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Cherry-picking, statistical adjustment, and fishing expeditions

December 5th, 2011

My Jockology column in this week’s Globe and Mail takes a look at three questions:

  1. How do cigarettes help marathoners run faster?
  2. Why does eating red meat cause car crashes?
  3. Does caffeine cause breast cancer?

In each case, I analyze studies that seem to “prove” these surprising findings, and identify the errors (cherry-picking data, inadequate statistical adjustment, and fishing expeditions) that lead to these conclusions. Basically, it’s a “how to assess medical research” primer. Read the whole thing here.

(Hat tip to Travis Saunders for his blog post at Obesity Panacea about the smoking study.)


  1. jb
    December 7th, 2011 at 15:12 | #1

    Great article. Here’s a great cartoon illustrating “fishing expeditions” (and the role of “science” journalism):

  2. alex
    December 7th, 2011 at 15:54 | #2

    @jb: Ha! Awesome — I recommend everyone click on the xkcd link for a good laugh (and concise demonstration of the problem with fishing expeditions).

  3. December 17th, 2011 at 16:34 | #3

    It’s covered fairly well in “bad science” in simple laymans terms so even I can understand.

  1. December 7th, 2011 at 04:24 | #1
  2. December 8th, 2011 at 16:46 | #2