Tyler Cowen has a blog series called "Markets in Everything" where he links to examples of bizarre areas of specialization for which there is a market... for example the market for coats made out of chest hair, topless paintings of Bea Arthur, etc, etc...
I'd like to start my own: Bad Science in Everything. Just like market economies exist for even the strangest of goods, bad scientific research permeates all corners of human existence.
Todays example: a study marked by Outside Online as STUDY: LONGER RUNS ARE EASIER. 25 runners tried to do a 200 miles race. They were tested three times along the races path for their nueromuscular fatigue and other body indicators. These results were compared to runners tested running 100 mile races and less, and lo and behold, the 200 mile runners performed better. The culprit, sleep deprivation, perhaps. This provides for great copy and has done so all over the web, from CBS News to Deadspin.
It is also some bad, bad science.
Of the 25 runners, just 9 completed the race. They were only tested 3 times. Let me repeat. 25 runners. 9 finishers. Over 60 % of the runners who even though they could finish a 200 mile race could not. This subset was then compared against runners running 100 mile races, 50 miles races, and marathons.
So all 9 of these runners' bodies were capable of running 200 miles, which makes them utterly unique, both for human beings and for ultra-marathoners. To compare them to runners running a considerably smaller distance implies that anyone who is capable of running a marathon, or even a 100 mile race is capable of running a 200 mile race, which clearly is not the case, even for those who train for it.
So here we have 9 highly specialized data points which are probably not even useful for comparison to other long-distance runners. Yet they are also being used to make an inference about the other 7 billion human beings.
I think I could probably run a marathon after a few months of training, but I would be utterly wrecked. To say that if (and I couldn't) I ran 200 miles I'd be feeling better? Thats some bad science.
You might argue that this isn't the implication of the study, that the point is that ultra-hyper-marathoners have special fatigue properties of their neuromuscular system. This is probably true. Yet it is certainly what is being inferred in the press.
Bad science in everything.
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Oceanographer, Mathemagician, and Interested Party