Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Science without press release. Or science.


From the ASH website today:

Correction: Heart attacks plummet after smoking ban

We have heard that the figures reported in the Sunday Times yesterday (and now circulating elsewhere) are not based on any research conducted to date.

You read that correctly. The figures are not based on any research. So they are, in fact, completely groundless.

The impact of the smokefree legislation on heart attacks is being analysed by Anna Gilmore and team at Bath but they have no final results yet.

And, to be fair to Gilmore and her team, they were not quoted as saying the heart rate fell by 10%. In fact, no figures were quoted by anyone at all.

So what's going on here? Has Sunday Times' journalist Jonathan Leake made the whole thing up? Is the 10% a figment of his imagination or is it a case of whispered conversations with an anonymous source? Leakes' article explicitly states:

The ban on public smoking has caused a fall in heart attack rates of about 10%, a study has found.

But, as Dr Siegel* has pointed out, there is no study and will not be for quite some time. No one is prepared to go on record with this mysterious 10% figure. Now it transpires that the research has not even been conducted yet!

Bear in mind that this article has gone around the world. It was copied virtually word for word by The Daily Mail, Metro and The Telegraph. It has appeared in The Australian and The Times of India. And yet the story is so shaky that even anti-smoking groups are distancing themselves from it.

Science by press release is bad enough. This story doesn't even seem to have a press release to back it up. 

This really is a new low.


* The good doctor has the low-down on yet another heart miracle here.


9 comments:

Ben said...

The 10% figure might not be the result of a study, but rather the target in a call for submission of studies.
After evaluation of all the submissions, they will declare the winner.
And the winner is ...

BTS said...

ASH backing away from the story..?

Quick, someone stick a leg out..

Anonymous said...

I think you are being over generous to Gilmore. The Sunday Times has obviously spoken to her and she is quoted as saying,“There is already overwhelming evidence that reducing people’s exposure to cigarette smoke reduces hospital admissions due to heart attacks,” What evidence is she talking about? Somebody connected to the research on English heart attacks has given the ST the figure of 10%. If it wasn't Gilmore, who did she pass the phone to?

BTS said...

Well pointed out Anon. If it's already been proven beyond doubt, as she would have us believe, why the hell is she being funded to do more research into it?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Good work!

Mac the Knife said...

"even anti-smoking groups are distancing themselves from it"

Can anything stink that badly?

Snowdon said...

Anon,
I may well be being over-generous to Gilmore but without evidence of wrong-doing I am not going to criticise her. I suspect that she may give me plenty of reason to criticise her next year, but right now the Sunday Times is the culprit.

Of course it is ridiculous for her to say there is "overwhelming" evidence that heart miracles are real but such hyperbole is so common now amongst anti-smokers that it barely registers (and BTS make a fair point on this!)

What I think breaks new ground here is that no one is even prepared to put their heads above the parapet. Jill Pell also promoted her study well before publication, but with a press release which quoted her. Here, we have a case of a newspaper saying that the heart attack rate fell by 10% but there is no quote for it and no one has gone on record. The fact that only one newspaper covered it (initially) makes me think that there was no press release. It is - if you will - a 'rogue story'. The fact that the BBC haven't touched it and ASH have distanced themselves from it is highly unusual and makes me suspect that something has gone on here that goes beyond even the standards of junk science we have come to expect (and, bear in mind, Gilmore is closely involved with ASH).

None of which is to say that Gilmore won't fabricate a 10% drop. I fully expect her to, but that must wait for another day.

MarieC said...

ASH are usually not slow to quote figures that haven't stood up to scrutiny, so why now?

Perhaps, they feel next year they can 'cook' up a better percentage drop. It is supposed to be 2010 that the review of the smoking ban takes place, is it not?

I certainly wouldn't trust them to be anything but devious, whatever the motive to distance themselves from the 10%.

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.