Lies, Damn Lies, and Research Studies

We live in an era of unprecedented BS. It’s coming at you live from every corner of life. Not just from your Twitter feed, the government, the media, and those crazy cats in Hollywood. It’s coming at you from scientists in the form of misinterpreted studies, flawed research, and opinion dressed up as science.

I just finished reading a blockbuster Wall Street Journal article about how saturated fat does not cause heart disease. That’s right, folks. All those fat-free, heart-healthy diets backed by the American Heart Association and everyone else are bogus.

It seems the entire “saturated fat is bad” kick that that changed all the food we buy and the way we eat was the result of a botched study by one very influential – and very persuasive – scientist from Minnesota, Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys.

Besides changing the diet of an entire nation for no apparent reason, the shift away from animal fat seems to have led to all sorts of unintended consequences that may have actually increased our risk of heart disease, especially for women. Hard to believe.

And people wonder how I could ever have had the audacity to question the pseudoscience behind manmade global climate change, the craze that vaccines cause autism, and the logic that ObamaCare could be anything but an unmitigated disaster that we would all live to loathe.

Just yesterday I was checking out my Twitter feed – don’t ask me why – and this got my attention: “50% of Fortune 500 companies from 2000 are out of business, killed by digital disruption.” The tweet’s author, who will remain nameless out of respect for the clueless, is a well-respected C-Level executive of a publicly-traded technology company.

Intrigued, I followed up and was pointed to an independent research firm run by another highly respected guy who hailed from a top-notch analyst firm and some big-name enterprise companies. During a several minute phone call, the analyst pitched that this remarkable rate of turnover was due to “digital disruption.” I guess that’s his thing.

Unconvinced, I decided to check the story out. After going through the Fortune 100 list from 2000, I found that 20 were no longer stand-alone companies, but that was almost entirely due to telecom mergers that created the Verizon-AT&T duopoly, bank mergers following the 2008 financial crisis, and mergers between some energy companies.

I could not find a single entity that was no longer in business as a result of any kind of digital disruption, no matter how you interpret that term. No, I didn’t go through the other 400 companies. I was pretty disgusted at that point. Of course, both of the gentlemen in question have tens of thousands of Twitter followers. The Twitterati eat that sort of hyperbole up. Never mind whether it’s true or not.

Wait, it gets better. A few years ago, – part of Time Inc. and Time Warner – broke a story listing 10 careers with high rates of depression. The spin was that these fields caused depression among workers. Not surprisingly, a hot story like that got picked up more or less verbatim by Forbes, Psychology Today, and of course, the Huffington Post.

The only problem is, it wasn’t true. There was actually no causal link between the data and the article’s conclusions. Turns out, the data originally came from a survey on drug and alcohol use that asked two distinct questions: 1) have you had instances of depression, and 2) what’s your profession (out of 21 total categories).

In other words, there’s absolutely no scientific link or causal relationship between those surveyed reporting that they’ve had instances of depression and what they do for a living. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It’s completely uncontrolled and unscientific. But the original article did get 21,000 Facebook posts. Mission accomplished.

We can draw three conclusions from all of this.

1. Socrates and Machiavelli were right. We should all be skeptical of the status quo and learn to question everything.

2. Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. An old girlfriend told me that 30 years ago … the girl was a freaking genius.

3. I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m having for dinner tonight. A big juicy cheeseburger.