IEEE posts an unsympathetic soylent review


IEEE. “Eye-triple-E.” It’s one of those orgs that has become an acronym. I had to dig just to find its real legal name on its website; for some reason it plays down “Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers” in favour of those four letters. It bills itself as “the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.” Its slogan, prominently displayed on every page, is “advancing technology for humanity.” Well, you’d never guess that from the review Rob’s professional association just gave Soylent.

All right, it’s weird in the first place that IEEE Spectrum, one of the subdomains of, one of several blogs on the site apparently, would be reviewing a nutritional supplement. I mean, their turf lies elsewhere. But since Rob is one of their members, apparently they kindly made an exception, especially to give him a mild roasting.

Soylent: It’s not people. Or food.

Read Glenn Zorpette’s post and make up your own mind. It’s not aggressively hostile. But you surely couldn’t call it enthusiastic or even sympathetic! This Zorpette, see, is of Italian extraction and gets off on making eggplant parmigiana, or so he says. I quote:

as the son of first-generation immigrants from Italy, who regarded
food as a supreme pleasure and integral to family life, I find the
entire enterprise deeply weird.

And that, for him, seems to be a good enough reason to knock Soylent and to be mildly, subtly but insistently sarcastic about Rob and the project. Even TIME’s website, which also recently reviewed Soylent, wasn’t this negative – and TIME has an established reputation for negativity of many decades standing.

You’d think an engineer’s own professional association could stick up for him at least to the extent of posting a sympathetic review. Not to mention the fact that they see their brief as advancing technology for humanity – I would have thought that Soylent fit that bill perfectly.

So stick your eggplant parmigiana up your nose, Zorpette. Then inhale. :frowning:


As a fellow engineer I thought the article was fine. It mentioned both the pros and cons, if anything its a bit skewed towards negative as he’s a bit of a foodie, and Rob has said time and time again, that people who actively enjoy making and partaking all of their meals aren’t really the target audience for soylent.

Here’s the whole paragraph that you took your quote from:

As an experiment in physiology, Rhinehart’s regimen strikes me as a splendid endeavor. His experiences and carefully kept notes and data, along with those of his followers, might advance our knowledge of diet and nutrition and health. I have a degree and a background in engineering, so I can well understand the drive that propelled Rhinehart on this quest. But as the son of first-generation immigrants from Italy, who regarded food as a supreme pleasure and integral to family life, I find the entire enterprise deeply weird.

Its like you ignored the positive things said because there were negative ones said too.

At no point does he say “soylent is a terrible idea”, or that “there’s no way you could ever survive without eating ‘real food’” He states his opinion that he doesn’t think many people want to give up the food. He then even goes on to state that people like us who end up consuming soylent because they see food as inefficient etc, will likely be fellow engineers.


The IEEE post is about cooking. I can live with his review.

The Time article is more serious. They have people with important titles saying that Soylent isn’t a good idea and the writer tries to be, and succeeds I believe, as neutral as possible.


@Daiceman, as a writer I guess I may be more sensitive to the overall tone of an article. It’s true the Zorpette article had some balancing content but I felt the overall tone was unsympathetic, not for any good journalistic or technological reasons, but solely on the basis of Zorpette’s own personal inclinations and prejudices – and that’s bad journalism in my book. Especially in view of the fact that the only real reason for a review was that Rob’s one of their members. If they couldn’t post a positive review, or felt that it would be out of order to support the project of a fellow member, then I think they would have done well not to post any review. Like I said, nutrition is far from their home turf.

@ruipacheco You’re right, TIME at least maintained a semblance of journalistic objectivity and just let a hostile dietician do the knifework. That’s about the best a person can expect from TIME, believe me. Often they are a lot more hostile and destructive.

PS Just as a personal note, I’m a bit of a foodie myself in a very small way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be negative about soylent, Rob or the whole enterprise. I find it quite fascinating and legitimate. I think there may be problems along the line – there generally are problems with radical initiatives of any kind, breaking new ground isn’t easy and painless. But the only way to gain knowledge and experience is the way Rob’s doing it, by forging ahead to actually break the new ground instead of just discussing and studying it endlessly. Academic nutritionists “know” (like all academics) more and more about less and less – and disagree with one another rather more spectacularly than most scientists. I don’t think they are breaking much new ground. Rob is! For that I admire him.


As a fellow engineer too (and an IEEE member), I don’t see much problem with that article. I do think that it’s a bit weird that IEEE Spectrum would cover this, just because IEEE is almost exclusively an engineering association, they generally never cover sciences like chemistry or biology, and only rarely cover physics / astronomy, let alone nutrition (IMO, that discipline hasn’t truly earned the title of a “science” just yet). However, as noted by the author, I definitely see the “engineering” side of soylent, i.e., as a food engineered from the ground up. And also, as a food for engineers, again, as duly noted by the author.

quote (OP):

You’d think an engineer’s own professional association could stick up for him at least to the extent of posting a sympathetic review.

I don’t understand what you mean by “could stick up for him”. This is a professional association whose main purpose is publishing peer-reviewed journals, organizing international conferences, establishing industry standards (e.g., WiFi is an IEEE standard), and, to a lesser extent, a number of education or community-building activities. They are not a political organization with some agenda to promote (one way or another), and they are not a “we defend our own” gang like the mafia or something. If they were showing that kind of conscious bias, they would lose the respectibility required to fulfill their mandate.

That said, the IEEE Spectrum magazine is nothing more than casual discussions of topics that some contributing members found interesting to write about. The articles are expected to be opinionated, and subjective (e.g., blog-like), and none of the regular readers of this magazine would ever consider it as a credible source or as a reflection of the “agenda” of IEEE as an organization. The serious stuff goes on in the peer-reviewed journals that IEEE publishes and its conferences, everything else is just light coffee-break talk, and so was that article.

Don’t get all upset over this. I thought the author was fair in acknowledging the other side of the coin (pro-soylent) and in his assessment of it. It’s pretty clear he wouldn’t try soylent any time soon for himself, but that’s just his gut reaction to this new concept, to each his own.

So stick your eggplant parmigiana up your nose, Zorpette. Then inhale. :frowning:

If that’s how you respond to anyone with an opinion different from your own, you must be difficult to live with. And eggplant parmigiana is indeed pretty delicious, btw.


Agreed, that would be the end of them.


Okay, guys! Obviously it’s I who am out of order here. Yah, Mikael, I wouldn’t dare to call myself an easy person to live with. However, my indignation had a lot less to do with an opinion different to my own than it had with sympathy for Rob getting subtly sneered at in that way (or so I thought) by his own association. Thanks for the clarification about IEEE Spectrum, as I had no way of knowing its exact status on the site or within the org. An engineer I’m not, nor even a techie, so in most ways I’m the odd man out here; engineers and lit people have different ways of thinking and reacting. I’m relieved by the thought that obviously Rob is not likely to take it seriously, so little point in me feeling indignant about it on his behalf. Thanks for setting me straight.

And yes – eggplant parmigiana IS quite delicious. Though not when inhaled. :wink:

PS I do have to say, though, that it is hard to see why soylent would be reviewed there in the first place, and equally hard to see why Zorpette would see soylent as any threat to his eggplant parmigiana.


I agree that the review was lackluster. Zorpette only considered Soylent through a very narrow focus, namely he didn’t consider the benefits to people who didn’t know how/enjoy/were able to cook healthy and nutritious meals. Instead he looked at it as though Rob were an overeager engineer who saw a problem where there wasn’t one and tried to ‘fix’ it.
Zorpette didn’t give any attention to the help a whole/partial meal replacement could be for the elderly, the poor, those with strict dietary needs or those who don’t like/can’t cook.
Foreshadowing the article with a comparison between Rob’s research into a scientifically quantified food alternative, to an engineer he heard of who died from eating nothing but hamburgers is pretty low.

While he doesn’t outright say anything negative, the tone of the article is definitely so.
Only lightly covering the most questionable surface issues of Soylent and not exploring the wider implications a finished commercial product would allow, only does a disservice to the readers who will then be more inclined to ignore Soylent and its myriad benefits.


Thanks for posting your take on the Zorpette review, Grant. I did feel a bit unfairly chastised by the engineer contingent here; however, being an English-language-and-lit type myself, I am never surprised at communications misfires when I’m trying to relate to engineers. They sometimes seem to me to have a peculiarly reductive way of looking at virtually everything.

Anyway, you do a nice job of pointing out what Z. overlooked.