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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lies, damn lies ...

A Pork Pie
Phil's home-made Market Harborough pie
... and statistics.

The latest scare being the shock news that eating the odd bacon sarnie will render you 19% more likely to die of pancreatic cancer.

Bollocks. 19% of what? Well an increase of 19% over and above what it would be if you never ate bacon. This provokes two questions:

1) How did the "researchers" ensure that their control group had never touched a bacon roll or pork pie?

2) The base risk of contracting pancreatic cancer is infinitesimal until you are into your seventh decade, when it rises to (wait for it) around 0.75% - tops.

19% of 0.75 is 0.14%. So eating red meat, pork pies and enjoying a bacon buttie is increasing your risk overall, not by 19%, but by 0.14%. One might argue that such a small difference falls within the margins of error that any survey has. Not so dramatic now, is it?

Spoof newspaper scare story
A typical health scare
Doesn't make for an arresting headline either.

Burrowing a little deeper we begin to find the truth - the "study" was nothing of the sort. It was in fact an analysis of other people's research which may well have been looking at other factors and with differing controls and standards. From the Independent:

They analysed 11 studies involving over 6,000 people with pancreatic cancer. The results showed red meat consumption also increased the risk of the cancer for men by 29 per cent for each daily serving of 120 grams. But there was no significant increase in risk for women, raising doubts about the robustness of the finding.

I suspect that the researchers are more concerned about the robustness of their funding than their finding - note that they analysed 11 studies by others, not their own. No doubt they will now obtain the funds to embark on a long and fruitful study of their very own.

Cynic - moi?

Not really. As what the press would term a "cancer survivor" myself I am all for good solid research - but I am also all for honest presentation of the facts. It is regrettable that researchers feel compelled to present their findings in such sensationalist terms to get the backing that they need. This sort of misrepresentation of the real facts can sometimes get out of hand and destroy people's livelihoods. I bet our local butchers, pig and beef farmers loved it - not.

And if you think I'm over-egging this point, cast your mind back to another case of over-egging by Edwina Currie. That destroyed many egg producers almost overnight, both feathered and human.

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Blogger Andrew W said...

The problem with statistics is that they are based on statistics.
And sisnce most statistics is based on sample goups, and since no sample group can be a true representation of the real population, then the whole lot is hypothesis.
And many researchers are not especially proficient with statistics, as sadly are some people using statistics for analysis.
The next bit of research will of course prove completely the opposite.
And that just about sums it up.


January 16, 2012 at 12:28 AM  
Blogger Andrew W said...

I also need to learn to type!

January 16, 2012 at 12:29 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Spot on, Andrew. It has been pointed out to me that in a previous post under the "scares" label I referred to a study indicating that drinking coffee was a factor in pancreatic cancer. So it's not just bacon sarnies that'll kill you, but your cuppa too!

I do hope the earnest researchers of this latest study were aware of this as they sipped their skinny lattes.


January 16, 2012 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Mike Knipe said...

I'm quite pleased that it didn't mention pies as it happens...

January 16, 2012 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger Alan Sloman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 16, 2012 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Alan Sloman said...

Please excuse the deleted comment - that was me. the words were a bit jumbled. Statistically normal.

If that's a new Market Harborough Pie you can expect a visit. I suspect, sadly. that it's the beast that I have already sampled.

How's the sloe gin doing?

And how about an update of Miss Whiplash's scars? I'll expect a report detailing the percentage drop in scar tissue, compared, of course to a control area of un-scarred skin. Pictures and diagrams are required.

January 16, 2012 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger Byeways said...

Just be patient for a year or two. By then there will be a new report warning of the dangers of insufficient bacon and sausage in the diet and recommending at least one all day breakfast per week.

And potatoes will have been through the good for you/bad for you cycle at least one more time.

There is nothing in life that can't have the fun taken out of it if someone is really determined.

January 16, 2012 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ah, Mike. The pies' turn will come no doubt, but for now rejoice in this from James le Fanu's column in today's paper:

the putative merits of reducing the intake of salt is challenged by the findings of a major study in the US that suggests those with a low amount in their urine have a higher (rather than lower) mortality rate from circulatory disorders. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that those responsible for propagating such dietary advice do not, according to a paper in the British Medical Journal, comply with it themselves: an analysis of the salt content of their meals reveals they consume twice the quantities currently recommended to the public.

... I'd still go easy on the crisps though.

Alan, the sloe gin was abandoned this year, but last year's is still going down a treat. One bottle reserved for TGOC 2013. Miss W is appalled at your lust for scarred female flesh, and suggests a course of corrective therapy.

Byeways - a kindred spirit :-)

January 16, 2012 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger Carl Mynott @Locomountaineer said...

Read this myself too - I liked the article I read a way back that says milk drinking give you parkinson's. I ask you.

Next it will be using a smartphone on a sunday will kill you.

Pie looks nice by the way.

January 25, 2012 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

... I think the phone/brain cancer thing will be back with us before long, Carl (sigh).

There's a recipe for the pie somewhere on the blog :-)

January 27, 2012 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Knipe said...

Just a tip next time you're in the Dales - the best pies in the world and the universe and everything are assembled in the celebrated pork pie establishment on grassington road in Skipton.
The juice runs down your arm as you tuck in... don't wear your best gear...
My slow gin is fab by the way... it won't make it to May.

January 28, 2012 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

We hope to be up there in March - pie shop noted, Mike. Yum!

January 30, 2012 at 9:56 AM  

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