Did this month-old MIT study get much attention when it was released? I don’t recall hearing anything about it, and given that it more or less predicts The End of Life As We Know It you would think it would have been bigger news.
Following up on Dave’s observations regarding doubts about the health benefits of moderate drinking:
(1) The politics of epidemiology are most obvious when you see people treat relatively weak correlations from observational studies as definitive proof of their pet hypothesis, and then turn around and come up with 100 reasons why such correlations don’t really prove anything when the correlations go the “wrong” way.
You see this all the time in obesity research, where slight increases in mortality risk at high weight levels are trumpeted as terribly significant, while much higher increases in mortality risk at weight levels within the supposed normal or recommended range are dismissed as products of other uncontrolled-for confounders.
On a related note, the NY Times story points out there are no randomized clinical trials demonstrating that moderate drinking is beneficial. Most people, I’m sure, would be surprised to learn that there aren’t even any observational studies suggesting that significant long-term weight loss is beneficial, let alone any randomized clinical trials demonstrating this.
(2) In a sense, the claim that the beneficial health effects of moderate drinking haven’t been demonstrated rigorously is rather beside the point. It’s true that the available data only suggest (more or less strongly, depending on how they are interpreted) this. But that data is much more powerful when considered in the light of a far weaker hypothesis: that moderate drinking isn’t a significant health risk. After all, while the somewhat better health of moderate drinkers in comparison with abstainers might be accounted by variables that have nothing to do with drinking, what’s extremely unlikely is that moderate drinking could have a significantly detrimental health effect, and yet produce these same correlations.
The relevance of this is that surely almost no one drinks moderately (as opposed to abstaining) because of the supposed health benefits. Whether moderate drinking is good for your health, or largely neutral (as opposed to being positively bad for you) is socially significant only if people were to treat moderate drinking like medicine — as something they’ll consume if it benefits their health, but otherwise not. The whole “is moderate drinking actually good for you?” argument is based implicitly on the assumption that it might be good for people to drink who otherwise wouldn’t, on, as it were, doctor’s orders. Which is a really bad idea.
This is kind of old, but I still have to acknowledge the fabulous theater of it all:
Moving quickly to stamp out growing unrest, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo on Thursday to demand that angry workers receive wage arrears and rebuke their delinquent employers.
Putin told the owners of the town’s three factories that the government had transferred 41.24 million rubles ($1.34 million) to their Sberbank accounts on Wednesday and they had until the end of the day to pay their workers.
“All wage arrears must be settled,” Putin said at a meeting with owners and government officials. “The deadline is today.”
Turning to the owners, including tycoon Oleg Deripaska, owner of one of the plants, Putin offered a stinging rebuke of their business practices.
“You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism — or maybe simply your trivial greed,” Putin said in remarks shown on state television. “Why was everyone running around like cockroaches before my arrival? Why was no one capable of making decisions?”
He threw a pen at a contract and told Deripaska to sign it.
The New York Times reports that “some scientists” dispute the link between moderate alcohol consumption and better health on a number of measures. The key is the causality question, of course:
“No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death — only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.”
William Saletan attempts a gotcha on people who oppose criminalizing abortion:
Today, let’s turn the tables on those of us who oppose abortion regulation. How far should we go? Would you oppose regulation even of abortions aimed at preventing the births of girls? Because there’s increasing evidence that such abortions, which take place by the millions in Asia, are now being done by the thousands in the United States as well.
I think I’ve been through this before, but:
- Let’s assume arguendo that abortion for sex selection is immoral, or at least that choosing abortion because you don’t value female children is immoral.
- This is neither here not there in terms of legal regulation, because it’s obviously impossible to ban such abortions through an enforceable legislative enactment. If abortions for certain reasons were banned, women could just refuse to be candid, and how could you prove they were lying? In addition, this would involve putting a great deal of legal discretion in the hands of panels of doctors, which would mean a great deal of arbitrary intrusion on a woman’s right to choose for no obvious benefit.
- The fundamental problem that creates systematic sex biases in choosing abortion is that girls and women are less valued, and as long as this kind of sexist discrimination is common it will be impossible to regulate away through abortion codes. So the additional question one has to ask themselves is whether passing additional regulations of abortion is more likely to make women equal members of society? This question answers itself. Using these moral dilemmas to bootstrap additional abortion regulations, as is almost always the case, would not merely be useless but actively counterproductive.
UPDATE: A good discussion about why bans on sex-selection abortions don’t work.