Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Desperately poor science.

'A study has shown' that weightlifting doubles your chances of stopping smoking.

Really? Sod that. Lifting heavy things that don't need to be moved is something I hate doing, so doing something I hate doing in order to stop doing something I enjoy doing doesn't sound like a good deal at all. So let's look at this experiment and see how it works.

In their pilot study, reported in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, the team enrolled 25 male and female smokers between the ages of 18 and 65 who reported smoking at least five cigarettes a day for at least one year.

The first fallacy is common to all these studies. They did not recruit 25 smokers. They recruited from a specific subset - smokers who want to stop smoking and are therefore willing to take part in this kind of experiment. I would not be interested, and neither would anyone who doesn't want to stop. What this means is that all the smokers they enlist are trying to stop and some will inevitably succeed, experiment or no.

The number chosen - 25 - unbalances the experiment from the outset. Thirteen in one group and twelve in the other. It's also a trivial number for such a study. If the large majority of smokers really want to stop, why could they only find 25 to take part?

Because of the tiny number of subjects, the results switch to percentages.

At the end of the 12 weeks, 16 per cent of smokers in the resistance training group had not only quit smoking, but they also decreased their body weight and body fat.

In comparison, eight per cent of individuals in the control group had quit smoking and saw an increase in their body weight and fat.

Eight percent of twelve is one. Sixteen percent is two. So, of 25 smokers, all of whom were actually trying to stop, two of the test group stopped and one in the control group. Twenty-two smokers who were trying to stop failed. I take it the 'increase in weight' applies only to the one who quit? Everyone I know who has stopped smoking says they put on a little weight, but then they weren't taking part in an exercise regime at the time. They didn't keep the extra weight for long so the exercise regime would have been irrelevant to them.

It's easy to claim a doubling of effect when your numbers are 'one' and 'two'. Statistically, of course, such a difference has no meaning whatsoever.

Lapsing into real science for a moment, what this study shows is that 88% of those trying to stop were not helped at all by the supplied nicotine patches, the exercise or the health videos. Keep in mind that all participants actually wanted to stop, and then it doesn't look quite so impressive.

The experiment took twelve weeks. If you take 25 smokers who are actively trying to quit and just watch them for twelve weeks with no intervention at all (a true control that never seems to be applied in any of these studies) I'd bet you'd see three of them succeed. They'd stop because they want to stop, and people who stop for that reason rarely start again. That is borne out by the three-month follow-up.

Three months after the study was completed, 15 per cent of those in the resistance training group had managed not to lapse compared to eight per cent of the control group.

Note the sneaky switch from 16% to 15%. Out of twelve people, that's still two unless a little bit of one of the ex-smokers managed to sneak a sly smoke when the rest of him wasn't watching. What this says is that the three who stopped, stayed stopped. That is really all it says. There is no mention of the other 22 who, you will recall, were all trying to stop too. How many of them stopped on their own in the three months after the experiment?

That's not reported because stopping without Nanny's help doesn't count. There is no funding to be had when people inconveniently stop smoking on their own.

Dr Ciccolo said further research was needed following the 'promising' study before resistance training can be used as a clinical treatment for smoking cessation.

The study is not promising at all. It's junk science and the journal that published it is nothing more than a propaganda rag. I had many more people on the last trial of the Stuff and I don't consider I have enough data to publish yet. Not nearly enough. Even though I already have far better stats than these alleged scientists. If my name were on a paper like this, I would hang my head in shame.

If this ridiculous idea is ever seriously proposed by the NHS as a smoking cessation treatment, it will be further proof that there is no science behind the antismoking crusade at all. It's a bandwagon that provides funding to anyone who toes the antismoker line, even if they publish papers that should get them laughed out of any conference they ever attend.

Science has been dragged into the gutter by this kind of report and accepting it for publication is just derisory. Even the Daily Mail put the word 'promising' in quotes, you'll notice.

The anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-fat, anti-salt, and all the rest have made science into a circus. There is no real science here. It's pseudoreligious nonsense. Swap the white coat for a grass skirt and big wooden mask, scientists, because that's how the world views you now. Just a bunch of witchdoctors relying on the tribe's belief in your powers, and curing people by prescribing lifting things while you wave dead animal parts at them.

It's no joke. This kind of crap reflects on all of science. Yet no scientist dares speak out against it.

It seems the fundamentalists hold sway in science too.


View from the Solent said...

"Just a bunch of witchdoctors relying on the tribe's belief in your powers"

In the words of the man, cargo cult science.

hangemall said...

I too, am a Feynman fan. What a wonderful life he had.

That's enough Balvenie Doublewood. Night-night all.

Frank Davis said...

When I see junk like this, I sometimes think I could do better myself. Or at least, not worse.

I sometimes think I might publish one such 'study' on my blog, after asking two or three people some stupid question. I could maybe even dress it all up with statistical significances and confidence intervals and graphs and tables and charts and all the rest of it.

I just can't think of a stupid enough question.

Bucko said...

I used to weight train in my younger years. (It never did me any good, I'm still as skinny as a rake).
What I vividy rememeber is how much better a fag tased after a vigerous workout.

Captain Haddock said...

This study is a complete load of old bollocks ..

I engage in weight-lifting every time I go for a slash .. and it hasn't affected my ability to enjoy my Pipe by one iota .. ;)

Dr Evil said...

With n=25 the 'study' is useless. Far too small to say anything at all. I remember being shown a correlation between the incidence of candidiasis and the incease in the tonnage of Japanese shipping, just to point out how spurious results can be concocted if you aren't careful.

SBC said...

"I engage in weight-lifting every time I go for a slash "

Heavy toilet seat?


smokervoter said...

So true Bucko. After the ultimate of all cardiorespiratory workouts - ocean surfing - there is nothing more satisfying (and tasty) than a cigarette on the beach. And now it's illegal. And all of you anti-smoking surfers shut the hell up, you know not of what you speak, much like this study.

Twenty_Rothmans said...

I just did a survey and 100% of respondents agreed with the concept that the publishers of Nicotine & Tobacco Research are congenitally retarded.

Another focus group was unanimous in finding anyone who reads Nicotine & Tobacco Research and believes a word to also be congenitally retarded.

There you have it. Can't argue with science.

Leg-iron said...

V from the S - cargo cult indeed.

Hangemall - when it comes to the Balvenie Doublewood, there is no such thing as 'enough'. Nobody can afford enough.

Frank - with science at this level, Andy Pandy could do better. Did you see the logic in one show (those under 40 won't know what the hell I'm on about) in which they played hide and seek? Teddy covered his eyes using the reasoning 'If I can't see Andy, then Andy can't see me'. That's the level of logic we're at now.

Bucko - I've never weight trained. I did try teaching one to beg but it ignored me.

Captain Haddock, what you need there is a sturdy tripod.

Leg-iron said...

Chalcedon - like the link between increased asthma and declining smoking? Oh, hang on...

SBC - that should have been the delightfully ambiguous 'heavy toilet apparatus?' ;)

Smokervoter - can you smoke while sitting on the board while out at sea? Technically you're not on the beach...

The Rothmaniser - I once asked a bloke outside the pub what he thought of the smoking ban and he said it was 'a fooking daft idea dreamt up by a fooking loonie'. I'd say the science is settled on that one.

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