Saturday, November 08, 2008

Can living in rainy areas really cause one-third of autism cases?

An excerpt from Sandy Szwarc below. I wholeheartedly endorse her comments

At first, this study sounded like it might have been published in the Journal of Spurious Correlations or an entry for the Spurious Correlations Contest and would provide a note of levity.

A few years ago, three economists had self-published a paper reporting a correlation between rising rates of cable television subscriptions and autism in Northwest coastal areas since the 1970s. That was funny because, of course, anything that has increased since the 1970s could be said to spuriously correlate with autism; nor had they made any effort to see if the autistic children had even watched more television.

One section of that original paper has just been republished in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association. For real. It reported a correlation between higher amounts of rain and snowfall during 1987-2001 in Northwest coastal areas and autism rates among school-aged children in 2005.

That's it.

Yet, the authors concluded that this association supports their hypothesis of an environmental trigger for autism and went on to speculate on "a number of possibilities of what such an environmental trigger might be." The first was television and video viewing because "it seems plausible" that it's associated with precipitation and could possibly be associated with "more serious health problems such as autism." They went on to put forth even more fanciful and worrying possibilities of unseen environmental exposures, as we'll look at in a minute, and concluded that this paper proved further research into this link was warranted.

This isn't funny anymore. If this is what now constitutes medical research in a peer-reviewed journal and is actually being taken seriously by the medical community and major universities, we are in serious trouble.

Much more here

More on exercise and breast cancer

I looked at a study claiming a link between exercise and breast cancer on 2nd. After looking no further than the abstract, I concluded that the claims by the authors that exercise prevents cancer were "rather ludicrous, really".

In her usual way, however, Sandy Szwarc did a much more careful examination of the study on 3rd and found that it was not so much ludicrous as an outright fraud. What the study in fact clearly showed was that there was NO CONNECTION between exercise and breast cancer. The authors reported a negative result as a positive one. But the goodness of exercise is conventional wisdom so the crap slipped through all the barriers that should have stopped it. It is sad that it takes outsiders such as myself and Sandy to blow the whistle on such nonsense.

I look at a lot more studies than Sandy does because one fatal flaw causes me to read no further. But when Sandy goes to town she slaughters the stuff so thoroughly that there are not even any bones left. I don't suppose she will change but I would like her to apply her fine mind to more studies, more briefly. Once something is dead, there is not much point killing it over and over again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Ray,
Thank you so much for your kind comments. Actually, I 'read' hundreds of studies every week, most with surprisingly poor methodology, but I don't have time to write about them all. ;)

I increasingly got into the habit of more indepth analysis because when I abbreviated, I got inundated by clueless "but, but, but..." letters. As you've no doubt also noticed, even degreed professionals being paid by sponsors to write about science and medicine miss the most basic fallacies of logic (and especially misunderstand epidemiology) when they write about these same studies ,and I have been trying to help teach...

I appreciate your feedback, sincerely, and will try to start lightening up and believe my readers are the ones further along.