This one’s out of left field, and admittedly a pretty stupid thing to write about. But what can I say? Sometimes I read a story in the news and it’s so purposefully misleading it makes me foam at the mouth.
Earlier today, ABC News ran a story that new research from the Mayo Clinic shows a correlation between persons under the age of 55 who drink more than four cups of coffee a day and increased mortality rates.
Somebody think of the children!
Let me explain why this doesn’t matter, and how the media uses sensationalist crap-science articles like this to scare up pageviews on slow news days.
It all starts with the article by-line.
“New study claims drinking more than four cups of coffee a day can increase risk of early death.”
Well, no. That’s not what the research shows, actually. The research shows a CORRELATION between increased risk of early death and drinking more than four cups of coffee a day. If the study showed a direct effect (ie, that drinking more than four cups of coffee a day was literally equivalent to playing russian roulette with a loaded hand-gun), that would be a very different story, now wouldn’t it!
For example, I’d be willing to bet most people who are gay have also eaten carrots in their life. I might conduct a study surveying gay people, asking if they’ve eaten carrots, and as a result, I might find a 99% correlation between people who eat carrots and people who are gay.
If I were to then publish this research, crap-science writers might then spin these findings into a story titled something like “Do Carrots Turn You Gay?” with an abstract like “New study claims eating carrots increases chance of gayness.”
But of course they don’t, and that’s stupid, because correlative links don’t mean anything. The only reason they’re recorded and published is to throw up an expedition flag for other researchers which declares “more research is needed, in this area right here”.
But it gets even better, because the Mayo Clinic research didn’t even claim a link between high coffee consumption and heart-related deaths. No, it showed a link between people who drink high amounts of coffee and death by all causes.
Yes, that’s right, folks. Drinking coffee makes you more likely to die. The instant you finish that fourth cup, a magical quantum wave ripples out across the universe and pisses off the Grim Reaper, who then puts you on his shit-list and goes all Final Destination. If you drink more than four cups of coffee of a day, YOU WILL BE HIT BY A BUS.
But don’t worry! At the stroke of midnight, the reaper blazes up, mellows out, and burns yesterday’s list, whereupon your chances of being hit by a bus go back to normal levels.
The fact is (and I’m far too lazy to go track down the studies to link them; you have google, go do it yourself) there is NO evidence of any direct, long-term health risks posed by habitual coffee consumption. Zero. Zilch. None. All that’s out there is a bunch of fluff science; empty correlations between this, that, and the other thing. EVERY in-depth study on the long-term effects of habitual coffee-consumption done by ANY legitimate scientific body has come up dry, or has found health BENEFITS, like decreased risk of cancer, alzheimers, or dementia.
That’s it. End of story. Asked and answer.
Q. Is coffee bad for you?
A. There is no evidence to that effect.
“Is coffee bad for you” is one of the oldest and most reliable internet linkbait stories around. It’s one of those “there’s nothing to worry about, but you worry about it all the time anyway, so here’s a story to pander to you” stories, which use shoddy, ignorant, sensationalist misinterpretations of scientific findings to drum up page hits, and prey on everyday fears and concerns.
So I’m starting an experiment, right now. I’m willing to bet that a year from now, “Is Coffee Bad For You?” will be the most heavily-trafficked post on my blog. If it is, that will show a strong correlation between linkbait correlation stories and the chances that the writer is a manipulative twat. If such a correlation is found, it will warrant further study into manipulative twats, to further the august body of manipulative twat research, the better to advance manipulative twat sciences — and perhaps one day, to find a cure and stamp out manipulative twats once and for all.
In other news, my new book Crittertown is coming along splendidly. I’ve given up on announcing hard dates, but let’s go with “pretty soon”.
And hey, while you wait, why not go read Deep Sounding? The evidence show a strong correlation between people reading my writing and then posting 5-star reviews.