Saturday, January 06, 2007


Of course it does. The elite are educated more and -- as Charles Murray showed years ago -- are elite because they are brighter -- and high IQ is one aspect of good biological functioning. But you won't see THAT mentioned below. There may nonetheless also be a real effect due to education itself -- but, to understand that, one would as a first step have to look at the content of that education. The education of yesteryear probably did inculcate better life habits. All that modern education inculcates in that department is that you must love blacks and homosexuals and do your best to "save the planet"

James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life - money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic. Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?

He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing. But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

The answers, he and others say, have been a surprise. The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income. Year after year, in study after study, says Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, education "keeps coming up." And, health economists say, those factors that are popularly believed to be crucial - money and health insurance, for example, pale in comparison.

Dr. Smith explains: "Giving people more Social Security income, or less for that matter, will not really affect people's health. It is a good thing to do for other reasons but not for health." Health insurance, too, he says, "is vastly overrated in the policy debate." Instead, Dr. Smith and others say, what may make the biggest difference is keeping young people in school. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age.

It is not the only factor, of course. There is smoking, which sharply curtails life span. There is a connection between having a network of friends and family and living a long and healthy life. And there is evidence that people with more powerful jobs and, presumably, with more control over their work lives, are healthier and longer lived.

But there is little dispute about the primacy of education. "If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity," says Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York, "I would put education at the top of my list."

The first rigorous effort to decide whether education really changes people so they live longer began in a most inauspicious way. It was 1999 and a Columbia University graduate student, Adriana Lleras-Muney, was casting about for a topic for her doctoral dissertation in economics. She found an idea in a paper published in 1969. Three economists noted the correlation between education and health and gave some advice: If you want to improve health, you will get more return by investing in education than by investing in medical care.

It had been an inflammatory statement, Dr. Lleras-Muney says. And for good reason. It could only be true if education in and of itself caused good health. But there were at least two other possibilities. Maybe sick children did not go to school, or dropped out early because they were ill. Or maybe education was a proxy for wealth, and it was wealth that led to health. It could be that richer parents who gave their children everything, including better nutrition, better medical care and a better education, had children who, by virtue of being wealthy, lived longer. How, she asked herself, could she sort out causes and effects? It was the chicken-and-egg problem that plagues such research.

The answer came one day when Dr. Lleras-Muney was reading another economics paper. It indicated that about 100 years ago, different states started passing laws forcing children to go to school for longer periods. She knew what to do. "The idea was, when a state changed compulsory schooling from, say, six years to seven years, would the people who were forced to go to school for six years live as long as the people the next year who had to go for seven years," Dr. Lleras-Muney asked. [A non-sequitur: Health throughout the Western world has improved rapidly over the last 100 years or so -- meaning that ANY later year should on average have shown better health than any previous year]

All she would have to do was to go back and find the laws in the different states and then use data from the census to find out how long people lived before and after the law in each state was changed.....

Much more here -- including some conventional but very dubious assertions about influences on health. The article is after all from the paper that publishes "all the news that's fit to slant"


Madonna, Juliet Stevenson and Lady McCartney have all been singled out for not checking their facts before they speak by a campaign that aims to stamp out bad science.

Sense About Science, a charity that promotes the importance of scientific evidence, warns that celebrities are prone to backing theories and therapies that make no scientific sense and offers them the chance to check their facts first.

It has published a leaflet explaining why some theories promoted by celebrities are wrong and giving a telephone number they can call to be put in contact with experts before getting involved in a campaign.

The leaflet is being sent to luxury hotels, nightclubs and bars, airport lounges and football clubs. In it, the charity points out that Madonna has spoken of the need to develop a means of "neutralising radiation" which is impossible, while Ms Stevenson used the opportunity of her role in a drama about the MMR vaccine to advance the discredited claim that it is not safe.

Lady McCartney and the pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have wrongly claimed that drinking milk is linked to childhood obesity.

David Baddiel, the comedian, Melinda Messenger, the model, and Sharron Davies, the swimmer, were all involved in a campaign by the environmental group WWF about dangerous chemicals in the human body which has been derided by scientists as scaremongering. Toxicologists said that the levels of such chemicals in the body were too insignificant to worry about.

The leaflet also exposes scientific mistakes made by the actors Joanna Lumley and Jenny Seagrove, the lifestyle adviser Carole Caplin and the television presenter Gillian McKeith.

Leading scientists explain why claims are wrong, and encourages celebrities to ring a number to be put in touch with experts who can verify facts.

Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, said that nobody expected celebrities to be scientific experts. She said: "We know some people aren't interested in good science or evidence. We are equally sure some will be glad to talk through claims they are asked to front, because they take their impact seriously. But it's not been obvious where to go for that. We are producing this leaflet to show those in the public eye how easy it is now to get help from scientists."

She said that the charity was frequently sent examples of celebrities promoting theories that made no sense. "We have been working out ways for science to be more available," she said. "I think this leaflet is a friendly hand." Some public figures have welcomed the initiative.

Derren Brown, the TV illusionist, said: "We're more than aware that the media prefer a shocking story over delicate fact. In areas like food, environment and medicine, this can have serious results: such as a now dangerously low level of British kids inoculated against MMR following an unfounded media scare.

"Scientists, traditionally a quiet bunch, are now trying to redress the balance and find ways of promoting fact over misinformation."

Simon Singh, the science writer and former presenter of Tomorrow's World who is a trustee of Sense About Science, said: "There are numerous examples of actors or musicians scaremongering over vaccines or pesticides when they have little or no knowledge of the subject.

"Celebrities can have a huge influence on the public, but they need to make sure they are doing more good than harm by checking their facts before making any proclamations."

Professor John Toy, of Cancer Research UK, said: "Celebrities often have a real effect on how members of the public view particular issues, especially health and lifestyle. They have a major responsibility, therefore, to be well-informed before they make statements endorsing particular treatments or products."


Brits still snacking naughtily: "While there has been a large increase in the sale of feelgood foods, such as yoghurts and smoothies, there is no sign of the nation giving up its snack habits, such as crisps, for good. The two fastest-growing products of the year will not please the health police as tastes for individual Goodfella's Solo pizzas and Magners cider topped the chart. The annual top products survey is produced by The Grocer magazine."


Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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