No TIME for Accuracy, Posting Shameful Milk-Parkinson's Story

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One might think that a publication as venerable as TIME wouldn't run story with a fear-provoking headline that's both wrong, misleading and irresponsible. So if you expected more from the editors there as we do unfortunately you'd be greatly disappointed.

The magazine recently published an article that blatantly misrepresented a study suggesting that milk contributes to Parkinson s disease. Its headline: Drinking Milk Is Linked to Parkinson's Disease: Study

The problem is that the study does not have enough supporting evidence to show that pesticides or milk consumption (or anything else) can directly cause Parkinson s disease. It can only show an association and it is based on shaky math the number of people used to draw this conclusion is so small that it's possible that the researchers are seeing nothing more than simple chance.

The same statistics appear be showing a perplexing observation of smokers being protected against Parkinson s, which should be a hint about how reliable the data are.

Dr. Robert Abbot of the Shiga University of Medical Science in Otsu, Japan, and colleagues looked at 449 Japanese-American men ages 45 to 68 years living in Hawaii. These data were part of a larger study on aging. The men involved were queried about how much milk they consumed as children. (They also agreed to donate their brains to the study after they died.)

The numbers showed that men who consumed more than two glasses of milk a day had fewer brain cells in the part of the brain called substantia nigra, which is associated with Parkinson s disease. The group also measured heptachlor epoxide, a metabolite of the formerly-used pesticide heptachlor, which is quite toxic, and banned in the United States in 1988. Higher amounts of this chemical were found in men who had fewer brain cells in that region of the brain.

But, before jumping to conclusions, it should be noted that there were big problems with the study that any journalist engaged in critical thinking should have caught:

  • There was exactly one question about milk, and it relied on recollection from decades ago
  • No milk from current-day processing was analyzed to see if it contained the chemical
  • Only a very small percentage of men in the larger study on aging were included
  • The smoking/Parkinson's link is a red flag

The usual disclaimer in flawed papers like this is "more study is needed," but really it's not needed here. Heptachlor was recognized long ago as bad news, and it is banned. This is now a non-issue.

The only reason to claim milk causes Parkinson's disease or has anything to do with it at all is to get more people to read TIME, and perhaps help activist, anti-chemical groups with fundraising.

So, drink up.