Spoofing Spurious Science
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Statistics can be skewed, as shown in this satirical study of the risks surrounding premature aging and death.
Fam Pract Manag. 2004 Nov-Dec;11(10):15-16.
The conclusions of some recent “scientific” studies lead me to believe we are increasingly basing our decisions on junk science. My frustration peaked as I read a recent study which purported that patients with normal blood pressure are actually prehypertensive. I decided to write my own “study” of other premorbid states (see "A retrospective study on the risk factors of premature aging and death," below).
I give a copy of my fictitious findings to drug representatives who visit my office with new studies supporting their products. Sadly, about half of them shake their heads enthusiastically and praise their newfound “good information.” I can only surmise they are either practicing the fine art of apple-polishing or will believe anything. I offer it here as a lighthearted reminder not to believe everything we read.
A Retrospective Study on the Risk Factors of Premature Aging and Death
Much has been written regarding the tragedy of premature aging and death, but no comprehensive study has delineated the precise causes or suggested appropriate intervention. This report aims to rectify the situation.
In a retrospective study of over 5,000 patients in a rural practice, we sought to evaluate several parameters including, but not limited to, cardiovascular status, prevalence of diabetes, obesity, dementia, and physical conditioning and appearance.
The patient population consisted of 10 percent pediatrics (less than 18 years of age), 20 percent young adults (ages 19 to 35), 30 percent middle-aged adults (ages 35 to 55) and 40 percent mature adults (age 55 and older). We divided the study into Groups A through D corresponding to the above divisions.
In Group A, only 1 percent of the patients had diabetes, hypertension or chronic renal failure. Remarkably, none of them had senile cataract formation or false teeth. There was a substantial subset with apparent baldness, but this seemed to reverse itself after the age of one year. This correlated nicely with the concomitant condition of poor bladder and bowel control. Our next study hopes to demonstrate the neurological connection that simultaneously modulates stimulation of hair follicles and sphincter control.
Group B also did fairly well. There was a slight increase in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The most disconcerting finding was a rapid and inexplicable inconsistency in height, weight, mood and skin quality as measured on sequential visits. Parents reported evidence of intermittent hearing loss and short attention spans consistent with dementia. Fortunately, most patients experienced spontaneous remission after age 18. Almost all of these patients were found to have a full head of hair, indicating prebaldness.
Group C patients developed a substantially higher incidence of prehypertensive blood pressure readings (120/80 mm Hg) and many even had pretachycardic pulse rates (80 beats per minute). This age group had the widest diversity between prebald states and baldness. While weight went up, the worrisome vertical extension associated with the transient dementia of Group B stabilized. It is our belief that rapid changes in altitude must have caused the onset of baldness.
Group D unfortunately suffered most of the serious health problems and took the most medications. A survey of lifestyle confirmed many common factors. For instance, the vast majority of patients over age 55 were born more than 50 years ago. This raises the specter of widespread environmental contamination in the mid-1900s. Further, a substantial number of Group D patients had relapses of the bowel and bladder problems in Group A and the hearing loss and dementia noted in Group B. An astounding 83 percent of these patients were AARP members. When family history was taken into consideration, it was discovered that the parents of the sickest patients had at least one child, suggesting a genetic link between illness and fertility. Ugliness was rampant in this group, not to mention irritability.
Based on the study’s findings, we can conclude three things:
Patients whose parents had children should consider themselves at risk for premorbid conditions.
Joining AARP seems to trigger the relapse of maladies of youth.
Anybody can use (dubious) data to reach completely irrational conclusions.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The views and opinions expressed in the editorials published in Family Practice Management do not necessarily represent those of FPM or our publisher, the American Academy of Family Physicians. We recognize that your point of view may differ from the author’s, and we encourage you to share it. Please send your comments to FPM via e-mail at email@example.com or overland to 11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway, Leawood, Kansas 66211-2672.
Dr. Horton practices in Rainsville, Ala.
Conflicts of interest: none reported.
Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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