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    Suicide By Soda—Bullsweet!
    By Josh Bloom | March 31st 2014 11:14 AM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Josh

    Director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences at The American Council on Science and Health in New York since 2010.

    Former research chemist

    ...

    View Josh's Profile
    In the mood to off yourself? I sure hope not, but if you are contemplating it, there is no need to use a gun, poison, or pills. Just take a sip of Diet Coke.

    Because anyone who takes headlines seriously—a universally bad idea—will be afraid to even look at a bottle of diet soda, let alone drink from one. 

    We can equally thank Dr. Ankur Vyas and his group for publishing the quintessential example of garbage science, and an all-too-willing press, obviously looking for juicy headlines. Or can't be bothered to read the study. Or have their own agenda. Probably all three.

    As usual, there is a strong correlation between junk studies and misleading headlines. Here are some examples:

    "Diet soda associated to women's heart risks" (ABC News)
    "Diet drink danger: Possible link to heart risk in older women, study says" (CBS News)
    "Study: Diet soda linked with heart disease and even death" (NBC News Channel 4, Oklahoma City)
    "Regular Consumption Of Diet Drinks Linked To Heart Problems In Older Women" (Huffington Post)
    "Diet Soda Ups Your Heart Attack Risk? "(Prevention.com)

    There are MANY more. According to Google News, this story has been covered by 3,900 sources.

    Too bad all 3,900 are wrong.


     Image credit and link: Wellandgoodnyc.com

    These "results" come from a presentation at the ongoing American College of Cardiology meeting, which is being held in Washington—where the truth is generally in short supply. In which case, the study authors picked the right place.

    This piece of nonsense is so easy to debunk that my hamster could probably do it. Well, that was a lie too, since I don't have one. So I'll have to do it myself.

    From Maggie Fox on CNBC: "Women who drink the most diet sodas may also be more likely to develop heart disease and even to die, according to a new study published Saturday."

    I guess I really can't blame her, since the study leader Dr. Ankur Vyas, a cardiovascular disease physician at the University of Iowa said "Our study suggests an association between higher diet drink consumption and mortality." 

    Translation: "Dear Stupid Americans, Here is something that sounds really bad, and will get me in the news. Maybe even on Oprah. I know that it's a bunch of nonsense, but you will not, because the headlines are gonna really run with this and scare the crap out of you. Over nothing."

    At least he had the decency to later admit "It's not an extreme risk." This did not make the headlines.

    No it's not extreme. How about zero? Because there is absolutely nothing in this study that could lead anyone with even a passing knowledge of science or epidemiology to conclude that diet soda has health risk whatsoever. Nothing.

    Here's why: The Iowa group studied 60,000 middle-aged women over a ten-year period. Data were accumulated from questionnaires—a notoriously unreliable method of data gathering. But this isn't a tiny fraction of the problem.

    At the end of the study period the group took a look at the health of women who did, and did not drink diet soda. Lo and behold! Of women who drank two or more diet drinks per day, 8.5 percent had some sort of heart disease. But, for women who either drank fewer or no diet drinks that number was only 7 percent. Uh-oh. Smoking gun?

    Not even close. Because buried at the bottom of the article is what is really going on: The women who drank more diet soda were less healthy to begin with. They were more likely to be overweight, to smoke, and to have high blood pressure than the other group.

    So, let's correct the headline a bit: "Sick People are More Likely to Die." Accurate headline, but it won't sell many papers.

    What is really going on here is a classic case of mixing up cause and effect. No, diet soda doesn't give you heart disease. You already have a higher heart disease risk, and drink diet soda to try to cut calorie consumption.

    Playing basketball does not make you tall. Opening an umbrella does not make it rain. Going to sleep does not make the sun go down. Geese flying south do not cause winter. I could go on, but I'm starting to put myself into a coma.

    Although this study borders on downright silly, the implications of this type of research and reporting are not. American people, not exactly known for their scientific acumen, read this stuff and it becomes fact. And we all get a little more confused every day. The result: the inability of the average person to make educated choices, since they are manipulated and/or confused by the vast amount of conflicting "evidence" that is flying around the internet.

    The anti-aspartame loons must be jumping with joy over this. The study says NOTHING about the health effects of artificial sweeteners, but the headlines sure do. Guess who's going to win this one?

    Front page image: Wellandgoodnyc.com

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Ha ha ha! Great article Josh. Now where's my Diet Coke?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Josh Bloom
    HelenI'd buy you an entire 12 pack
    Josh
    Josh Bloom
    Josh,

    I have to agree with the overall direction of your article, but if you're going to present a viewpoint that is in opposition to common belief, slamming the general public as being a herd of mindless sheep is probably not the best way to make friends and influence the masses!

    The issue (as I see it) is that we are inundated with 'scientific' polls almost every day; polls that show political approval ratings, how we like our coffee, how many of us believe that GMO's are good/bad and the reasons why. The list could go on, but I'm sure you know the rest. What is never explained is who was polled, how they were polled, where they came from, what does 'N' mean, and all the other things that people that have never taken research methods or statistics don't know about.

    Yeah, survey forms are the worst. People generally lie on them, researchers may not know what to do with ambiguous answers so they make things up as they go along, etc.

    For research to be meaningful to the layperson, scientists (of any field) need to release the relevant information. For example, if a survey is released showing the President's approval rating at 37%, I'd like to know the makeup of the cohort, where they came from, what political party they are in, the list goes on. This is akin to the study that was done in the '60's on an artificial sweetener called 'Surcaryl'. Who funded that study and what did it actually show? Look it up.

    I applaud you for rebutting garbage science and holding the heat to the feet of scientists that release data that supports their own agenda's. however, it must be done in a meaningful manner so as to get through the perpetual fog of misinformation that the press seems to feed on and regurgitate to the masses.

    One question; does diet root beer fall under that same study?

    Josh Bloom
    BarnettThanks for writing.
    Yes, I agree that insulting people is not necessarily the best way to make a point. But that presupposes that this is all I wanted to do. 
    Venting has been shown (P = 0.9) to prolong life. Or at very least (P = 0.001) provide me with some amusement.
    Sometimes I write up stuff to make a serious point. Sometimes it is just to make fun of something. This would be the latter.
    Regarding root beer, I never understood people's fondness for it, since I can't even take a sip without gagging.
    That said, I don't think you have much to worry about.
    Josh
    Josh Bloom
    I'm with you on the flaws in the reporting and the hasty conclusions drawn by the media, but please explain your assertion that truth is generally in short supply at the American College of Cardiology meeting. I understand that this was a rant more than a thorough debunking, but I would like to debunk it persuasively. An admittedly hasty search on the organization gives me no reason to doubt their credibility. Again, I understand the particular research issues and the disingenuous claims made by the media, but what is the issue with the organization?

    Josh Bloom
    You are dead on. It was a rant, which is necessary now and then to maintain what little sanity I have left.
    Our main issue is one that we often talk about: Mixing up cause and effect, and the spreading of wrong information by the media. This is about as good an example of this as you'll ever find.
    Josh
    Josh Bloom