The authors are not kidding. And binge drinking was correlated to 52 percent higher birth defects for males.
The confounders are obvious, as they are for any exploratory paper: drinking was self-reported, congenital heart diseases are the most common birth defects, and the authors hand-selected studies that affirmed their hypothesis.
Binge drinking is, of course, risky. A small examination of binge-drinking in women that led to greater instances of fetal alcohol syndrome is what led to claims in America that women should abstain from all alcohol during pregnancy. Europe had sent all the Puritans here and so did not invoke the precautionary principle based on such extreme thin evidence (they do that about other chemicals, though, so Science Puritanism has been revived there) and have no more birth defects than Americans despite many mothers having a glass of wine each day, but binge drinking is harmful. Alcohol is a legitimate Class 1 carcinogen from a time when France's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was still a legitimate fact-finding body, and were not editing documents to help their consultants be expert witnesses.
But this claims not only moderate alcohol is bad for developing babies during pregnancy, but a year prior to that - for women. Six months for men. If it sounds too implausible for anyone outside the New York Times to take seriously, that's because it is. Ironically, it's in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology where we can be sure this is a precautionary principle they will not adopt.
Here's why Europeans will be more skeptical than Americans.
It's only an observational study yet they suggest causal effect, it suggests paternal drinking is more harmful than maternal drinking, but then does not show that moderate alcohol drinking is unsafe
The analysis claimed a nonlinear dose-response relationship between parental alcohol drinking and congenital heart diseases. Nonlinear dose response is the go-to claim of homeopaths and the endocrine disruption community, like the groups who pay Paul Fagan's HRI Labs to "detect" some chemical or another so they can link it to an epidemiology paper that claims a nonlinear response to the chemical they are raising money against and invoke a biological and toxicological black box of how it can happen - magic.
Some epidemiologists even claim nonlinear dose response happens as much as 50 percent of the time, and that biology and toxicology need to take note, but what is really happening is bad statistics trying to create worse science. If linear dose response is not valid, then drug trials are useless. Because if you spend a billion dollars and have 2,000 people in a study and the 2,000,000th person has an unanticipated effect, well, you can just invoke nonlinear dose response.
Yet the authors use an observational methodology they know is suspicious to claim in a press release alcohol is bad a year before conception. Why not two years? Five? They have no cut-off for a safe level because it does not exist. All we know is that binge drinking increases risks. They instead note that alcohol is a teratogen and that kids with fetal alcohol syndrome have greater instance heart disease, all true but also strawmen. It is not harmful at trace levels and certainly not a year later or birth defects would have increased, and they have not.
Statistics has not uncovered some magic effect of alcohol at low levels that has been missed by the entire world about its most studied compound.
What the authors lack to be taken seriously is a plausible biological mechanism. Maybe a future study will invoke epigenetics or the microbiome or whatever the fashion is then.
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