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Archive for May, 2015

Caveat Emptor

You thought I fell off the face of the earth, didn’t you? Seriously, I haven’t been terribly motivated to write as much lately, and  it shows. However, I ran across an article today that made me just have to say something.

A journalist, John Bohannon, apparently wrote a bogus study, got it published, and it was subsequently picked up by the news media. I say “wrote a bogus study”, but he actually did a bogus study. He got volunteers, separated them into groups, a control and two study groups, had them follow certain protocols, took actual measurements, then ran the statistical analysis. What makes it bogus it that there were only 15 subjects. To use his own words:

Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.

Apparently, there are a number of  “peer-reviewed” journals out there that aren’t any such thing. Instead, they are money-making schemes.

Now, you may ask, how do I know this story is real? Maybe he’s faking the fake? I did do some homework on this. I followed the links, I read the original story. I couldn’t find his article in the International Archives of Medicine, but they may have pulled it after realizing what was going on, or maybe I just wasn’t successful. I think this does point out the pitfalls of getting any of your information from the internet. It’s only as good as the source. I do know that the problems he is pointing out are real. As Mark Twain once said, “There are three types of lies. Lies, D***ed lies, and statistics”.

I run into this every day. People ask me about this diet or that drug. This “cleanse” or that product. Very few people remember high school science, or even care.

Losing weight is simple, but not easy. There are no quick fixes. The basic principles still apply, whether you dress it up in new buzz words or fancy diets. I suggest you read his article and educate yourself on some of the pitfalls and take any “new study” that touts some amazing results or counter intuitive ideas.

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