon, and they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. … These things are not new, but we need to do better.” Regarding what it means to be a scientist, Allison said, “As a scientist, the one thing you must do is pursue and speak truth. … If you are not pursuing and speaking truth to the extent that you know it, you are not being a scientist.”[27]

In his 2021 interview with Academia Europaea, “Looking Through the Lens of Good Science,”  Allison emphasized that although academic rigor might be at an all-time high, scientists are still responsible for preventing errors, misinformation, and sensationalism.[28] “In the field of nutrition and obesity, and in other fields as well, we need a much more serious commitment to truthful communication about the evidence base,” he said. “We need to have all the evidence out there in the most unvarnished, complete, truthful and unexaggerated manner. And only then can we start to say what we want to do with that evidence…We need an ironclad commitment to that.”

Skepticism and counter skepticism[edit]

In 2008, Allison resigned as president-elect of the Obesity Society after signing an affidavit (expert report) stating that there was insufficient scientific evidence available to determine whether a proposed law to require calorie counts to be listed on restaurant menus would be effective in reducing obesity levels. The New York Times reported that Allison's affidavit "ran counter to the conventional thinking in his field" and provoked criticism from some members of the Society.[14] In 2011, ABC News ran a story about Allison. The story quoted him as saying there was too little "solid evidence" to support a link between soft drink consumption and obesity. The article noted that "...critics say his skepticism stems from his financial ties to entities such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association..."[29]

Allison was featured in the 2014 documentary film Fed Up, produced and hosted by Katie Couric, which criticized him for being funded by food companies. Allison responded that "the film-makers' behavior seems counter to thoughtful dialogue,"[30] and the film's producers have since been reproached and investigated for deceptive editing practices.[31][32] Alan Levinovitz praises Allison in his book “The Gluten Lie”,[33] which discusses the harm that results from what Allison has described as “white-hat bias.”[34] Arthur Firstenberg mentions Allison's discovery and then study of weight-gain among eight species of animals, and connects it to the conclusion that an unknown global environmental factor is the reason to it.[35]


  1. ^ a b c Stern, Judith (2009). Obesity: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. pp. 148. ISBN 9781598841954.
  2. ^ "Mark Bieber Award". americancollegeofnutrition.org. 2013-05-15.
  3. ^ "IU School of Public Health-Bloomington names new dean". News at IU. June 16, 2017.
  4. ^ "222 NIH grants: 22 researchers" (PDF).
  5. ^ "NIH Grants" (PDF). nature.com.
  6. ^ "Peter Whoriskey: Why we're so confused about healthy food". dallasnews.com. 2015-05-29.
  7. ^ "Feds about to withdraw warnings concerning cholesterol". washingtonpost.com.
  8. ^ "Scientist Exposes Bias in Obesity Research". forbes.com.
  9. ^ "Presidential Award Winning Scientist has the last word". forbes.com.
  10. ^ Kealey, Terence (19 December 2016). Breakfast is a dangerous meal : why you should ditch your morning meal for health and wellbeing. London. ISBN 978-0-00-817234-3. OCLC 949749449.
  11. ^ "Frontiers in Genetics". www.frontiersin.org.
  12. ^ "Academy of Europe: Allison David". www.ae-info.org.
  13. ^ "Dean David B. Allison invited to join The Academy of Europe, Academia Europaea – IU School of Public Health-Bloomington". blogs.iu.edu.
  14. ^ a b Saul, Stephanie (4 March 2008). "Menu Fight Over Calories Leads Doctor to Reject Post". New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  15. ^ Storr, Kevin. "Drew Sayer named inaugural Ronald L. and David B. Allison Endowed Scholar - School of Health Professions News | UAB". www.uab.edu. Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  16. ^ The Obesity Society (October 22, 2021). "The Obesity Society Award Recipients 2021". The Obesity Society. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  17. ^ "Project: Addressing Inaccurate and Misleading Information about Biological Threats through Scientific Collaboration and Communication". www8.nationalacademies.org. Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  18. ^ "Dean honored with 2020 Don Owen award: News: News & Events: School of Public Health: Indiana University Bloomington". School of Public Health. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  19. ^ "Strengthening Transparency or Silencing Science? The Future of Science in EPA Rulemaking | House Committee on Science, Space and Technology". science.house.gov. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  20. ^ Casazza, Krista; Fontaine, Kevin R.; Astrup, Arne; Birch, Leann L.; Brown, Andrew W.; Bohan Brown, Michelle M.; Durant, Nefertiti; Dutton, Gareth; Foster, E. Michael; Heymsfield, Steven B.; McIver, Kerry; Mehta, Tapan; Menachemi, Nir; Newby, P.K.; Pate, Russell; Rolls, Barbara J.; Sen, Bisakha; Smith, Daniel L.; Thomas, Diana M.; Allison, David B. (20 February 2013). "Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity". New England Journal of Medicine. 368 (5): 446–454. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1208051. PMC 3606061. PMID 23363498.
  21. ^ Allison, David B.; Brown, Andrew W.; George, Brandon J.; Kaiser, Kathryn A. (3 February 2016). "Reproducibility: A Tragedy of Errors". Nature. 530 (7588): 27–29. Bibcode:2016Natur.530...27A. doi:10.1038/530027a. PMC 4831566. PMID 26842041.
  22. ^ "Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research".
  23. ^ "Beyond textbook, yet simple, statistical tools for reproducible animal research".
  24. ^ "Reproducibility of Research: Issues and Proposed Remedies".
  25. ^ "Harry V. Roberts Statistical Advocate of the Year Award".
  26. ^ Davis, Robert J. (2021). Supersized Lies: How Myths about Weight Loss Are Keeping Us Fat and the Truth about What Really Works. Everwell Books. pp. 2–3. ISBN 1736967703.
  27. ^ Harris Search Associates (October 19, 2021). "The Challenged Authority of Science: Research, Public Health & Public Policy". Innovators: A Podcast from Harris Search Associates. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  28. ^ "Looking through the lens of good science, by Professor David Allison MAE". Academia Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub. 2021-09-15. Retrieved 2021-10-22.
  29. ^ Harris, Dan (21 June 2011). "Is 'Big Food's' Big Money Influencing the Science of Nutrition?". ABC News. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  30. ^ Linnekin, Baylen (17 May 2014). "What Fed Up Gets Wrong About the Food Industry". Reason. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  31. ^ "Fox News Report on Deceptive Editing". foxnews.com. 2016-06-09.
  32. ^ "NPR Reports on Manipulative Editing". npr.org.
  33. ^ "'Gluten Lie' an enlightening look into confused world of nutrition". foodbusinessnews.net.
  34. ^ Cope MB, Allison DB (2010). "White Hat Bias: Examples of its Presence in Obesity Research and a Call for Renewed Commitment to Faithfulness in Research Reporting". Int J Obes (Lond). 34 (1): 84–88, discussion 83. doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.239. PMC 2815336. PMID 19949416.
  35. ^ Firstenberg, Arthur (2017). The Invisible Rainbow. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-692-68301-9.

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