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Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

Faulty medical statistics are flooding the news

Learn to spot the most common mistakes to escape new nonsense

I don’t know why, but even the most prestigious medical journals with superb peer review routines now are publishing medical nonsense. Whatever the reasons, most of it has the same systematic mistakes that anyone with some common sense can spot. It goes as follows.

Say you find a giant study that looks at statistical correlations between action or circumstance and health. For instance: are people who drink coffee statistically healthier?

This should be done as follows. You take a group of subjects. You split it in two, randomly. One half you give coffee pills and the others placebos. The subjects nor the researchers know which people takes what—this is called double-blind. After some time, you check how (un)healthy everyone is.

If you find that one group is better off, you suspect that having coffee has a health effect, damaging or supporting better health. That is a statistical correlation. To confirm it, two things could be done. Have the same setup with other subjects. Each time you don’t get the same results, your finding loses value. And, you can try to find a mechanism that caused the health effect. If you can’t find one, this too could mean the result might be fake.

That’s how to do it. It’s done millions of times. It’s the golden standard of medical statistics that everyone can understand.

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However, the world now has computer databases with enormous numbers of subjects with all kinds of medical facts connected to them. Then, in a faulty setup, the following is done. One compares people in the database who drink coffee with those who don’t. Say you find that coffee drinkers are healthier, less sick, live longer, what do we know? Nothing! How so?

The two groups, coffee drinkers and abstainers, are not compatible. We don’t know why (!) one drinks the burned beans drab and the other doesn’t. Say that you find that the drinkers are healthier. Maybe, working like crazy in a well-paying job demands that you drink the stimulant. Richer people generally are healthier—nothing to do with what they drink.

A recent example was very telling. It found that people opting to drink coffee are healthier than those who don’t but only if they use freshly milled beans. Instant coffee is not healthier. Then, this study concluded that there must be something beneficial in freshly made coffee that got lost in instant sludge. A totally baseless conclusion because the two groups are not compatible. You don’t need to be a statistician or physician to understand this. Just think about the two groups. Who drinks freshly made coffee? People who have more money and more time than the working poor. And, unfortunately, middle-class people have better health.

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Another faulty publication I saw recently also was worthless because it compared two groups that cannot be compared.

They wanted to see if fewer people died who took four shots against corona than three shots. They compared people who got four shots against people who only took three when only three were available. More of the ones who took four lived. Totally faulty setup.

The ones who got four short got them during Omicron; the ones who took the maximum three took them when the Delta variant was dominant. The latter was much deadlier. Of course, more people died then.

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So, you see: you only need common sense to spot such bad science.

Unfortunately, we can’t even blindly trust good-faith specialists anymore. We need to see for ourselves if a statistical ‘proof’ amounts to anything. Fortunately, the frequent mistakes I see are violations of common sense.

Cause and Effect Cannot be Distinguished by Statistics

Another recent medical ‘discovery’ illustrates well another cluster of nonsense. This investigation got much favorable publicity (and was not recalled when I called out the nonsense). It had the laughable conclusion that a large portion of Israeli children who ever got a head trauma for which they went to the first aid, later in life were found to have autism, neurological illnesses, depression, and a whole slew more of brain stuff. Three common-sense signs refute such a ‘finding.’

1. If you ever raised kids, you know they fall all the time. Sometimes you want them checked out by the first aid station. But if you have ever given therapy, you will not believe that almost all autism, neurological illness, and mental suffering are rooted in one fall in childhood. 2. The array of totally different consequences (inborn, neurological, mental) betrays that they can’t have one cause. 3. There are no two comparable groups here. It’s easy to see that autistic, neurologically sick, and depressed children will likely fall more frequently than trouble-free kids. The more-falling is likely often the result of the illnesses, not the other way around.

So, even if there is a statistical correlation really, that doesn’t prove which is cause and which effect.

Faulty Control Groups and Causation Reversed

Mistakes are never such that they can be combined. So, you can have research where a proper control group is missing and what was the result is blamed as the cause.

We often learn most from mistakes. It was thought statistically sound that more people who could not sit still got heart attacks. I remember that in the revalidation clinic I once worked, the floor with the survivors of heart attacks had all the newspaper subscriptions except for one. All the other floors together had one subscriber. It sounded so convincing.

Decades later, proper studies came. Not on survivors but on equivalent groups of heart patients before they got really sick. It turned out that being so busy actually protected heart patients against deadly attacks, not so different from physical excessive. Survivors were extremely busy. But that was what made them survive, not what was dangerous to them.

It was found that people with stomach cancer often had suffered for years from burning acid. And people with cancer in the mouth often first had years of ill-fitting dentures. So, the old theory was that chronic irritation leads to cancer. But, microscopical research found that the acid burned because there was a beginning of cancer. And the dentures stopped fitting because of a beginning cancer. The reverse of the old theories.

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In conclusion: Use your common sense. Medical studies don’t teach any. But, you may have some. Trust your instincts. Question what’s strange. Listen to docs explaining your mistrust as misplaced. Believe them when they make sense. No blind trust in authorities. You’ve got a brain too.

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Disclaimer: I’m not completely neutral on faulty medical research. I’m a fetal survivor of DES. DES was found to not work but the pharmaceutical industry anyway sold billions of the pills claiming that it did work. It was supposed to stop spontaneous abortions. They compared women who lost their babies with women who took DES. But the truth was that fatal early births happened less and less in consequent pregnancies without DES too. Big Pharma knew that but kept it silent. These pills not only didn’t work. They gave cancer and fertility problems and a whole slew of other bad stuff. When outlawed in the West, Big Pharma continued to sell its stock, for decades, to pregnant women in Africa. Pretending to do good, they’re into making money, not necessarily any better than the weapon industry.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 1500 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/ or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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