junk science killed my dog, and i don't think it's fair
December 27, 2004 04:13 PM

Oh, joy! Another pat solution to the Crisis of Obesity, Egads! You just need to sleep more! [I apologize in advance for the oversimplifications and impossibly immature language that appears throughout this post. I'm rubber, and you're glue. Also, bonus points for those who recognize the title's origin.]

This is actually a month old, but it's been re-circulating via email and various websites for whatever reason. The study itself isn't compelling (really, couldn't people whose whole job is to study fat find ANYTHING else to talk about?), but I find the language used in reporting it just plain stupid.

For example:

The study, presented at the meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, analyzed data from 18,000 adults and found that those who slept less than the recommended seven hours a night had an increased risk of obesity. People who slept for less than four hours per night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who slept for seven to nine hours. Getting five hours of sleep or less decreased that risk to 50 percent, and getting six hours or less decreased it even more to 23 percent. ---from the text of the study, as quoted in nearly every press-release spouting article that covered it

I may be cynical here, but I expect the story would have read quite the opposite if the study had found a connection between more sleep and fatness. That story, I imagine, would have run something like: "Proven: fat ass fatty fatpantses really are lazy snoozebutts" - or possibly something ever so slightly more mature-sounding.

But the language must still be all about causation, don't you know!

The language turns it into "if you only sleep 5 hours, you are going to be fat, Mr. Fatty Fatpants!", doesn't it? It seems like 73 percent more likely to be obese is likely to be read by the average layperson (i.e. me) as 73 percent more likely to get fat and dieeeeeeee. Why can't the reporting spell out what they found more clearly? As in, "We looked at a big old data dump [They used one of the NHANES data sets] and found that being fat and not sleeping very much seem to be related. We don't know why, because we never know why." - okay, maybe leaving off that last snarky bit for serious new venues.

I joked a while back that I'd like to have my very own huge set of data that I could manipulate and infer from, and it turns out that I could probably do that with a combination of the NHANES stuff and census data. But I was joking, people. I don't expect serious science to be all about the data dredge. The Obesity Crisis, Egads!, however is all about the data dredge. There's a good article at Tech Central Station about why the data dredge is totally uncool - if, you know, a good time - which you should read if you're intrigued by the Obesity Crisis, Egads!'s scientific backup.

I look at this stuff as progress, though. The more useless the science gets, the less the average person's going to pay attention to it. Right?

Right?

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your wicked thoughts

It IS always turned into causation and that drives me nuts. Perhaps obese people lose sleep because they're constantly worrying about which study is coming out next to bash them for being obese? Sorry to snark but these studies just get on my nerves.

these are the thoughts of LeeJay on December 31, 2004 06:44 PM

Your conclusions about this study are accurate and witty. Unfortunately this style of "inductive" reasoning is rampant. We can find it in most studies and polls. Even the ones that draw conclusions with which we agree.

these are the thoughts of Dennis on January 3, 2005 03:44 PM

It's possible that this study should have tracked more data; could it be that at least some of the fat people who are sleeping less, are working more? That maybe one of the (many and complex) reasons that they're fat is that they're so goddamn busy working and trying to make ends meet, they haven't got the time or financial resources to spend at the gym with their personal trainers????

Nah. Couldn't be that. Because everyone knows that fat people are lazy.

these are the thoughts of Antonia McQuown on January 4, 2005 05:07 PM

It's possible that this study should have tracked more data; could it be that at least some of the fat people who are sleeping less, are working more? That maybe one of the (many and complex) reasons that they're fat is that they're so goddamn busy working and trying to make ends meet, they haven't got the time or financial resources to spend at the gym with their personal trainers????

Nah. Couldn't be that. Because everyone knows that fat people are lazy.

these are the thoughts of Antonia McQuown on January 4, 2005 05:07 PM

It's possible that this study should have tracked more data; could it be that at least some of the fat people who are sleeping less, are working more? That maybe one of the (many and complex) reasons that they're fat is that they're so goddamn busy working and trying to make ends meet, they haven't got the time or financial resources to spend at the gym with their personal trainers????

Nah. Couldn't be that. Because everyone knows that fat people are lazy.

these are the thoughts of Antonia McQuown on January 4, 2005 05:07 PM

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these are the thoughts of Thomasina on April 3, 2005 11:36 AM
















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