• The Need to Scoop vs. Accurate Repoting

    OK, this is starting to make me mad.

    In this case, someone reported that a paper being presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting is making a certain claim.  I don’t know who reported it first, but all the outlets I’ve seen for this ‘paper’ have the exact same information.  Here’s Doctortipster.  Here’s Science Daily. Here’s something called Eurekaalert.

    Every one of these is reporting that for every month a baby is fed formula, that baby has a 16% greater chance of getting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).  That’s all that it says.

    I consider this almost a form of fear-mongering.  A 16% greater chance could be a child having a 0.1% chance of getting ALL to having a 0.116% chance of getting ALL.  Or it could mean a 75% chance of getting ALL increasing to a 87% chance. We don’t know.

    In this case, in every case that I can think of, having a percentage increase is utterly useless information.  Without the baseline information, without the starting value, a percentage increase is useless.

    Since this is the sort of thing I do (sigh, I need a life).  I started looking for some numbers.

    The American Cancer society reports that the incident of ALL in the US is about  1 in 50,000. There were 5700 new cases in all of the US in 2009.  There were less than 1500 deaths due to it.

    So, the apparent chance of a baby getting this is 0.002%.  With this new research, that increases by 0.00032% each month that the child is on formula.  Plus, there’s a better than 75% survival rate for this particular form of cancer.

    Is this worth getting seriously worked up over?  You decide.  Maybe your family has a lot of risk factors; history of leukemia, smokers in the house, etc.  If so, then MAYBE this is a concern.  But I would think that starting a baby on solid food a month or two early would be less likely to reduce the chances of cancer than removing the smokers.

    Category: EducationMedicineSkepticism


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat