Monday, 30 January 2012

Cause-Effect? Why bother when conjecture will do

Deaths from heart attacks have halved in the UK in the past decade. This is the conclusion by researchers from the Public Health Department of Oxford University.

Researchers have looked at the data and found that fewer people are having heart attacks and more people are surviving heart attacks. Dr Kate Smolina concludes that this a great success story for the NHS.

Dr Mike Rayner then goes on to discuss why that might be so. Coronary care in the NHS seems to have improved.

He then describes things that may have made a difference, such as a reduction in smoking. He guesses that a reduction in saturated fat intake and an increase in fruit consumption (mostly as juice) may have made a difference.

Professor Goldacre thinks that drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure may have made a difference. Goldacre also details improvements in cardiac care, such as faster transportation to hospital after a heart attack may have made a difference.

So we have a report that gives us a simple fact: deaths from heart attacks have halved in the UK in the past decade.

It then discusses what may or may not have contributed to this change.

What gets reported in the UK press?

Deaths have halved because NHS doctors have been prescribing statins.

Never let facts get in the way of cosy beliefs and comfortable prejudices.

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