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Could Drinking Help Thwart Rheumatoid Arthritis?


2 Star

Could Drinking Help Thwart Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Our Review Summary

Take a concept that the story tells us is not new, tell us that most previous research was in mice, and now add an observational study in people that can’t establish cause-and-effect.  And what do you have?  A cocktail for hype that doesn’t educate readers about why such studies – while possibly important – don’t warrant some of the language in the headline or the body of the article. 


Why This Matters

Observational studies like this have limitations.  Such limitations should always be noted.  One of the biggest is that they can’t establish cause and effect.  So why put the tease, "Could drinking help thwart rheumatoid arthritis?" in the headline – a question the story and the study CAN NOT answer. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The cost of alcohol is not in question.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Too vague.  Terms were used such as:

  • "arthritis was progressively less severe" – what does that mean in  people’s lives?  How much less severe?
  • "a definite difference compared to nondrinkers" – what does that mean?  How big a difference?
  • "quadruple the risk"- Quadruple what?  Was it from .25 up to 1? Or was it 1 in 100 up to 4 in 100?  Don’t just give us relative risk. Give us absolute risk!

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No discussion of harms of alcohol consumption.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Poor job on this.  Little exploration or explanation of the limitations of such an observational study. This story only said "there are limitations to any research which asks patients to report their exposure to something."  Such as?  Why not even one little example? For comparison, a MedPageToday story reported: 

  • " important potential confounder to this study was patients’ use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, which can influence choice of treatment as well as subsequent patient behavior, since patients taking methotrexate are advised to refrain from alcohol because of hepatotoxicity. Other limitations include age differences between cases and controls, the retrospective, observational design, its homogeneous population, self-reported and single time point of information on alcohol consumption, and lack of data on quantity of alcohol consumed."

That’s what we’re looking for in such a story.  That’s what we didn’t get in this one.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

We felt disease-mongering in the air when the story didn’t explain what degree of rheumatoid arthritis the subjects had.  In fact, at one point the author referred to simply "joint inflammation."  Well one man’s joint inflammation is not another man’s rheumatoid arthritis.  So this potentially disabling condition was treated as just one huge bucket of a diagnosis in this story, whereas it is a wide and varied spectrum of disease and impacts. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


One apparently independent expert was quoted.   We weren’t told why he was quoted or whether he was involved in the research. But he’s not listed as an author of the study, so we’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt – by a hair. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Not even a word about other approaches to treating rheumatoid arthritis.  Even a line may have satisfied this criterion.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The availability of alcohol is not in question.  In fact, we need a drink after reading another story that conflates association with causation.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story explained "This actually isn’t a new concept" but that most previous research was in mice.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Does not appear to have relied on a news release.

Total Score: 3 of 8 Satisfactory


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