Isle of Man smoking ban 'cuts heart attacks'A ban on smoking in public places has reduced heart attack admissions, according to research commissioned by the Isle of Man's Department of Health.
The department has compared admissions in the two years prior to introduction of the ban on 30 March 2008 and the two years since.
It discovered that the number of men over 55 admitted for heart attacks had dropped since the ban.
But if we take a look at the 'study' (unpublished and not peer-reviewed, not that that makes a lot of difference these days), a very different picture emerges:
Do my eyes deceive me or does this graph show that there significantly more heart attacks after the smoking ban?
They don't and there were. In the 23 months before the smoking ban, there were 109 heart attack admissions, or 4.7 per month. In the 23 months after the smoking ban, there were 153 heart attacks, or 6.65 per month.In what universe does this count as a drop in heart attacks?
In the crazy world of tobacco control, that's where. Note the regression lines, designed to take your eye off what is actually happening. Note how the second half of the graph has a line that is driven down by the lowish figure for the last month shown (since the next month needed to make it a full two years has mysteriously gone missing).
This is a method taken straight out of the Anna Gilmore's box of tricks, with a dash of Glantz's Helena magic thrown in for good measure (small community, inaccessible hospital records, data mining etc.). If there isn't a drop in heart attacks, you simply 'predict' how many would have occurred if the smoking ban hadn't come in and make sure your prediction is higher than the real number. And before you know it the BBC will be falling over itself to report that "a ban on smoking in public places has reduced heart attack admissions" and the New England Journal of Medicine will be beating a path to your door.
And the feeble effort shown above is the best this researcher—a maths student at
Notice that before the ban, there were usually fewer than ten heart attack admissions. Notice, too, that after the ban the rate was usually well above ten. And, of course, there were more heart attacks in total after the ban than before it. And, as the flat black line shows, the monthly rate of admissions did not go down one bit in the nigh-on two years after the ban.
But you're not supposed to look at any of that. Instead, you are invited to look at the upwards line in the pre-ban period and assume that the rate would have continued rising, even though that line only goes up because of a big jump (by Isle of Man standards) to 14 cases shortly before the ban. Nor are you supposed to notice that any responsible statistician would identify that unusual leap as a statistical artifact. The fact that more than two-thirds of the data points are below the regression shows that it's being contorted by an outlier.
It's truly unbelievable that this sort of stuff gets taken seriously. Or it would be if it didn't happen every few months. This is a world where a flat line equals a decline, and a 50% increase in heart attacks equals a reduction in heart attacks.
In a year that has seen fierce competition for the title, Ms Howda Jwad of Northumbria University—for it is she—may just have clinched the inaugural World's Worst Junk Science Award in the dying days of the year. Glantz, Pell, Gilmore, Winickoff—it's time to up your game.
Thanks to Brian Bond for the tip