Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Poem: Anthrax is not a placebo

I see you play the game of uncertainties well
no chance,
no roll of the die
that can't be rolled a dozen times

Best of all
the yardstick is as mutable as mercury
gullible as gold
pliable as picture-

I believe you said
"placebo controlled"
and it certainly was,

so long as we don't peek

your carefully packaged

A.J. Ponder

Gosh, where did this week go? Been busy enjoying reading all the submissions to "Twisty Christmas Tales," and bang - it's Tuesday again.

Ok, Alright, I admit to also reading New Scientist, in the interim. It's gone more than a bit pop-science recently, but it's usually better than most, and I expected the wh/eat article to be of a certain standard. Better than what you would find in, say, New Zealand's North and South magazine. Boy was I disappointed.

Poor scientific reporting indeed to say "milk protein" was used as a placebo. At that point the article stopped being merely unhelpful and entered warning, warning Will Robinson territory. After all experiments rise and fall on their control/placebo - it's an absolutely critical part of any experiment. So I couldn't help but wonder why choose a placebo that is known, or even suspected to be problematic? Online, it was easy to discover the "milk protein" was not actually casein, (which would have been the worst possible option and something you'd expect an article in New Scientist to mention). It was whey--but the study didn't control for casein. Nor did the experiment allow sufficient time to elapse between diets. (Yup, seen that ploy used to great effect, and far more blatantly, with certain food additives. Cough. Monosodium glutamate.)

What was interesting (although not exactly a surprise) was that the study did seem to show that FODMAPs can cause problems for people who identify as gluten intolerant. (And so can shuffling around diets, and introducing stress to people who have stomach problems - now there's a surprise!)

So, if you managed to wade through that, next time you pick up a paper and read about a study, why not take a second look at the placebo and ask yourself, is that a placebo? or is it anthrax in disguise.

Have a great week!
and maybe check out the Tuesday Poem blog, why not?

and have fun,



  1. Love the title Alicia - it draws you into this surprising comment as poem

    1. Thanks Keith, I truly believe it's something that people should be aware of. It's hard to make good decisions around poor science, and unfortunately "tobacco" science doesn't stop at tobacco. (Maybe another poem sometime...!!) :)