I expect this will be very boring for a certain demographic, but I loved the cover story of the New York Times Magazine this weekend (site requires registration). Gary Taubes wrote about the tendency to confuse association with cause-and-effect in large-scale observational studies. In other words, just because you notice two trends occurring simultaneously, it doesn’t mean one caused the other. In the most amusing example from the article, scientists observed a decline in heart-disease deaths among women taking hormones. However, scientist Diana Petitti, who observed the same decline, pointed out that among the women in the study she “found an even more dramatic reduction in death from homicide, suicide and accidents.” Estrogen prevents murder? I think not.
My point is that you don’t need to believe every medical hypothesis that bubbles up. Science is all about coming up with a theory and proving or disproving it. That’s how we progress. But my REAL point is that if I know you in actuality, and we are having lunch at Balthazar, and you are paying which would be so very generous of you, do NOT cite a study, your friend’s boyfriend’s cousin or US Weekly and tell me that:
- taking 1 million mg of vitamin C a day will prevent death/cancer/common cold/flu;
- drinking a gallon of pomegranate juice daily will prevent death, etc.
- yoga will prevent death, etc.
- herbs will prevent death, etc.
- salmon three times a day will prevent death, etc.
- veganism will prevent death, etc.
- no carbs will prevent death, etc.
- no fat will prevent death, etc.
- no alcohol will prevent death, etc.
- enemas will make my skin look better. Ew!
(And if you smoke, do NOT give me any health advice, EVER! I will cut you. With my butter knife, but it will still hurt.)
My real-life peeps, I love you, but I must break some sad news to you: nothing will prevent death and sometimes you just catch a damn cold. The studies you cite are totally unconvincing to me, as are the cousin you never met and the celebrity magazine. The fact that I smile and nod when you tell me these things means I am being polite, not that I agree and certainly not that I will ever try your parsley-and-grape-jelly cancer prevention diet.
To thank you in advance for allowing me to enjoy my free lunch in peace, I will leave you with these words of health wisdom based on good science:
- Smoking has been scientifically proven to HASTEN death. Don’t smoke!
- Looking both ways when crossing the street may help delay death. While it is not a guarantee, it is still a good idea.
- In a very small-scale study, it was observed that eating nothing but Harry & David’s chocolate-covered cherries for a week does not necessarily lead to death. More study is necessary. You know where to send the cherries.