Friday, 1 February 2008


Sometime ago Dr. Michael Siegel commented in his blog about a practice that he very accurately labeled: Science by Press Release. You can read his comments here .

We recently stumbled across a dated press release issued by the American Academy of Neurology on May 1, 2007 that you can read here:

Not only is the title misleading, to put it mildly, the study had not even been completed yet at the time of this press release. From the press release itself we can read the following:

“We are still conducting analyses to control for other factors that may be influencing these results, but this finding potentially implicates lifetime exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke as a risk factor for dementia in older adults,” said study author Thaddeus Haight of UC Berkeley.

The following statement can be found at: MedPage Today

The findings did not meet the test of statistical significance, but pointed to second-hand or passive smoking as a possible additive risk factor for dementia.

"It's actually quite plausible that second-hand smoke, given its effects on the cardiovascular system, can affect the risk of dementia indirectly through the clinical cardiovascular disease pathway," he said. "But what's less well known is whether there are actually direct effects that may be neurotoxic effects with respect to people's cerebral functioning, and the neurotoxic effects of second-hand smoke with respect to some neurodegenerative process."

It's also not known whether passive smoking has an effect on dementia through subclinical processes, he said.

We can clearly see, how from a ‘’plausibility’’ – that is already a factor that can bias the findings -- and without yet controlling for any confounding factors, we end up with headlines such as ‘’Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk of Dementia’’ in the various news websites. And these are only the ones we found. How many other reporters picked up on the press release and gave it the same headline? How many of us actually read the fine print and the studies themselves to get to the true story as opposed to only reading headlines?

Incidentally, this was in May 2007 and we haven’t found any other follow-ups to the study. Chances are that even if it was found that their study came up with false preliminary conclusions, we won’t hear a word about it. It best serves their agenda to leave the public with a false impression, than to preserve their own scientific integrity.

From Science Daily Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk Of Dementia
From WQAD Second-Hand Smoke Linked to Dementia
From Mooshee Health News Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk Of Dementia
From the San Diego Union Tribune Smoke gets in your mind
From Rehab today Does Secondhand Smoke Increase Risk of Dementia? (the most honest headline)
From Medicexchange Secondhand smoke increases risk of dementia
From the Alzheimer’s Society of Huron County Secondhand Smoke Increases risk of Dementia

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