Meat causes cancer? The answer is complicated and nuanced

eating meat causes cancer

Over the past few years, there have been numerous stories about whether meat causes cancer. Well, the answer is extremely complicated and nuanced, something doesn’t play well with clickbait headlines. People want to know The Truth™ about meat. Oh, and this article isn’t about vaccines, shocking, right?

A couple of years ago we were flooded by memes, articles, and uptight vegans laughing at everyone because the World Health Organization stated that eating meat causes cancer – that’s either processed meat, like a good French sausage, or unprocessed red meat.

Then recently, we were flooded by new memes, articles, and uptight vegans when an article was published to tell us that meat was safe. Of course, that was followed up by even newer memes, articles, and uptight vegans that that new article was junk, and meat causes cancer. 

Even those of you with good scientifically skeptical minds (which includes a lot of vegans) are wondering if anyone knows anything about meat and cancer. So I sliced some excellent French sausage and ate it with my GMO crackers – then this old avian dinosaur did what he is supposed to do, he read the articles.

So, should you worry whether meat causes cancer? I agree that there are a lot of issues about people eating beef, pork, and chicken for our individual health and for the health of the planet. But that’s outside of my bailiwick, and it will garner an incredible amount of yelling and screaming.

But I’m going to be brave (or not) and just try to answer the simple question of whether meat causes cancer. And here we go.

Continue reading “Meat causes cancer? The answer is complicated and nuanced”

Doctors once said that “smoking is safe” – another anti-vaccine myth

smoking is safe

If you hang around discussions about vaccines, you will see the oft-repeated claim that doctors once claimed that “smoking is safe.” The anti-vaccine religion (or terrorists) use this trope as a strawman argument in an attempt to discredit physicians, scientists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who claim that vaccines are safe and effective.

Anti-vaxxers really lack much evidence to support their science-denying arguments against the settled science regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Thus, they have to rely upon misinformation, tropes, and lies to make arguments that vaccines are something. 

I would laugh at this “smoking is safe” claim, except it’s used to dissuade parents from trusting wonderful organizations like the CDC, which only has one goal, to protect lives from diseases. So, let’s debunk this anti-vaccine myth because that’s what we do around here. Continue reading “Doctors once said that “smoking is safe” – another anti-vaccine myth”

Electronic cigarette dangers – new research

electronic cigarette dangers

Note – this article has been updated with new research and information about electronic cigarette dangers. Please comment there, as the comment section for this article is closed.

Over the past few years, electronic cigarettes (often called a personal vaporizer, e-cigarette, or many other trendy descriptions–I’ll abbreviate them as EC, just to save space) have become a popular alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They originally were developed as a tool to quit cigarette smoking, which is factually linked to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

However, ECs have become much more than a tool to end smoking, but they have evolved into popular subculture phenomenon known as the “vaping community” that, in many respects, seem to mimic the marijuana advocates. The vaping community continues to push a belief that ECs are safer than traditional cigarettes, have little health risk to the vaper (electronic cigarette smoker), and is much more socially acceptable than smoking cigarettes or cigars.

Continue reading “Electronic cigarette dangers – new research”

Breast cancer risk – lifestyle choices

breast cancer risk

The myths about cancer risk are both sad and dangerous. Too many times, I read about supplements or diets that stop “cancer” as if it’s one disease (it is not) that a handful of blueberries will destroy. Like almost every cancer, reducing breast cancer risk really boils down to a handful of lifestyle choices.

In 2015, there will be 232,000 new breast cancer cases in the USA (pdf). Worldwide in 2012, it was estimated that there were over 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer. There is evidence that the rate of breast cancer is increasing, but that may be a result of better diagnostic tools that give earlier diagnoses (and this is a discussion left for another day).

Breast cancer has become a part of our culture, partially because the disease moved from a disease that was only mentioned in whispers to one that has some of the highest awareness for cancers.

Using a review article, by Max Dieterich et al.  about breast cancer risk and lifestyle influence as a template, I thought it would be prudent to list out some of the major influencers on breast cancer risk. And no, smoking weed has no known influence on the risk of breast cancer.

Continue reading “Breast cancer risk – lifestyle choices”

Correlation does not imply causation – except when it does.

correlation

Editor’s note – this article has been substantially updated, and the new version has been republished here.

One of the central tenets of the pro-vaccine world is that correlation does not imply causation – but it is misused and frequently abused by many writers. We, the pro-science/pro-vaccine world, dismiss correlation, if real correlation can be shown, as robust evidence indicative of any causal relationship.

Conflating causation and correlation is somewhat different than the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, where one thinks one event follows the first event because of the existence of the first event. I’m sure all good luck charms and superstitions, like walking under a ladder, are related to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. So if I walk under a ladder, then trip on a black cat, then crash into a mirror, I don’t immediately blame the initial act of walking under the ladder. I just assume I’m clumsy.

Correlation and causation are a very critical part of scientific research. Basically, correlation is the statistical relationship between two random sets of data. The closer the relationship, the higher the correlation. However, without further data, correlation may not imply causation, that the one set of data has some influence over the other. Continue reading “Correlation does not imply causation – except when it does.”

Part 4. Marijuana and health risks – assessing the science

This is Part 4  of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and health risks – even if there is evidence that marijuana had medical benefits, there must be a review of the risks of using it.

Only in junk medicine (see homeopathy or chiropractic, for example) is there a promise of great results with no risks. In real medicine, all benefits are balanced against the real risks of any medication or procedure.

The whole foundation of evidence (or science) based medicine is science – “it is the only set of methods for investigating and understanding the natural world.” Thus, the best factual evidence includes clinical research that describes not only the effectiveness, but also the risks, of a particular medical procedure.

In this article, I’ll look at marijuana and health risks – along with a skeptical analysis of those claims. Continue reading “Part 4. Marijuana and health risks – assessing the science”

Smoking cannabis doesn’t cure cancer but it may cause it

Marijuana_Cures_CancerAs I have written before, there is a lot of controversy about medical uses for marijuana, although it appears to be much more of a political debate than a scientific one. There just isn’t much evidence that supports a hypothesis that marijuana has any significant therapeutic effect on diseases like cancer, neurological disorders, or other diseases.

Scientists have long suspected that smoking marijuana could be linked to lung cancer, but there has only been weak evidence supporting a causality.  Recently, a 40 year review of  over 49,000 men strongly suggests that smoking cannabis does indeed increase the risk of lung cancer. The study examined 49,321 men between the ages of 18 and 20 who were being enlisted in the Swedish military between 1969 and 1970, examining their health and lifestyle issues, along with their use of marijuana. The researchers reviewed other potential risk factors such as respiratory disease, other types of smoking, and socioeconomic status. Continue reading “Smoking cannabis doesn’t cure cancer but it may cause it”

Regarding those mistakes made by science…

ddt-is-good-for-meI know I shouldn’t use the conspiracy theory fallacy when talking about the pseudoscience-pushing science deniers, who are the bread and butter of topics for skeptics. But, when I keep observing the same ridiculous and insanely illogical arguments used in the same manner by all of the deniers, I begin to wonder if they don’t get together annually at the International Society of Pseudoscience meeting, usually held in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo. They obviously share their stories, because we hear the same regurgitated stories in different contexts.

The antivaccinationists, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on a trope that “science makes mistakes.” And then they produce a list of historical events that “prove” that science is wrong. Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit these “science makes mistakes” tropes.

By the way, in my story, I admit that “science makes mistakes,” so read on. Continue reading “Regarding those mistakes made by science…”

Vitamin D reduces breast cancer risk–is there anything to it?

vitamin-DOne of my favorite topics to debunk is the use of supplements to prevent (or worse yet, cure) cancer. As I have discussed in the past, supplements are, with just a couple of exceptions, worthless in preventing cancer

Potential causes for cancer are numerous. InfectionsRadon gasCigarette smokingSun exposure. Obesity. With over 200 types of cancer, each with a different pathophysiology, there may be an equal (and probably greater) number of causes for “cancer.” Although many causes of cancer can be easily avoided, such as stopping smoking, testing your house for radon, getting an HPV vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus infections, and wearing sunblock to reduce the risk of melanomas, the sheer complexity and number of types of cancer means that there is probably not going to be any simple panacea to preventing (or even curing) cancer. 

But because cancer is so frightening, and treating it is risky, debilitating and, in some cases, fruitless, we look for the easy solution, the easy prevention with a pill. But the evidence science has found indicates that this doesn’t really work. Of course, according to 2012 cancer statistics, 577,000 people died of various cancers in 2012, and about 160,000 died directly as a result of smoking (or second hand smoking). So, you can easily drop your risk dying of cancer by more than 25% just by quitting smoking. Otherwise, it’s just not that simple. Continue reading “Vitamin D reduces breast cancer risk–is there anything to it?”

How pseudoscience makes its case-Part 2. Revised and repost.

Recently, we discussed how science works. It’s not a belief. It’s not a random set of rules. It is a rational and logical process to determine cause and effect in the natural world. Pseudoscience, by its very nature, ignores the scientific process; instead, it claims to come to conclusions through science, usually by using scientific sounding words, but actually avoids the scientific process.  They tend to use logical fallacies to make their case.  Just to be clear, logical fallacy is essentially an error of reasoning. When a pseudoscientist  makes a claim, or attempts to persuade the public of this claim, and it is based on a bad piece of reasoning, they commit a fallacy. Continue reading “How pseudoscience makes its case-Part 2. Revised and repost.”