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A young Houston couple is planning to give away $4 billion—but only to projects that prove they are “worth it”. Can they redefine the world of philanthropy?

May 23, 2013

LIKE ANY POPULAR food writer, Gary Taubes gets more than his share of e-mails about his work. So he didn’t give it much thought one day two years ago when he got a five-line comment about a podcast he’d given the week before. It was plainly signed “John.”

The man was intrigued by Taubes’s theories on why people get fat—more specifically, the food writer’s argument that most of the science on obesity is either badly flawed or inconclusive. What was needed, Taubes had said, was a comprehensive experiment that can answer some of the key questions about how our bodies process food. The problem is that such a study is hugely expensive. “From the little I know about the science of nutrition, your study makes a lot of sense,” the listener wrote, adding that he ran a foundation focused on public policy.

Taubes noticed that the full name in the email was John Arnold, and a quick Google GOOG -0.75% search turned up a curious figure under that name: a wunderkind natural-gas trader at Enron who later founded his own hedge fund. The fund was secretive—little-known in its hometown, Houston, much less the rest of the country—but legendary in hedge-fund circles for its mega-returns. It was starting to get interesting.

Taubes passed the name onto Peter Attia, a medical doctor with whom he had recently founded a nonprofit focused on nutrition science.
Attia recalls that when he called to see if he could set up a meeting with Arnold, the response was, “First give us the names of 20 top experts in the field, half of whom think you are crazy.” A few weeks later, he found himself in a conference room located just off the trading floor at Arnold’s Houston office, during which it became apparent that Arnold and his staff had already spoken with most, if not all, of the experts Attia provided. And something else was apparent: Though boyish and just 37, Arnold was dead serious about launching the obesity study. Indeed, his ambitions couldn’t have been higher. He wanted to know if all the best and brightest food scientists got together—and had unlimited resources—what could they accomplish?

Continue Reading at Wall Street Journal

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