Friday, April 22, 2005

Junk Science or Stupid Journalists? (With Meanwhiles)

This article from Tech Central Station (Via Instapundit)talks about the recent CDC study contradicting the Obesity Epidemic study from a while back.

The TCS column seems to imply that the CDC is presenting us with "Junk Science" and possibly deliberately attempting to mislead us.

All of this raises the question of why the numbers have been so badly wrong. The CDC tells us that this is tricky, technical stuff and estimates are always that -- estimates. Of course the 400,000 deaths per year that has been the foundation of the obesity epidemic was never an estimate -- it was always a "fact". Part of the reason is that the 400,000 number was based, as the authors admit, not on actual weights and heights -- but estimates. And even in those surveys which supposedly used actual weights and heights about 30% of the participants never showed up to be measured.

So, if the CDC told us that these were estimates, who told you they were facts? Hmmmmmm? Because the CDC said it was an estimate apparently. The media is who made it a fact. Not the CDC, so don't blame the academics trying to "estimate" very tricky things. I truly deeply doubt that the CDC is trying to mislead the American people. In fact I bet they are pretty embarrassed that their first estimates were so terrible, and that they went ahead and published them.

But if you want to blame someone for stating the CDC's estimates as facts and scaring the bejeezus out of the American people, blame the media. The media has a history of taking what academics say and turning it into absolute facts. (Hence, why I even bothered starting this blog.) They read "The CDC estimates X" and turn this into, "HEY! X!" which, is not the same.

I think I know why there is this miscommunication. In Academics it is important to put your best foot forward, because everyone who reads your work will be doing their best to tear it to little tiny pieces. So you don't want to come right out and say "Hey, we estimated this so, it's pretty not accurate." because then they wont give credence to anything you have to say. So you hide it and make yourself sound good.

The problem is Journalists, are too busy (or too stupid, sorry) to be bothered critiquing and tearing apart studies. What they do is read the abstract and report on it, basically repeating whatever was said only in stronger language. This leads to the horrible overstatements of things that lead us to suddenly believe that Obesity is the leading cause of death in this country.

For the record I did think that the TCS article was very well written (Better than this one obviously) and factual, it was his seeming anger at the scientists that got me going. While I don't really think the CDC has been doing the greatest job, what they are doing is hard, and I know I couldn't do it so who am I to criticize. But I feel that his statements were misdirected, I really think that the media is more to blame for scaring the fatties than the CDC.

MEANWHILE: Bill at INDC has an amazing write up of how the new CDC study could be even MORE misleading than the old one! I am Shinobi's Joy. He points out possible failings of the study, like, the reasons why people might be over or underweight, and how these reasons could affect their lifespan. These reasons were not taken into account by the CDC. THIS is what I'm talking about people. This is what journalists should be doing, not just swallowing numbers whole and regurgitating them in boldface. YAY BILL!

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