Today Mike's Eyes had the pleasure of reading a health article by a reporter who seems to understand something about statistical studies. In today's Detroit News (www.detnews.com) print edition there is an Associated Press article by Lindsey Tanner titled "Review finds fish oil doesn't cut cancer risk" with a sub title "Omega-3 fatty acids have little, no effect on the disease, studies involving 700,000 people show."
What I liked was that the reporter included dissenting opinions and caveats such as this paragraph:
"Researchers examined data from 38 studies that tracked patients for up to 30 years, and said most showed there is no cancer protection from Omega-3 fatty acids. Although a few studies found some risk reduction for cancers of the breast, prostate and lung, those studies were relatively small and not definitive, said Catherine MacLean, the lead author and a researcher at the Rand Corp. and Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
'It doesn't mean that omega-3 fatty acids don't have other health benefits-it's just that reducing cancer risk isn't one of them,' MacLean said."
What really impressed me was this next paragraph by the reporter:
"However, the review is unlikely to be the last word on the issue. Diet is known to play a role in cancer and the researchers evaluated observational studies, which provide mostly circumstantial evidence."
This is very true. That's what associations, correlations and links are--circumstantial evidence - awaiting science to step in and conduct an experiment to prove or disprove causation. Most reporters that I've read in the past wouldn't know an observational study from a case controlled study and wouldn't exhibit the desire to find out. For the most part they wouldn't even bother to get a dissenting opinion. They would just regurgitate the talking points of the press release and to hell with presenting a balanced article.
Mr. Tanner not only provides us with his own knowledge of statistical studies but he backs it up with further evidence:
"The 38 studies are too heterogeneous--involving different population groups and different levels of fish oil consumption--to provide a difinitive conclusion about whether fish oil reduces cancer risks, said Julie Buring, a chronic disease researcher at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, who was not involved in the study."
So does this mean we should give up on omega-3? Hardly. It's not a difinitive study and Mr. Tanner did a good job in letting his readers know that. I think this is a reporter people can trust.