University of Twitter? Scientists give impromptu lecture critiquing nutrition research


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​”Glass of wine a day might shave years off your life,” one latest headline warned. “Simply 5 alcoholic drinks per week might shorten your life,” stated one other.

Related headlines appeared everywhere in the world following a research printed final month in The Lancet that concluded there may be no protected stage of alcohol consumption.

It was typical of the media frenzy that appears to accompany any research exhibiting {that a} widespread meals or beverage is hazardous to our well being. However some scientists squirm once they see these headlines as a result of they do not belief the science.  

The information protection of the alcohol research was the final straw for Vinay Prasad, an Oregon oncologist and medical coverage researcher who fired off these vibrant tweets:

“I apologize to individuals who do not like that language,” Prasad advised CBC Information. “However it displays the frustration many of us really feel.”

Rise of the ‘tweetorial’

What occurred subsequent might solely happen within the age of social media.

Prasad went away and ready a seminar full with information slides and references. He returned to Twitter two weeks later with a tweetorial — a sequence of tweets forming a mini-lecture — to elucidate why he believes this kind of dietary research is deeply flawed.

“Tons of us secretly really feel this manner about this department of research,” he stated. “It’s a subject with elementary structural issues that make drawing conclusions from it extremely unreliable.”

Prasad’s tweetorial critiqued a particular space of science known as dietary epidemiology. Folks fill out questionnaires reporting what they eat and drink after which researchers analyze the information trying to find hyperlinks with long-term well being outcomes.

The research typically find yourself within the information underneath contradictory headlines suggesting espresso or pink wine or another nutrient has been discovered to be both wholesome or lethal.

I by no means imagine any headline that claims ‘X’ foodstuff is related to ‘Y’ outcomes in well being phrases. The science is sort of all the time garbage.– Christopher McCabe,  Institute of Well being Economics

“Not per week that goes by that we do not examine one of these issues,” Prasad stated. “For these of us who comply with the well being information, it appears as if medical doctors cannot get something straight as a result of one week espresso’s good for you and the following week it is unhealthy for you.”

In Edmonton, well being economist Christopher McCabe joined the Twitter classroom from his sofa.

“I believed it was a wonderful tweetorial,” stated McCabe, who tweeted that any associations that showing in these research shouldn’t be reported till they’re particularly examined in randomized managed trials.

“I by no means imagine any headline that claims ‘X’ foodstuff is related to ‘Y’ outcomes in well being phrases. The science is sort of all the time garbage,” he stated.

‘Dietary epidemiology is a scandal’

Prasad introduced slides citing research by John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor of drugs who has printed a sequence of papers exposing weaknesses in dietary epidemiology.

One paper selected 50 meals substances from randomly chosen cookbook recipes and located that 40 had been linked to most cancers within the medical literature.

“That is an insanely excessive quantity of substances and that I believe suggests there’s an underlying bias to seek out causal hyperlinks that do not actually exist,” Prasad stated

“Dietary epidemiology is a scandal,” Ioannidis advised CBC Information. “It ought to simply go to the waste bin.”

Extra carrots, fewer carrots, no carrots?

One of the most important issues with dietary epidemiology is that there are too many confounding variables between individuals within the research.

“They’d fluctuate in age, in gender, in socioeconomic standing, of their occupation, of their different habits and of their way of life, in a zillion issues,” Ioannidis stated.

The info may be flawed if individuals cannot keep in mind or do not precisely report what they ate or drank. And the research additionally is dependent upon individuals telling the reality.

People who find themselves much less wholesome additionally behave in another way. They may cease consuming, for instance. Within the Lancet research the information confirmed that the non-drinkers or former drinkers had a better threat of coronary heart illness and loss of life than the heaviest drinkers, a reality identified in an accompanying commentary.

“It is full chaos,” Ioannidis stated. “What it finally ends up being is that you just get issues printed which can be what the investigators, the reviewers and the editors wish to see.”

In his personal research, Ioannidis demonstrated that Vitamin E might be proven to be life extending or life shortening relying on which components had been analyzed.

And the research failing to seek out any well being threat normally do not get printed.

Dr. Vinay Prasad says his tweetorial attracted hundreds of extra individuals than might slot in a lecture corridor. (

“The journals have a bias towards boring null outcomes. And so provocative issues filter by these very human biases,” Prasad stated.

His tweetorial supplied this recommendation:

“The toughest conclusion to just accept right here is that in relation to widespread dietary exposures — tea, espresso, chocolate, alcohol — we could must make selections the identical approach we resolve how typically to go to the toilet or films, i.e. utilizing widespread sense and never unhealthy epi [epidemiology].”​

After watching his tweets be retweeted a whole bunch of occasions Prasad stated he now understands why the media embraces this research. “Look how a lot consideration it will get.”

However ought to the media ignore these research and cease reporting on them?

“Sure, I believe it’s best to,” Ioannidis stated.

University of Twitter

Prasad’s use of the tweetorial is an element of an evolving kind of educational debate that occurs in actual time in bite-sized arguments of 280 characters.

“It actually does let you take individuals by, like auditing a category that I’d train,” Prasad stated.

The primary web page of his tweetorial attracted 197,000 views — which means he reached many extra individuals than might ever be accommodated in a college lecture corridor.

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