ACSH Morning Dispatch: Cause and Effect

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-- Quote to Note: "Epidemiology is so beautiful and provides such an important perspective on human life and death, but an incredible amount of rubbish is published." --Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University

-- When reading the much-anticipated New York Times Magazine article "Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?" ACSH staffers stumbled across what we feel is the quote of the weekend, by Prof. Richard Peto. His statement on epidemiology agreed with ACSH's view that many times the results of observational studies are overemphasized in the media and too many conclusions are drawn from them, undermining sound science.

-- Over the weekend, the following question was posed to an ACSH staffer: Is the relationship between obesity and diabetes strong enough to be classified as causal? ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava said that while she believes the relationship is not as strong as in lung cancer and smoking (just over 90% of all lung cancers are causally linked with cigarette smoking), she does think it rises to the level of causation. At the same time, just as there are some people who have never smoked a cigarette who develop lung cancer, there are people who are lean who get type 2 diabetes. Stay tuned for an upcoming ACSH paper that deals with the thorny issue of causation.

-- Causing quite a stir at ACSH's breakfast table today was a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal. The letter, by Judy Wubnig of Waterloo, Ontario, began with the statement "no education about sex is necessary." Wubnig's letter, a response to last week's story about a Princeton sex-ed video, justified her first statement by relating human beings to animals -- they know how to reproduce without any instruction. She also wrote it is not necessary for Princeton to inform students that rape is a crime, anymore than it is necessary to inform anyone that assault, robbery, cheating, and plagiarism are wrong. Some ACSH staffers responded that the letter is simplistic and uniformed. Her comments about plagiarism and cheating aside, some education about sex and dating behavior is very important for incoming freshmen, ACSH's Dr. Gil Ross said.

-- Another eye-catching article on an opinion page was in the New York Times: Baby Boomers, it seems, are behaving worse than teenagers. While teenagers are often labeled as "immature" and at risk for drug abuse, this quick review of statistics finds otherwise -- the 21 million middle-aged binge drinkers are double the number among teenagers and college students combined. While ACSH staffers questioned whether or not the numbers used are age-adjusted, we did make one cause-and-effect observation of our own. These are the baby boomers some of whom were druggies back in the 60s -- what did you expect from this cohort?

Corrie Driebusch is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (,