Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Smoking increases Stroke risk in women, analysis of news coverage!

Today, a flurry of news articles pick up on new research released which purports to 'show' smoking doubles stroke risk in young women, with heavy smokers nine times more at risk of stroke. This is just the latest in what seems like a bombardment of news reports on new research findings claiming to 'find this' or 'that'!

Certainly, as research studies on certain phenomena accumulate with peer 'overviews' undertaken; a better indication and understanding of 'causations' can come about. What's objectionable however, is the rush by news agencies to inadequately report on single research findings without providing accompanying limitations and critical analysis of such findings. Rarely do I see an adequate summary of the method used. The vast majority of readers are not trained in epistemology and the philosophy of science. Is it a case of news agencies (locked in an audience battle) wishing to overlook such realities in order to grab audience figures? Or it it just a case of scrappy and absent minded reporting? Take this latest research on smoking and stroke risk, out of several news articles published today (Reuters, efluxmedia, irishhealth etc), little to no proper analysis of the findings accompanied such research. Thus, here is my take on it:

It does seem compelling that smoking increases 'risk', we can point to the physiological changes such as those noted by Dr. David A. Meyerson from Johns Hopkins University Bayview Medical Center; "Smoking disrupts the cells lining the blood vessels. It increases blood fibrogen levels, which makes blood more likely to clot. It increases the stickiness of platelets, the cells that form blood clots, and it also decreases the body's natural clot-dissolving mechanism." (Meyerson, 2008)

But it is important to note, the research does not indicate whether smoking participants have similar diet and fitness levels to those who do not smoke. Thus, is the overall profile of smokers different to non-smokers? I suspect it could be! The research focuses on age and ethnicity but no other genetic/psycho/socio/environmental factors are mentioned in the reports which would play a role in risk assessment. Overall, the research may certainly indicate smoking increases 'risk', but figures such as 'double' or 'nine' times an increased risk of stroke; are ostensible at best.

For a research paper critically evaluating scientific claims, see http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124&ct=1

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

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