Sunday, February 3, 2008

Voodoo Studies, Vol. 1

New Study: Brushing your teeth makes you hot.
This study has just been brought to my attention, despite the fact that it was apparently conducted in 1987. I guess when I was 5 years old, I didn't have much interest in the causes behind the burgeoning divorce rate. Go figure. Many others like it have cropped up over years and have been frequently cited as a reason not to cohabit before marriage, treating cohabitation as some sort of magic button that if pressed will doom your relationship. This is simply one of many ridiculous mass-media manufactured prescriptions resulting from the misinterpretation of scholarly research, my favorite of these being the "Flossing can add 6.4 years to your life" fiasco.

For the benefit of the pair of readers of this blog who are not at least quasi-trained economists, these studies are, in my professional opinion, "wack". While I have not read the studies in their entirety, I think I can anticipate what is going on here...

The best of these studies done at Emory University with the Centers for Disease Control, indicated that people with gingivitis and periodontitis have a mortality rate that is 23 percent to 46 percent higher than those who don't... why? They are linked to increased rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as to an increase in mortality from other causes, such as infections.
Gee, let me think about why non-flossers might get heart disease. Maybe because they are altogether lazy people and don't care for any parts of their bodies to the point that they should? For all I know, these are very rigorous statisticians and other health-related factors were controlled for. But I am skeptical.

As for the marriage study, these guys did my work for me:'s not cohabitation that causes divorce," Stern emphasizes. "Rather, the people who cohabit are simply different from those who marry right away; their matches overall tend not to be as good. In fact, our study suggests that if there were less of a stigma associated with cohabitation and more people lived together before marriage, the divorce rate would fall because everyone would learn more about their partners' annoying habits before tying the knot.
I have to assume that the original study controls for religious devotion, but that would seem to me to be another factor here: pre-marital cohabitation is verboten by most organized religions and divorce is similarly frowned upon. Cohabitants are less likely to be religious and therefore more likely to divorce because religious people tend to stay together because they think that God will hate them if they don't.

It's days like this that I remember why I want to teach economics. I have this ridiculous compulsion to make sure that the youth of our country think correctly. I don't know, call me crazy.

UPDATE: This is not meant to be an indictment of those particular studies necessarily. Since I have not examined them closely, I obviously have no idea how rigorous the analysis was. It is entirely possible that the researcher in question controlled for all the relevant factors that I mention. However, the moral of the story is don't take mass-media soundbites from academic research too seriously. Find and evaluate the source on its own merits.


Wilson said...

Isn't it spelled "whack"?

Mike LeGower said...

not according to the rap dictionary...

Wilson said...

Ah fair enough, an alternative form of 'weak.' Learn something new every day.