junk science ate my baby
May 6, 2003 11:39 AM

Is the science promoted in popular media getting more absurd?

It might be. Take, for example, the background on the latest "Fat causes cancer! story. It sounds scary. More people die of cancer because they're fat! Well, maybe. And maybe not. What's more shocking is that the study seems based on little actual science.

The ACS collected the data in 1982 by soliciting 70,000 volunteers to interview 2 million friends and family about their health and lifestyle characteristics.

That's right, the data is collected by people who interviewed their friends and family. Not appalling, if done by people trained to give the same message, ask the same questions, and investigate well. But how well can 70,000 untrained amateurs do when asking people they know invasive questions?

Anyone who did a school science project that expected you to ask the same questions of several of your close friends and family knows the temptation to just guess, rather than bothering these people, is pretty great. So, not only are questions not consistently posed, there's a decent chance they weren't always asked at all.

Add this to it, and it becomes absurd that we even bothered reporting on this data:

None of the health and lifestyle data were verified for accuracy. The researchers don't really know what or how much the study subjects ate, smoked, drank or exercised, for example. Not even the study subjects' height and weight was verified.

Stupid science. Or stupid public?

If we're actually paying attention to this drivel and taking it seriously, we are indeed pretty stupid. At times I think most people have long since completely tuned out discussion of things that might give them cancer. And yet - it's clear that people are quick to hop on the latest "scientific" diet or medical treatment to make them younger, thinner, "healthier". So maybe the junk science is just what we asked for. Maybe we're not interested in real research at all.

The people who fund these studies certainly aren't. How many studies do you see about the effects of dieting? Not many.

We are not the hapless pawns of marketing and alarmism, however much we might blame things on the media. Media are crafted to sell what we want, based on what we've already bought. Advertising, particularly, is a reactive medium. It doesn't shape, it responds - and now, I'm afraid, that's just what scientific research is becoming.

On another, cheerier, note. Happy No Diet Day. In theory, at least - there doesn't seem to be as much press about it this year, which makes me wonder whether it's actually an annual event or not (it is, really it is).

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your wicked thoughts

Yeah, this is a follow the money moment for sure. The media is not my friend. We got more media about INDD locally last year. But I suspect that was because Jennifer Portnick had just won her case.
Happy International No Diet Day.

these are the thoughts of Tish on May 7, 2003 01:34 AM

This is the sort of thing that makes real scientists bang their heads against walls. Might as well publish a study that shows that everyone who drinks water dies...eventually.

these are the thoughts of Li on May 7, 2003 10:55 AM

I was particularly fond of the comments on Big Fat Blog - apparently the same survey shows a much greater likelihood of cancer deaths among men.

Maleness is cancer-causing! Alert the presses! It's an epidemic!

You have to laugh, to avoid the head-wall impact headache.

these are the thoughts of april on May 7, 2003 03:56 PM

i ate my baby

these are the thoughts of laim taylor on May 18, 2004 09:23 AM

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