2007 Archive

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Does Echinacea reduce the risk of colds?
Julie J. Rehmeyer, December 28, 2007
Hey - it's that time of year, and according to media accounts, Echinacea cuts your chances of getting a cold by 58% Should we believe them?

The Risks of Light to Moderate Drinking During Pregnancy
Rebecca Goldin Ph.D., December 12, 2007
We sort through the data. Plus, we've updated our examination of fetal alcohol syndrome

Relative Risk and Vioxx
Rebecca Goldin Ph.D., December 10, 2007
How a statistical slight of hand that went unnoticed by a prestigious medical journal, many doctors, and the media, hid a glaring risk.

Attack of the Killer Mattresses – Coming to TV News Near You!
Trevor Butterworth, November 6, 2007
How did a new fire safety standard designed to save hundreds of lives a year get twisted into a health hazard? Who is behind “People for Clean Beds,” and why are journalists turning to a group which claims fire retardants will kill more people than the Black Death and AIDS combined?

Did Diet Politics Corrupt World Cancer Research Fund Recommendations?
Trevor Butterworth, October 31, 2007
One of the World Cancer Research Fund's key recommendations on how to avoid cancer may be flawed because of what was not included in the survey.

A Scandal Over Meat Safety?
Trevor Butterworth, October 26, 2007
Michigan Democrats raise fears over  “revolutionary” meat packaging process that reduces risk of E. coli, keeps meat fresh longer. Food safety experts say politicians misleading public on science. Is a massive Washington lobbying effort by rival Michigan-based company behind smear campaign?

How Dangerous Is Moderate Drinking?
Rebecca Goldin Ph.D, October 23
The Chicago Tribune moralizes about the risks of alcohol with numbers, but misleads readers on the real story.

Diabetes and Nursing
Rebecca Goldin, Ph.D, October 22, 2007
Will giving your baby a bottle mean giving her diabetes?

Greenpeace spreads iFear over iPhone: But is it all iBunk?
Trevor Butterworth, October 16, 2007
Don't eat plastic - or electronic consumer items. That's the real message behind Greenpeace's latest study on the supposed safety of the iPhone.

Scaring Women Into Breastfeeding: Mention Leukemia Risk to Baby

Rebecca Goldin, October 15, 2007
A journalist claims that science suggests millions of kids have been put at risk by not breast-feeding, but the science says otherwise.

Harvard’s Inconvenient Data About Diet and Cancer
Trevor Butterworth, October 12, 2007
Harvard’s massive pooling project is challenging conventional wisdom about diet and health – and a delay in publishing the most controversial finding has politicians demanding answers.

NYT Explains Percentages on Breast Cancer Alcohol Scare

Trevor Butterworth, October 10, 2007
New study claimed a 30 percent increased risk, but what did this mean in terms of absolute risk?

A Painful Mess
October 3, 2007
Over a 48-hours period, Richard Paey was medicated with a larger dose of drugs for his MS and back pain while he was in prison than he took when he was free. Yet he was imprisoned for the smaller amount. He's just been given a full pardon by the State of Florida. To find out what is going on, read STATS Maia Szalavitz in Reason Magazine.

Mercury News Urges Crack Down on Rubber Ducks

Trevor Butterworth, October 1, 2007
But where’s the science in paper’s call on Governor Schwarzenegger to sign bill banning phthalates in children's toys?

Don't Listen to Quacks, Lindsay - And That Includes Many People who Claim to be Experts on Addiction
Maia Szalavitz, Sept 28, 2007
New York Post runs ad for unproven treatment.

Acupuncture and Back Pain

Maia Szalavitz, Sept 27, 2007
Getting randomly pricked by needles won’t help if you’re in severe pain.

Memo to Time Magazine: Infants Don’t Produce Sperm

Trevor Butterworth, Sept 25, 2007
Report on air freshener health scare stinks.

New York Times Continues to Mislead on Avandia Risks
Trevor Butterworth, September 12, 2007
Why does the Times continue to ignore scientific criticism of Avandia’s critics?

Condemned to Die in Pain
Maia Szalavitz, Sept 12, 2007
Myths and misconceptions about accidental addiction and abuse mean many outside the West are condemned to die in agony.

California Guns for Rubber Ducks
Trevor Butterworth, September 10, 2007
A bill to ban a threat that by any reasonable measure doesn't exist.

Soda Smackdown! But Report Over Caffeine Content Fizzles
Rebecca Goldin Ph.D., September 6, 2007
That some sodas have a lot of caffeine isn’t exactly news, so how did the press juice up a new study that said, um, some sodas have a lot of caffeine?

Counting Gun Traffic
S. Robert Lichter, Ph.D, August 21, 2007
Updated August 22
Did the Washington Post malign Virginia?

Are Schools Drug “Infested?”
Maia Szalavitz, August 16, 2007
Contrasting reports on a new “study” by Columbia’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: why some readers were better served by journalistic skepticism.

Is Tanning Addictive?
Maia Szalavitz, August 15, 2007
Do chronic tanners suffer withdrawal from the heroin-like effects of sunlight on skin?

Measuring the Toxicity of New Car Smell
Trevor Butterworth, August 13, 2007
Environmentalists have been warning about the poisonous smell of a new car for the past two years. But now that someone has actually tested the air, guess what stinks?

The Cost of Media Scare Stories to Diabetics
Trevor Butterworth, August 10, 2007
Evidence that diabetics were put at real risk by overplaying shakey statistics showing a hypothetical risk from Avandia.

Healthiest Food Poses Greatest Risk When Eating Out
August 8, 2007
Healthinspections.com analyses CDC data and finds lettuce salads and raw veggies are the leading cause of food poisoning in restaurants.

The Risks of Television
Trevor Butterworth and Jenna Krall, August 7, 2007
Sometimes it’s the actual set and not what you’re watching that’s dangerous to your health.

One Joint Impacts Lungs Like Five Cigarettes?
Maia Szalavitz, Aug 1, 2007
Another study hooks the media with predictable consequences.

So What Did We Learn From Avandia? (Hint: The Media Are a Hazard to Public Health)
Trevor Butterworth, July 31, 2007
Take several critics of the way the FDA ensures the safety of drugs, rush a flawed study into print, characterize the results as catastrophic, rope in drug regulation warriors on Capitol Hill, rant about the evils of Big Pharma, talk to a credulous, statistically-illiterate media, and voila - you have Vioxx II, except the data ultimately got in the way of the story.

Avandia Vote a Rebuke to Media Alarmism
Trevor Butterworth, July 30, 2007
Critics of diabetes drug hyped by media find their data dismissed.

Will One Joint Really Make You Schizoid?
Maia Szalavitz, July 30, 2007
Just what did a new study on marijuana and schizophrenia actually say – and what did the media leave out?

New York Times Cherry Picks Data, Sources to Smear Avandia in Advance of FDA Hearing
Trevor Butterworth, July 27, 2007
A misreading of the FDA briefing paper.

Are Vogue Editors Sniffing Too Much Nail Polish?
Trevor Butterworth July 27, 2007
Um, boys don't produce semen until they reach puberty - and even the most precocious male is not going to reach puberty before leaving the womb...

Water Worries: Does an EPA Expert Need a Chemistry Lesson?
Trevor Butterworth, July 20, 2007 (updated 07/23/07)
Or did US News and World Report screw up its facts?

The Risks of Lawn Mowing
Trevor Butterworth and Jenna Krall, July 17, 2007
What happens when you take a set of sharp blades and spin them at 160 mph across a lawn?

Data Mining Shows Racism-Breast Cancer Link
July 16, 2007
Mike Fumento takes apart the statistics behind an inflammatory claim.

Statistical Meltdown Over Avandia
Trevor Butterworth, July 11, 2007
As another major scientific journal criticizes the methodology behind a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that prompted a nationwide panic over a popular diabetes drug, it turns out that the doctor who authored the study, Steven Nissen MD, delivered a blistering attack on those very methods seven years ago, when they were used by another researcher to argue that a different drug posed an equally significant health risk.

Time Out Does a Number on Single Women in New York
Maia Szalavitz, July 9, 2007
Do they really outnumber men? Or is it that they live longer and go to prison less?

Child Stent Safety Stumps Statistics

Trevor Butterworth, July 6, 2007
How do you regulate customized medical devices, when, by definition, there is no real uniformity in treatment?

The Risks of Grilling
Trevor Butterworth and Jenna Krall, July 4, 2007
It’s summer – so how likely is your cookout going to end in the ER.

San Fran Mayor Bans Water Bottles for Containing Non-existent Chemical
Trevor Butterworth, July 3, 2007
Memo to mayor and media: There are no phthalates in plastic water and soda bottles.

Feature Exposes "Tough Love" Treatment Program

Maia Szalavitz, July 2, 2007
A regime of unregulated violence masquerading as therapy for wayward kids in New Jersey.

A Hard Rain in Dallas and a Hoary Cliché About Seattle

Trevor Butterworth, June 29, 2007
Look at the data and Seattle turns out to be a poor bellweather for rainfall.

Newsweek’s “Debate” on Teen Drinking Dodges the Data

Maia Szalavitz, June 27, 2007
When parents allow their children to drink alcohol, the results are more complex than Newsweek claims.

ABC’s Sicko

Did ABC’s expose of a vicious health insurance industry practice save a young woman from going blind – or was a letter just lost in the mail?

New Criticism of Controversial Avandia Study

The statistical grounds for an increased risk of heart attack get shakier.

Drug Regulation and Diabetes

In 2002, diabetes led to 82,000 non-traumatic amputations, 153,730 cases of end-stage kidney disease, between 12,000 and 24,000 cases of blindness, and 224,092 deaths. Recent scare stories about Avandia and the need for tougher drug regulation miss the bigger picture.

A Better Response to Rejection

Once dismissed as just part of growing up, peer rejection has in recent years been linked with a host of problem behaviors, possibly including an individual's chances of developing mental illness, writesSTATS Maia Szalavitz in the Washington Post.

Medical Journal Malpractice?

The New England Journal of Medicine claims it's all about scholarship; but did it undermine serious research by whipping up a media frenzy over Avandia?

The Class Gap in Reading

The Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy” tries to find out where the data showing that middle class kids read so much more than low income kids came from.

Talk Therapy’s Dangers Finally Under the Media Spotlight

STATS has warned for years that sometimes its not good to talk about trauma; now Newsweek’s Sharon Begley examines how “just talking” can be dangerous to your health.

Generation iPod: Insecure, Pressured, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden

“According to the Unicef report, which measured 40 indicators of quality of life – including the strength of relationships with friends and family, educational achievements and personal aspirations, and exposure to drinking, drug taking and other risky behaviour – British children have the most miserable upbringing in the developed world. American children come next, second from the bottom.”

So Long Crystal Meth, Hello Cocaine!

Generational forgetting means the media's drug coverage just stays the same.

Coverage of Autism “Vaccine Court” Off to a Bad Start

Washington Post attempts to be fair to both “scientific” sides of the argument gives credibility to troubling "experts."

Newsweek’s Painful War on Pain

What the “new” war on pain misses by failing to look at the “old.”

Consumer Reports Okays Teflon Pans

Confirms what EPA said a year ago. We also told you so.

Deconstructing the Avandia Nightmare

STATS editor Trevor Butterworth takes a closer look at the controversy swirling around the diabetes drug on the Huffington Post: does the data add up to genuine risk?

Kitchen Myths

Forget the five-second rule unless you are absolutely certain your floor is spotless; 50% of Canadians unclean; plus stop worrying about Teflon and phthalates! (Finally, a reporter gets it right.)

Making Sense of the Avandia Mess
Sensationalized reporting on diabetes pill risk has led to hysteria. Experts say one study does not a compelling case make; but patients are deserting the drug. Study author notes “limitations;” critics point to flaws – and that a medical journal has a shameless political agenda.

Can “Fairly Simple Policy Changes” Reduce Underage Drinking?

The New York Times cites a new study showing that alcohol ads encourage teen drinking – but did the paper actually look at the study? Beer ads were less correlated with teen alcohol interest than playing sports. Um, should we ban sports?

Big White Lines at Slate

How not to divide an eight ball

Activist vs Scientist

A new study of potential environmental causes for breast cancer draws different interpretations.

Tough Love Kills Another Kid
May 16, 2007
"As a neuroscience journalist, I spend a lot of my time reading medical literature and marveling at what we now know about the human brain and how to help people when things go awry. Then, I look at what's actually available to people who seek or are forced into mental health and addiction treatment -- and I want to cry" - STATS' Maia Szalavitz on the Huffington Post.

Geraldo Rivera on OxyContin’s “Corporate Bloodsuckers”

FOX News' tabloid vampire feeds on District Attorney’s exaggerations; what happens when grandstanding goes unchecked, when data is ignored.

Physical Dependence or Addiction?

Distinctions are important when it comes to dealing with drug abuse, so why did the Archives of General Psychiatry confuse the press last week by misrepresenting a study in its journal?

The Media's Not Telling the Whole Oxycontin Story

"Conventional wisdom biases the media to see the Oxycontin story as one of pill-pushing doctors and hyper-marketing drug companies turning innocent pain patients into addicts. However, this is simply not what typically happens: according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average Oxycontin misuser (some 90%) has also taken cocaine and psychedelics," writes STATS' Maia Szalavitz on the Huffington Post.

Should the Media Be in the Dock Over OxyContin?

Medically, scientifically, statistically illiterate coverage of OxyContin court case; and, of course, no mention of how the media helped drug addicts abuse Oxy in the first place.

Seattle Post Intelligencer Dumbs Down Science in Honor of Mom

With Mother’s Day coming up, paper invites mom to discuss toxic risks to children. Why? Because she found chemicals in her blood.

What Journalists Should Ask About State Chemical Bans

USA Today reports that states are taking action on toxic chemicals the EPA won’t bother to ban. But do state legislatures know what they are doing? Is federal regulation failing us?

Teflon Is Not Forever: Why the Editors of Mother Jones Need To Be Hit Over the Head with a Frying Pan

When your source for a scare is the Environmental Working Group, you end up with a scientifically illiterate story. But Leslie Savan’s attack on DuPont is more than just wrong, wrong, wrong on the facts, it’s anti-scientific.

Breaking News:  Marijuana Gets You High!

Totally awesome brain scans freak reporters out. Does sex "damage" the brain too?

Kaboom! Why Investigative Reporters Should Stay Out of the Kitchen

“Betrayed” or bamboozled by exploding Pyrex dishes? FOX is forced to take a prima facie example of bad consumer reporting down.

Local News Misspells Health Scare, Revisits Scopes

From Nashville to Portland, those apocalyptic chemicals are darn hard to spell! But – good news - “people and rats are two very different creatures!”

HIV and Breastfeeding

Is it better for HIV mothers to breastfeed or not breastfeed – and does it depend on where they live?

Mental Health Parity, Guns and Seung-Hui Cho

The Virginia Tech massacre has implications for evidence-based mental health treatment, argues STATS’ Maia Szalavitz on the Huffington Post.

Sex Toys and Obesity?

Willamette Week jumps on environmentally unfriendly adult toys – and falls hard for hype.

CBS Softballs Doctor Promoting Dangerous Therapy for Autism

Chelation? Mercury in vaccines? Quack, quack! Have CBS producers heard of the Centers for Disease Control, Google?

E-mail Linked to Prozac?

A correlation that can be turned on its head.

Nail Polish, Saran Wrap and Birth Defects

FOX 9 Twin Cities produces a really lousy story.

Parity for Effective Addiction and Mental Health Care

On the Huffington Post, STATS' Maia Szalavitz expands on her New York Times op-ed (see below) about safeguarding new mental health insurance legistlation.

Manufacturing Consensus

Is the risk from exposure to bisphenol-A “one of the biggest public-health and scientific controversies in the world” - or is the Toronto Globe and Mail skewing science to advance a cause?

Smear or Slam? Greenpeace Bites Apple

Apple ranks bottom in new Greenpeace study of enviro-friendly computer companies: scientific exposé - or a shameless publicity stunt?

Has Sadness Been Pathologized?

The Washington Post reports on the over-diagnosis of depression. When does the natural flow of sorrow turn into something that requires medication?

Writing About Teens in a Youth-Mad Media World

STATS’ Maia Szalavitz is among a group of writers who will “talk about the difficulties of telling truthful stories about youth in a world that wants to see them either as over-achieving super-kids or dangerous, violent losers and uses either a pious parental perspective or a leering sneer in media coverage.” The discussion will be open to the public. Click here for more details.

Do “Skunk” Stats Stink?

British newspapers clash over drug war: is super-cannabis turning users schizo?

Can You Trust the Toledo Blade to Judge a Health Risk?

Maybe not.

Foucault’s Footnotes to Madness Revealed!

The English publication of the full text of Madness and Civilization shows Michel Foucault’s “isolation from the world of facts and scholarship.”

Is There a College Substance Abuse Crisis?

Are things really getting worse or did Columbia’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse get the media’s attention through a selective use of statistics?

Parents or Plastics Responsible for Obesity Epidemic?

Two radically different “causes” of obesity caught the media’s attention on both sides of the Atlantic, but one of them was far from proven.

Teflon Pan Scare Comes with Sales Pitch

Popular wellness doctor, Dr. Joseph Mercola, pitches his own line of cookware to save you from a non-existent threat.

LA Times Uncovers Conflict of Interest in Federal Safety Review

Was a federal risk assessment compromised by a conflict of interest involving the chemical industry, or was the paper spun by a vested interest.

New York Times Reports on Scientists Critical of Gore Movie

 “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” says Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University.“ And I’m not a Republican.” But in the past 15,000 years there have been climate shifts “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”

When Drug Enforcement and Medicine Collide

"Judge James Seals called the sentence 'illogical, absurd, unjust and unconstitutional,' noting that Paey 'could conceivably go to prison for a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully purchasing 100 oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist.'"

Washington Post Skews Story on Chemical Obesity Risk

Limitations in scientist’s research not addressed, contrasting risk evaluations by Harvard, others ignored.

Black v Black: Campus Diversity Study Misses Demographics

The Washington Post reports possible admissions bias towards black immigrants over black Americans. But are all the immigrants actually immigrants? And was the admissions data examined?

Is That Plastic Bottle Making Me Fat?

The Economist reports on a “revolution in environmental health sciences,” but did it drink at little too much Kool Aid?

Lou Dobbs on Drugs

That’s the drug war. Here’s our scorecard on how Dobbs did covering “the war within.”

Pop Quiz

“If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatechin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it?”

Stereotyping Affects Women’s Performance in Math

More evidence showing that there’s more to math scores than mere math.

With Tiny Babies, Tiny Errors Count

MSNBC confuses gestational age with conception.

Investor Environmental Health Network Peddles Inaccurate Science

Warns – with no apparent scientific expertise – about risks of chemicals.

Parents Finally Advised Not to Smother their Kids with Praise
New York magazine article reports study after study showing the debilitating effects of mindless praise on kids. Self-esteem movement a disaster.

Repent – Not Rehab – for ‘Sin’

The folly of seeing racism and infidelity as “addictions” needing “rehabilitation.”

Vancouver Sun Recommends Crank Website for Health Info

Wellness doc alarmed over, well – just about everything, including drugs to treat AIDS and the risk of dying young from winning the lottery.

The Times Laments the End of the Irish Pub; American Husbands

If the epidemic of husbandless teens and the island of grounded drinkers are signals of how the New York Times is reorienting its coverage towards analysis, then please, can we go back to basic news.

Dope: A ‘Gateway’ to Bad Reporting?

What USA Today’s marijuana story failed to tell readers.

Cruel and Misleading Advice on Epidurals

Don’t get an epidural because it will inhibit your ability to breastfeed.

Getting an Unnatural Lift from Lavender

Sex-changing “natural” oil shows that we need to revise the way we think about chemicals.

Cooking the Books on Global Warming – or Overheating a Bad Survey?

As Oscar Wilde might have told the Bush administration, to interfere once in a scientist’s research is objectionable, but to interfere twice is a conspiracy. Yet coverage of a study charging political interference in climate research was marred by factual inaccuracies, misleading statements, or conclusions that were not warranted by the evidence.

European Safety Review: No Risk from Bisphenol A Exposure

Expert scientific panel critical of many low-dose experiments cited by activists, San Francisco, for ban on chemical. Current exposure guidelines safe.

How Activist Groups Run The News

Throughout January, Americans were warned about the risks of chemicals in common products. But was this a case of public interest journalism or lousy reporting?

Avian Flu Cases and Chicken “Little-ism”

Has H5N1 peaked?

Coffee and Pregnancy: How Much Can You Drink?

Just what does three cups mean?

Teflonitis in Pascagoula

Where’s the science to show that PFOA is like asbestos?

How Bad is Health Insurance Coverage?

If you cite numbers, but not percentages, as the Washington Post did, the problem can be made to seem worse than it really is.

Paranoid in Park Slope
Dear Paranoid in Park Slope, we are sorry to read in New York Magazine that you are very, very, very worried about being poisoned by the vinyl rain cover on your baby stroller...

Wall Street Journal Report Paralyzed by Quack Therapy Dispute

Newspapers are increasingly touting “interpretation” as the way forward for print journalism. Step one: when there’s a dispute that involves data, report the data.

STATS Spurs State Investigation into School Abuse

STATS Senior Fellow Maia Szalavitz recent op-ed in the New York Times spurred state authorities to investigate a controversial residential school for emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children.

Connecticut’s Biomonitoring Stunt
Trevor Butterworth, January 16, 2007
A coalition of activists plan to abuse scientific testing to further policy goals.

The 2006 Dubious Data Awards
STATS, January 2007
Sex crazed teens, overhyped abductions, booze bunk - our awards for the worst science stories of 2006!
errata appended
Comments (1)

The Perils of Medical Blogging – and Reporting on it
Rebecca Goldin, Ph.D, January 8, 2007
ABC reports on a cancer researcher’s blog post to explain a reduction in breast cancer incidence. Uh-oh.

The Misfortune of Gogo Lidz
Maia Szalavitz, January 8, 2007
The story behind New York Magazine’s story of a depressed teen is that the media need to grasp the importance of evidence-based medicine in mental health care.

Childbirth in Iraq
Rebecca Goldin Ph.D, January 4, 2007
Good reporting by the Washington Post, even in the absence of data.

The Real Drug Problem in America Will Shock You
January 3, 2007
Look at the data, says sociologist, educated middle-aged women are the ones who are dying (at least in California).

An Inconvient Middle?
January 2, 2007
New York Times reports third way on global warming.