Monday, December 28, 2009

Biased Reports

Now that Santa has come and gone and we don't need to worry about being good for another year, I can stop worrying that I might say something unkind in a season of joy and get back to sniping about the biased reporting we see every day.

This time it's a study suggesting that a diet high in methionine might increase your risk of Alzheimer's disease. According to the ScienceDaily summary, foods typically high in methionine include red meats, fish, beans, eggs, garlic, lentils, onions, yogurt, and seeds.

So does the researcher interviewed for the article suggest that people eat less fish, beans, lentils, and garlic?

Of course not. Instead he blames the problem on red meat:

"But people who have a diet high in red meat, for instance, could be more at risk because they are more likely to develop this high level of circulating homocysteine, [lead researcher Domenico Pratico] said."

Well, he did at least say "for instance," but you know that most readers will come away with the idea that "artery-clogging red meat" will cause Alzheimer's, and they'll forget that fish, beans, lentils, and garlic may have the same effect.

Sometimes I think it's hopeless. These people aren't real scientists, who seek the truth, whether it's what they were expecting or not. Instead, these people start out with a preconception of what healthy eating is and then do experiments to try to prove they're right. When the answers don't come out the way they want them to, sometimes they don't publish them.

I was once in a study of the cholesterol-lowering drugs Lipitor vs Zocor. At the time, Lipitor was gaining market share, and the Zocor people hoped to prove that even though Lipitor might be better for the general public, Zocor would be better for people with diabetes.

However, according to a nurse, it turned out that Lipitor worked better for the people with diabetes. And as far as I know, the results of this study have never been published.

I hope the people who read this blog are smarter than average and know how to read between the lines in these popular science reports.

We'll never get the answers if we have to rely on these biased popular reports.

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