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60 Minutes provides 90 seconds of Andy Rooney on confusing studies

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Last week’s program afforded Andy a chance to say what many consumers probably often think – about seemingly back-and-forth studies that confuse people. (And, yes, you’ll need to sit through a Pfizer logo/ad before you can watch Andy.)

From the CBS transcript:

“They are always doing studies, and there are a lot of studies – whatever a study is – that suggest drinking some things that used to be thought to be bad for us are now considered good and drinks which were thought to be good are now considered bad.

It’s got so you don’t dare drink diet soda because researchers say that can be damaging to your health. I don’t pay much attention to any of these alarms because, for that matter, life can be damaging to your health. Particularly in large amounts.

Another study I saw says that sweet drinks increase your blood pressure and your chances of getting fat. Well, I’m already overweight, so is it okay if I have a Coke once in a while?

Thirty years ago they were saying that people who drank a lot of coffee were more apt to increase their chances of getting cancer. Now, a study from Israel says that drinking three cups of coffee a day is good for you and good for your circulation and may even protect you against heart attacks.

I’ve never paid attention to any of the research and I’m still alive and drinking a lot of coffee. I was in Israel once and that didn’t kill me either.

Experts have determined that an occasional glass of red wine may be good for us so you may catch me with a glass at dinner. My attitude is “drink up” because tomorrow they might say it’s bad.

What I’m really waiting for is a study that says a lot of ice cream lowers your cholesterol. I mean, I’ll eat to that.”

What he didn’t say was that most of these studies are observational studies that can’t prove cause and effect. Sometimes it’s the researchers who miscommunicate the limitations of such studies. Many times it’s journalists who screw it up.

A reminder: we offer a primer for journalists – or for anyone – to understand the proper language that should be used to explain observational studies.

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Comments

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Andrew Holtz

March 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

This does indeed seem to be an example of being too close to a problem to see it.
I’d be surprised if Rooney read the original journal articles he’s talking about. He’s likely talking about the impressions he got from news reports about the articles. When he says that “Experts have determined…” what he probably really means is, “The media reports I’ve seen say that experts have determined…”
As you point out, researchers (and industry, university, conference media staffers) too often originate the miscommunication. Still, the lesson that journalists and news execs should take from this expression of (the widespread) exasperation with apparently conflicting reports about research results is that sloppy reporting has seriously eroded the credibility of media reports on these topics.

Ken Leebow

March 31, 2011 at 9:14 am

I had my cartoonist draw up a funny cartoon about all the research that we are “subjected” to … http://bit.ly/g3eHJL

Lou Raguse

March 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Completely agree it’s the journalists who screw it up every time. Problem is the AP and TV stations’ video services have bad info in their scripts to start with. Producers can’t resist because those studies make attention-grabbing teases and headlines. “Drinking Coke Can Prevent Cancer” “Drinking Wine Can Make You Live Longer.”
Stupid!

frank

May 31, 2011 at 9:22 am

Why does Andy Rooney always point out the true facts of life after the whole world has been fooled. Folks, listen today while we have him with us.