Not-So-Noble Awards Take Aim at Year's Most Flagrant Scientific Study Fouls

Filed under: Opinions

Welcome to the first Naked Data Not-So-Noble Awards, a nod to the year's most notably egregious scientific discoveries foisted upon parents.

Over the past 12 months, I'm sorry to report many studies garnered media attention out of proportion to their scientific rigor or merit. So, as 2010 draws to a close, I'd like to officially recognize a few that have been particularly hard to forget. Without further ado, here are this year's winners:

Most Dramatic: The Dead Baby Study

More than 900 deaths, nearly all babies, would be prevented annually if 90 percent of mothers would breast-feed for six months, according to research out of Harvard. If only women would listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics' breast-feeding recommendations, no babies would have to die, the study shows.

The researchers estimate these "premature deaths" from a 2007 government report linking breast-feeding to lower incidences of sudden infant death syndrome, childhood asthma, type 1 diabetes and numerous other poor health outcomes.

Stretching the "effects" of breast-feeding over decades and diseases without regard to many intervening variables, including well-established risk factors and the significant differences between women who breast-feed and those who don't, is hardly unprecedented. The conclusion that "suboptimal breast-feeding" kills babies, though, is outright ludicrous. It doesn't take an Ivy League pedigree to realize that, though I bet the Harvard tag didn't hurt with publishing and publicity.

Most Un-Titillating: The Early Puberty Study

Call this the boobie prize. This much-discussed study of pubescence merits attention for what it did not find.

Despite all the talk of earlier puberty, girls aren't getting their periods any younger than they did decades ago. Before you start stockpiling maxi pads and hormone-free milk, the average age is still between 12 and 13.

True, this data showed evidence of earlier breast development, and that's cause for some concern. Girls who start puberty younger face higher rates of depression, eating disorders, stunted growth and certain cancers. But most of these risks have been linked to first menstruation, not the breasts, something a lot of media reports neglected to mention -- along with the bit about no changes in average menstrual age. So buy the training bra, not the hype.

Most Debunked: The Vaccine-Autism Study

Not many studies get yanked out of the scientific literature, but this past year medical journal The Lancet retracted a 1998 article linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

Yes, it was the same highly flawed and falsified data behind the autism vaccine scare that drained millions of research dollars, eroded trust in public health officials, left thousands of kids unvaccinated and revived some fearsome childhood diseases.

This year, British authorities also stripped lead author Andrew Wakefield of his medical license for subjecting children to unnecessary, risky and painful medical procedures (think lumbar punctures and colonoscopies) without the necessary approval from an ethics panel designed to prevent such abuse.

The discredited former doc, whose work was funded by anti-vaccine attorneys, admitted drawing blood samples from youngsters at his own child's birthday party. What would Miss Manners say? Good riddance, Mister Wakefield!

Now, if only I could wave my magic wand and bid farewell and forget all the other ridiculous, disappointing or simply misinterpreted studies visited upon us parents this past year.

Here's wishing 2011 brings a bounty of solid discoveries that won't be blown out of proportion and, at the very least, won't involve any unnecessarily spilled blood or punctured lumbars.

Cheers!

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