Wednesday 16 October 2013

Junk science of the week, possibly of the year

This is just sad.

Oreos can be as addictive to the brain as cocaine, the authors of a scientific study have claimed.

Really? Tell me more.

To arrive at the conclusion, Schroeder placed rats in a maze which had two routes to different treats.

In a moment you will see how apt the words "To arrive at the conclusion..." are.

One on side, they placed rice cakes and on the other they placed Oreos.

After the animals had explored the maze fully, they were then left to choose which treat they would prefer to stay at.

Speaking of his findings, Schroeder said: 'Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating rice cakes.'

Yes, because there's more energy in chocolate biscuits than there is in rice cakes.

The results, which showed the rodents had a strong preference for the chocolate treat, were compared to those of an identical test involving drugs.

One on side of the maze, the rats would be given an injection of saline while on the other they were given a dose of cocaine or morphine.

According to Schroeder, the rats in the Oreo experiment spent as much time hanging around their Oreo zone in the food test as they did the cocaine zone in the drug test, showing similar levels of addiction.

Are you kidding me? Aside from the fact that "hanging around" is not a symptom of addiction, the experiment shows nothing more than that rats prefer being injected with cocaine to being injected with nothing and that they prefer energy-dense food to diet food.

If they'd have put cheese on one side and rice cakes on the other, the rats would have gone for the cheese. Would that mean that cheese is "as addictive as cocaine"? No. Because the two experiments have nothing in common except that the rats displayed an entirely predictable preference for X over Y. Or, more precisely, in one experiment the rats preferred X over Y and in the other experiment they preferred A over B. Only a fool or a knave would conclude from this that X=A.

Writing in a statement describing the study, to be presented at the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego next month, Schroeder added: 'Our research supports the theory that high-fat and high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do.'

Yeah, we know. They stimulate the brain's 'reward centres' and release pleasure-giving chemicals, blah, blah, blah. That's what they're supposed to do. The brain's reward centres are there to encourage us to consume energy and procreate. The fact that cocaine stimulates these areas artificially doesn't mean that it's somehow weird or wrong that food does. Lots of things we enjoy release dopamine. That's why we enjoy them. The doofus who conducted this ridiculous experiment even acknowledges this in this video.

"We looked at the pleasure centre of the brain which is stimulated any time we engage in a pleasurable activity, including eating. Drugs of abuse hijack that system and lead to addiction."

Exactly, they hijack a perfectly natural and normal biological system. But that doesn't mean that everything that stimulates the reward centres naturally is addictive or pernicious. A correct reading of the neurological science would say that cocaine stimulates the brain in the same way that food and sex does, but that doesn't sound as scary as "sugar stimulates the brain in the same way as class A drugs".

As a general rule of thumb, if someone tells you that cupcakes or smartphones are "as addictive as cocaine" on the basis that they produce dopamine in the brain, walk away. They're saying no more than that pleasurable activities stimulate the brain's pleasure centres, which is a banal tautology.

The findings are a problem for the general public, Honohan said.

“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat, high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” she said.

Oh, just go away, you stupid, stupid people.


I've been asked on Twitter if this is a case of bad science reporting by the Daily Mail. In fact, the Mail has been faithful to the researchers' press release so we must assume that the basic description of the experiment is correct.


Jean Granville said...

What the hell is "oreos"? I have to get some of it now.

Rursus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rursus said...

There will come more... much more of this "science" in the next two years...

westcoast2 said...

Incredible. Did a quick search for 'Oreos' and this 'study' is all over the place! CBS, NBC, FOX, Globe and Mail.

nisakiman said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

Ben said...

nisakiman, neither nor ... have some Oreos to reward yourself.

Zaphod said...

I need Oreos! And suddenly the shops are all sold out! What's happening? A guy down a dark alley finally sold me some, but they were cut!

Incidentally, the photos in the Mail look like mice, not rats.
(Pedants' corner?)

Ivan D said...

We can expect more of this after the recent announcement by the BMJ comic that it will publish utter crap by public health nutters rather than well produced research from industry on purely ideological grounds. The credibility of the whole medical establishment is increasingly questionable.It has no integrity whatsoever and is in danger of undermining thousands of years of scientific progress.

Unknown said...

It was on the 6 o'clock news from CBC Vancouver today!

Alan Cairns

George Speller said...

I thought they might have provided 3 choices - oreos cocaine and nowt. They could have measured the time spent "hanging around" each, and come up with a sensible comparison. But they didn't. The real question is who's money did they waste?

Unknown said...

You're right about it not being bad reporting but bad science. I picked this story up from another source. Incredibly, it's not the reporting at fault: these "scientists" really believe what the reports say.

My comment here:

BeeGee said...

I have witnessed pig races at the Calgary Stampede where they used Oreos as the bait !!!

Dr Evil said...

This 'researcher' is no scientist. He's a behaviour researcher. This isn't real science it's qualitative observation dressed up in a white coat using scientific language to reach a ridiculous and spurious conclusion. It is peer reviewed by his mates who also do useless and crap research too.

Anonymous said...

The study does indeed sound like rubbish, but the conclusions are correct. Oreos have exactly the same potential for addiction as cocaine. Both provide desirable sensory experience, and neither has a mechanism for physical dependency.

Daniel said...

Well, at least none of you are implying that this poorly executed (or poorly reported) research proves Oreos aren't as addicrive as cocaine. That would be religiously false.

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