Every day is April Fool’s in nutrition.

“People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.

Or maybe not.”

From a recent article at io9 by John Bohannon:

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

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With a poorly-crafted study that used a small sample and ignored how big the measured results actually were, a team of journalists managed to punk the nutrition-news circuit into publishing their study.

“A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine.”

But it was all a crock of dung. And sadly, I can guarantee that many people will continue to believe the lie, simply because it appeared in journals as “prestigious” as Prevention, regardless of this exposé or any further evidence to the contrary. Like the entire anti-Vax movement, nothing can kill a good excuse for mouth-foaming outrage, not even repeatedly-confirmed facts.

Read the article. It’s worth your time, if you’re interested in having accurate information on which to base your decisions.

A big part of the problem with modern “scientific” studies is the concept of “p-value.” It’s more complex than most people care about, but William Rozeboom wrote, “The use of P values and null hypothesis testing is ‘surely the most bone-headedly misguided procedure ever institutionalized in the rote training of science students.’ “

P value calculations tell you only the probability of seeing a result at least as big as what you saw if there is no real effect. (In other words, the P value calculation assumes the null hypothesis is true.) A small P value — low probability of the data you measured — might mean the null hypothesis is wrong, or it might mean that you just saw some unusual data. You don’t know which. And if there is a real effect, your calculation of a P value is rendered meaningless, because that calculation assumed that there wasn’t a real effect.

(ScienceNews – “P value ban: small step for a journal, giant leap for science”)

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And if Randall Munroe pillories something, you have a pretty good idea that there are legitimate questions about its validity.

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The takeaway: don’t be excited just because one study says something, and I’ve written about this elsewhere. Look at the study, determine the size of the sample used, and see if you can ferret out how big the measured differences were. There’s a lot more digging you could do, but this is a good place to start.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Trust, but Verify

All through the news services and the blogosphere an article is circulating (here’s a example) about a deaf man who was mocked by TSA agents as a “@#$% deafie,” humiliated in other ways, and then had his bagged candy stolen and eaten right in front of him. Sounds outrageous.

Now, I’m no huge fan of TSA excesses, nor of their basic philosophy of knee-jerk response to every sneeze or change in the wind. Numerous articles, including one quoting former TSA chief Kip Hawley have raised the issue that the entire airport security system is broken beyond repair.

That said, I’m still willing to bet that most TSA agents out there are folks just like you and me, and that only a very small minority are really there to perpetrate distilled douchebaggery or exercise unrighteous dominion for the sake of inflating their own egos. And, this article seems to stretch credibility.

Add to that the fact that the blogger, Tea and Theater, appears to have vanished from sight. The article quoted in the replicated news items is gone, and so is the root page.

And that raises all sorts of red flags in my book.

I’ve flown a lot, and had one or two less-than-pleasant interactions with the TSA, but I’ve also had countless more where I was treated with courtesy and efficiency, and even given extra help. So I really, really wonder what’s going on with this situation.

Within the realm of possibility: Tea and Theatre’s blog may be down for any number of reasons. He forgot to renew his subscription. The server is down. His blog was getting so many hits it exceeded bandwidth restrictions, and so on. It’s also possible that everything happened just the way he said it did.

But until I see some better confirmation about what really took place here, I’m thinking I should take this event with a grain of salt, rather than just forwarding it on to everybody I know in the name of whipping up more anti-government sentiment.

The Old Wolf has spoken.