8. You’re All gonna Die 1

June 13, 2013

Red wines good for you. Red wines bad for you. Red wine causes cancer. Ditto coffee etc. What’s going on?

Here is Ben Goldacre in a TED talk called Battling Bad Science.

Everytime a study finds this or that food is good or bad for you they usually make one huge error.


It’s called a BIASED SAMPLE.

Here is an example Real Men Eat Meat and Die

The study showed that “Men whose red meat intake put them in the top 20 per cent consumption band were 22 per cent more likely to die of cancer in the 10 years of the study, compared to men whose intake was in the lowest 20 per cent. For women, there was a 20 per cent increase in risk.”

The problem is big meat eaters tend also to be big drinkers, smokers, obese and the rest. This study has tried to separate out meat eating from other unhealthy lifestyle choices using the Cox Regression. Mathematical wizardry has produced these numbers but they don’t mean much. meat eat 2

If the study used a control group of drinking, smoking, obese vegans then compaing mortality rates over 10 years would be would be interesting. But where do you find half a million of them????????


Meanwhile any survey or study of a self-selecting group (eg. newspaper polls among readers) or a pre-existing group (eg. a church group, college students, yacht club, rock ‘n roll club) produces biased and therefore meaningless results.

eg. 9 out of 10 dentists who are paid to say they recommend Oral B toothbrushes is useless information, a study of paid jerks, really.

Look for a RTC or Randomised Controlled Trial. 

Any study that begins a ‘trial of college students found’ (eg. psychology trials) is a BIASED SAMPLE. Look at the lifestyle of college students. How many people in the general population wear beer hats to parties? If you asked 10 beer hat wearing college students their opinion on Oral B toothbrushes they might not even recall the purpose of a toothbrush!

college beer drink hat

Look for big randomised trials.

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