Newsflash & The fallacy Of Percentages

The BBC Announced!

The BBC announced–and continue to announce all over the world–that red meat increases bowel cancer by 20%. Now lets look at the statistics they refer to:

  • “For every 10,000 people in the study who ate 21g a day of red and processed meat, 40 were diagnosed with bowel cancer
  • The comparable figure for those who ate 76g a day, was 48″

And they have a bunch of bacon on the cover… this one:

bacon

Image from the article. In case you are not aware, bacon’s first classification is that of processed meat.

To summarize: 40 people eating less red meat out of 10,000 get bowel cancer and 48 increased red-meat-eating people out of 10,000 get bowel cancer. The suggestion is that this is a 20% increased rate in bowel cancer rate as a result of eating more red meat; so the suggestion is that red meat causes cancer.

Mind you, BBC is not the only one announcing this fake news. here are some other news stations/papers that announced the same thing: The Guardian, The Times, iTV, Independent, MedicalExpress, CNN, etc.

The original study can be found here.

High School Statistics

Although the title on my blog is “Clueless Doctors”, in this instance I should rename my blog to be “Clueless Scientists” and “Clueless Newsflash”.

Do news anchors complete high school education?  More importantly, do scientists that suggest such statistical conclusion have the high school education? What on earth are they doing as scientists if they cannot even calculate a percentage properly? 40 people out of 10,000 versus 48 people out of 10,000 is not 40 people versus 48 people! Man! Where did they go to school?

Confused Population

I posted the following questions to my Facebook pages and groups; I have several, here are 2 so you can read the answers: personal page, public person page.

Please read the following statement, this was on BBC this morning, and then answer the 5 questions I ask:

“40 people out of 10,000 who eat meat get bowel cancer. 48 people out of 10,000 who eat read meat get bowel cancer. Therefore red meat increases bowel cancer rate by 20%”

  1. Is the above statement correct in your opinion?
  2. if yes, why so?
  3. if not, why not?
  4. are you going to stop eating red meat?
  5. have you any idea of the difference between red meat and other meat, like say poultry?

The answers are amazing (read some on my FB pages and feel free to place your answer there as well). Nearly no one dares to approach the statistics–clearly they don’t understand. Some specifically conclude that it is indeed 20% increase!

So what does this study actually mean by the 20% increase?

The Actual Outcome

The increase is not between 40 and 48 people but 40/10,000 (that is 0.004) people and 48/10,000 (0.0048) people. This is a major error in transferring assumptions. Assuming that is 40 people didn’t get bowel cancer but 48 did, we assume the difference is the 8 people, which is 20%. But this is not correct! The original numbers are given per 10,000 people; it is a ratio and not a number. The actual difference is 0.0008 people.

Given that we are looking at 40 people out of 10,000 people versus 48 people out of 10,000 people, the true increase is from 0.40% to 0.48%, which is a whopping 0.08% increase–spelled out: a zero point zero 8 percent increase–marginal and insignificant, close to zero.

Some people asked me to derive this:

40 out of 10,000 people is 40/10,000=0.004–this is the ratio of the people getting bowel cancer from the non-red-meat-eating group. Not 40 but 0.0040

48 out of 10,000 people is 48/10,000=0.0048–this is the ratio of the people getting bowel cancer from the red-meat-eating group. Not 48 but 0.0048

The simplest way to look at this is that 8 was the difference between the red-meat-eater and the non-red-meat-eater groups but each contained 10,000 people, so the actual percentage is 8/10,000=0.0008 or 0.08%.

Could the 20% ever be correct?

If we compared 48 people who never ever ate red meat (ever in their lives) with 48 people who ate only red meat (all through their lives) and 40 got bowel cancer in the non-red-meat-eater group while all 48 in the red-meat-eater group got bowel cancer, then the increase in bowel cancer rate is 20%. Note, we still cannot tell if that was from red meat so we cannot jump to causal conclusion! That is because if they have eaten other things–even if the same other things–their genetics, location, etc., are all factor in diseases.

When can we tell if red meat caused the bowel cancer?

If we had in group one 48 people eat nothing at all other than non-red-meat all their lives (meaning no veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, coke, juices, grains, whatever.. nothing. just non-red meat) and in group two 48 ate nothing all their lives only red meat (meaning no veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, coke, juices, grains, whatever.. nothing. just red meat), and they were genetically completely identical and lived in the same room all their lives, interacted with absolutely no one, and only 40 ended up with bowel cancer in group one but all 48 in group 2, then we can say that there was a 20% increase in bowel cancer from red meat.

What do People Think is the Outcome?

People are greatly confused by statements like “20% increase”, and rightly so, because it is seldom used correctly. It is also hard to relate to for the novice in statistics and if the error is huge, as it is in this article, it amplifies the confusion. In this case, as I have shown, the 20% increase is really 0.08% increase, so miniscule.

Placing the information into context, we find that the 0.08% increase in bowel cancer risk–supposedly associated with and not caused by red and processed meat-eating–is preferable to some other daily risks we all take.

For example, we have much higher odds of ending up with skin cancer just by living:

“the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2.6% (1 in 38) for whites, 0.1% (1 in 1,000) for blacks, and 0.58% (1 in 172) for Hispanics” (here)

Or the odds of ending up with breast cancer:

“The absolute risk of developing breast cancer during a particular decade of life is lower than 1 in 8

The younger you are, the lower the risk. For example:

  • If your current age is 20, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is .06%, or 1 in 1,732. This means that 1 in 1,732 women in this age group can expect to develop breast cancer. Put another way, your odds of developing breast cancer if you are in this age range are 1 in 1,732.
  • If your current age is 30, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is .44%, or 1 in 228.
  • If your current age is 40, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1.45%, or 1 in 69.
  • If your current age is 50, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is 2.31%, or 1 in 43.
  • If your current age is 60, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is 3.49%, or 1 in 29.
  • If your current age is 70, the probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is 3.84%, or 1 in 26.” (here)

Was this study even a research?

It appears that this study also made some other major errors that are hard to relate to. This “research” was not based on any experiment, and so it is not even a research. It was data-mining of result in databases of people whose diet was not controlled at all and so no one knows the true cause of their bowel cancer–for all we know the bowel cancer may have been caused by high carbs, lots of junk and processed foods, or anything else.  Absolutely nothing can be determined from data that was collected from food surveys; one can only observe associations. Associations are not causation.

DUMB!

With such misleading statistics, making people believing anything, one wonders of the ulterior motive. I often wonder if news reporters are really this dumb making announcements like this to deliberately mislead the people… they seem to be doing a good job at getting regular people totally confused. And the scientists? In all honesty: they are not scientists. If they have a PhD, this would be the ideal time to question the merits by which they have earned them.

About Angela A Stanton, Ph.D.

Angela A Stanton, PhD, is a Neuroeconomist focusing on chronic pain--migraine in particular--physiology, electrolyte homeostasis, nutrition, and genetics. She lives in Southern California. Her current research is focused on migraine cause, prevention, and treatment without the use of medicine. As a forever migraineur from childhood, her discovery was helped by experimenting on herself. She found the cause of migraine to be at the ionic level, associated with disruption of the electrolyte homeostasis, resulting from genetic variations of all voltage dependent channels, gates, and pumps (chanelopathy) that modulate electrolyte mineral density and voltage in the brain. In addition, insulin and glucose transporters, and several other variants, such as MTHFR variants of B vitamin methylation process and many others are different in the case of a migraineur from the general population. Migraineurs are glucose sensitive (carbohydrate intolerant) and should avoid eating carbs as much as possible. She is working on her hypothesis that migraine is a metabolic disease. As a result of the success of the first edition of her book and her helping over 5000 migraineurs successfully prevent their migraines world wide, all ages and both genders, and all types of migraines, she published the 2nd (extended) edition of her migraine book "Fighting The Migraine Epidemic: Complete Guide: How To Treat & Prevent Migraines Without Medications". The 2nd edition is the “holy grail” of migraine cause, development, and prevention, incorporating all there is to know. It includes a long section for medical and research professionals. The book is full of academic citations (over 800) to authenticate the statements she makes to make it easy to follow up by those interested and to spark further research interest. It is a "Complete Guide", published on September 29, 2017. Dr. Stanton received her BSc at UCLA in Mathematics, MBA at UCR, MS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, PhD in Economics with dissertation in neuroscience (culminating in Neuroeconomics) at Claremont Graduate University, fMRI certification at Harvard University Medical School at the Martinos Center for Neuroimaging for experimenting with neurotransmitters on human volunteers, certification in LCHF/ketogenic diet from NN (Nutrition Network), certification in physiology (UPEN via Coursea), Nutrition (Harvard Shool of Public Health) and functional medicine studies. Dr. Stanton is an avid sports fan, currently power weight lifting and kickboxing. For relaxation (yeah.. about a half minute each day), she paints and photographs and loves to spend time with her family of husband of 45 years, 2 sons and their wives, and 2 granddaughters. Follow her on Twitter at: @MigraineBook, LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angelaastantonphd/ and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DrAngelaAStanton/
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29 Responses to Newsflash & The fallacy Of Percentages

  1. Roald Michel says:

    Apropos, I just came across a journal called Neuropsychologia. You know that one? If so, what’s your take on it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read a couple of articles some time ago–there was on eon creative thinking but I no longer remember the details. It is a fine journal from what I can tell. Highly specialized in neurocognition, something that was my focus for my doctorate but I have moved away from it slightly–even with migraines. Not much experience with the journal.

      Why are you asking? Did you find some cool articles to read?

      Like

      • Roald Michel says:

        “Biological and cognitive underpinnings of religious fundamentalism” Article in Neuropsychologia April 2017
        DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.04.009
        Abstract
        Beliefs profoundly affect people’s lives, but their cognitive and neural pathways are poorly understood. Although previous research has identified the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) as critical to representing religious beliefs, the means by which vmPFC enables religious belief is uncertain. We hypothesized that the vmPFC represents diverse religious beliefs and that a vmPFC lesion would be associated with religious fundamentalism, or the narrowing of religious beliefs. To test this prediction, we assessed religious adherence with a widely-used religious fundamentalism scale in a large sample of 119 patients with penetrating traumatic brain injury (pTBI). If the vmPFC is crucial to modulating diverse personal religious beliefs, we predicted that pTBI patients with lesions to the vmPFC would exhibit greater fundamentalism, and that this would be modulated by cognitive flexibility and trait openness. Instead, we found that participants with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) lesions have fundamentalist beliefs similar to patients with vmPFC lesions and that the effect of a dlPFC lesion on fundamentalism was significantly mediated by decreased cognitive flexibility and openness. These findings indicate that cognitive flexibility and openness are necessary for flexible and adaptive religious commitment, and that such diversity of religious thought is dependent on dlPFC functionality.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting… this explains a few things 😉 It would be politically incorrect to discuss my thoughts… you know what they are 😉

          By the way, just at about the time I got my PhD, there was a study using the fMRI (a tool of my interest and I got certified in fMRI at that time to run some of my experiments), where they looked at the brain functions of people in the scanner. Based on their brain “signature” to certain questions that were given to the subjects in the fMRI machine, the researchers could predict if the person was a democrat or a republican…

          Food for thought…

          Like

        • Roald Michel says:

          Um….you mean these researches knew what was a democrat and a republican? They could distinguish between the two? 😲 Amazing that!

          Liked by 1 person

        • hahahahahahaha.. not sure what they distinguished but people’s brains worked differently to the questions. different regions were activated and the questions were a bit politically oriented so they could distinguish them. Otherwise yeah.. lol, I agree.

          Like

  2. Chris Clark says:

    The figure of 20% increase from 40 to 48 is undeniable. The risk has risen.

    So to is the comparison of the 40, or 48, to the 10,000. It has moved up from .004% (small) to .0048% (still small).

    Cancer Research say bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 41,700 or 12% of all new cancer cases (2015).

    So maybe the true big message is to encourage people to change their diet to reduce the topline figure, then state a stat like this as a for example, ‘Bowel cancer risks can be reduced by better eating. In one study, processed meat was found to…’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris, thanks for your comment. I think you missed some of the points. The question investigated is not whether bowel cancer is increasing or is prominent in the total cancers in the UK. What is missed in this paper is that the increase itself is not from red meat or processed meat.

      Look at it this way: the human digestive tract is based on the first step of an acidic stomach which pH 1-1.5 in a healthy adult. This kind of HCl is representative of a meat-eater–be it carnivore or scavenger (in he case of humans it is both). The intestines of the human are long but don’t ferment–there is no fermentation happening in the stomach or in the intestines, only in the gut. The gut is the shortest part of the human digestive organ and is not capable of fermenting massive amounts of fibrous grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. It isn’t made for that.

      Furthermore, of the three macronutrients humans can choose to eat as food (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), carbohydrates are the only ones that are not essential. That means that humans need not eat an ounce of carbohydrates. Our primary source of sustenance and energy need comes from those foods that are essential for us to eat and these are proteins and fats. Furthermore, 35% of plant proteins are bound to their insoluble fibers, making that unavailable to humans and also, plant-protein’s amino acid content (proportion of types of amino acids) is different from the amino acid content of animal/seafood amino acids. Read the article I wrote on this here

      Of the 20 amino acids, 9 are essential for us to eat. These essential amino acids are found in greatest amount in animal proteins and not plant proteins. In addition, plants have ALA form of omega 3, which humans are not adapted to be able to convert successfully. Yet omega 3 fatty acids in EPA/DHA form are essential–our brain’s white matter is made from that and cholesterol. Humans also face antinutrients, such as oxalates, lectins, and even phytosterols, which replace animal cholesterol in human cells, causing major problems.

      All of these hint at one very important factor worthy to observe: Humans are not meant to eat carbohydrates for sustenance–particularly not in large amounts. When humans (and animals) eat the wrong food, all kinds of trouble, including cancer, will arise.

      These authors–all vegan–are part of the Eat Lancet Movement, who generated the Eat Lancet Commission nutritional guideline, pushing the vegan agenda forward through fire and ice, even if the data has nothing supporting it.

      Are you familiar with the Bradford Hill Criteria? It defines the use of Hazard Ratio (HR) such that nothing is significant unless the HR is >2, and then this is true only if the P value shows high power (<0.01). Then it "may be" significant and possibly there is a causal relationship, and further research is required. There is not a single HR in this study that even meets 1.5 HR let alone >2. By contrast, the HR of smoking to lung cancer is something like 30–this is just to show you a true causal magnitude so you can see that this study has absolutely nothing in it.

      The numbers are also incorrect. It is not 20% increase because they didn't make the statements that "among people with cancer already" so it is not just 40 to 48 but it is all people in the study, and that is 10,000 people to 10,000 people of which 40 and 48 got cancer, respectively. So it is 40/10,000 and 48/10,000 and not 40 against 48. It is a 0.08% increase and not 20%.

      Lies like this make the world spin crazy and flash-news like this misleads and causes damage. In the history of human evolution, red meat (not processed) was the most important food for our development, that allowed the human brain to grow as big as it did. Our dependence on nutrients that are only found in animal products indicates that humans always ate red meat. If red meat was hazardous to our health, we would all never have been born to start with since humans would have been driven to extinction by bowel cancer.

      This "red meat attack" is the stupidest attack of them all–of course, done by vegans, who have an ideology: food is their religion and the whole world must move under that ideology. This is not a food war: it is food against an ideology.

      Angela

      Like

  3. Meg says:

    I want to know how all these papers get through peer review- why isn’t this junk science being filtered out? Instead it fills our media and manipulates the thought processes of people who don’t question the science but are obsessed with living a ‘low-risk’ life, when actually, by omitting food groups they put themselves at even greater risk!
    Where has the critical press gone? Like you say, is there an agenda to peddling this nonsense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Meg,

      There is an agenda–or actually I should say there are several agendas that all connect. Here are some of the possible agendas that come to mind–these are my thoughts and opinions and don’t necessarily reflect “correct” information–if we could ever find such “correct” information:

      1) The journals get paid by the authors for open-access publications, such a this is. Some journals charge a publication fee for even fee-based access publication, such as the Circulation (see here: https://www.ahajournals.org/circ/revised-accepted-manuscripts) that charges for even letters to the editors commentary. So the journals make money on both ends.

      2) The authors benefit because in academia “publish or perish” is the mantra. Professorship is based on tenure and one needs to have a ton of publications to be even considered to be tenured. They don’t measure the quality of the published articles, they only measure numbers and the name/ranking of the journal published in. Getting an article published in the top journals immediately moves an academic into a tenured position everywhere.

      3) When you submit an article for publication, you, as the author, in most journals, can post in reviewer names you don’t want to review your article, and in some cases you can also request reviewers you wish to have your article reviewed by. This can create quite a chaos in article quality because if you named people you are friends with, provided they accept to review your article, they will not dare turning your paper down. And if you have requested to exclude those reviewers whom would have turned your paper down, your paper is not getting an honest review and will publish regardless of its quality. So the authors benefit this way as well.

      4) The journal benefits also from the university representation of the authors. Authors submitting from, say, Harvard or Stanford, will have “priority” to publication because an article written by them is more likely to be read and cited. Hence the journal is more likely to get a higher ranking. Ranking is pretty much based on who publishes in the journal, how often the article is cited, and how often other articles that cite your article are cited–it is a chain reaction.

      5) The industry supported by an article like this (farming, agriculture, processed foods that are not sugar), movements that are supported by an article like this (vegan, vegetarian–note all authors are either vegan or vegetarian), and the healthcare industry that will have to treat health conditions that result from nutrition like this (all big pharmaceutical and supplement companies, as well as medical providers) all end up with more business after a bad nutritional advice.

      6) I have also heard of cases in which one of the authors was also on the editorial board of the journal. I find that highly unethical.

      There is also a bunch of cluelessness within the reviewing process. For example, when I was still reviewing academic, there were 3 reviewers, of which I was one, for each article. We were given a lot of articles and we could turn down or accept any. So if I am an unfair reviewer, I will select articles written by my fiends and will pass to publish, select all submissions written by my enemies to doom the papers to not publish, and then reject to review the neutral ones.

      In addition, of the three reviewers, two had to come to the same conclusion. So with a paper like this, say I would reject but if the other two reviewers accept, either because they know the authors, or they benefit in some other way from the industry, or simply don’t know statistics, the paper will still publish. The whole system is rigged in the favor of the well-known and the well-paying.

      I hope this makes sense… the whole industry must change to have any descent publications out there but it seems that we are having a hard enough time to just put eggs on the table… so don;t hold your breath.

      Our (and my) goal is to spread information for the masses on the grassroots level so that people can make the right choices for themselves such that they drive demand and that can bypass whatever regulations the government wants to bring. So please share to get the word out to those unfamiliar with the case against health and nutrition.

      Best,
      Angela

      Like

  4. Gilles Brunet says:

    They are doing the same thing with statins.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nick says:

    Please can you explain where you get your 0.02% figure? If you subtract 0.4% from 0.48% then is not the increased risk 0.08% and not the 0.02% you quote? Agreed still a fraction of the 20% increase stated in the BBC article. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Scott says:

    I don’t understand how a change from 0.40% to 0.48% is a 0.02% increase. To help the less statistically inclined, can you show the math that gets to 0.02%?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I updated the article with the calculation. The basic percentage Scott is of 10,000 people 8 more in the red-meat-eating group to that is 8/10,000=0.0008 which is 0.08%. I had a typo with 2 instead of 8. That was corrected.

      Like

  7. Mark says:

    “which is a whopping is a 0.02% increase–spelled out: a zero point 2 percent increase”

    Isn’t it a zero point ZERO two percent increase?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dave says:

    Please tell BBC to head back to Pre-school… I used to be a dumb Plants Based Eater, over 20 years until I was diagnosed with T2DM and a pending stroke.. LCHF lifestyle reversed my T2DM and going Carnivore has healed my pending stroke. They need to clarify what meat!! Grass fed versus grain fed.. bacons with celery preservatives ( healthier)..
    I eat grass fed red meat, bacons and 9nfree range eggs every day.. My BGL perfect .(5.4) .. full of energy, strength and stamina at 63yrs old and Medication free.. Haven’t they done enough damage to people’s health?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Congrats to you Dave! I couldn’t agree with you more! It is ridiculous what they are doing but it makes sense: they can make money off the sick. Glad for those of us who woke up and changed in time to enjoy a healthy life! Good for you and for the rest of us who did like you! 🙂

      Like

  9. Roald Michel says:

    Maybe they’re dumb, but they also know that most people are pestered by feelings of leading a boring and dull life, while they’re bombarded with messages from so called life coaches, motivational speakers, and other specimen of the guru-clan, that they should have adventures, wonderful journeys, and jazz like that. So they bring them sensationalist “news” and deeply discovered new finding from the cargo cult science world, to at least have the opportunity to babble about “interesting” stuff, complain about their “leaders”, being in awe with the “achievements” of mainstream celebrities, to (you guessed it) joyfully follow and share “newly” discovered “scientific” facts (for instance that wonderful new diet, a meditation technique which will solve all their problems, or that “proven” kind of action which will make them the next billionaire), and to get the feeling they belong to a powerful avant garde who saw the light 😈. Mental poverty makes it easy to believe that gullibility is an asset, eh?

    Oh well, this is just one way to look 👀 at it 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  10. paulbeales1 says:

    In your example regarding ‘Could the 20% ever be correct?’ surely if none of the 40 got bowel cancer, and all 48 did, this would be a 4800% increase, not 20%

    Liked by 1 person

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