Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Up in smoke.

Another election, another slice of freedom gone, but this time it doesn't effect me directly since I am in Tulsa.

Manhattan (Kansas) passed their ban on smoking in public places this time around. Now everyone can enjoy their "freedom" of eating in a smoke-free environment at the cost of business owners deciding what legal activity their patrons can partake in.

Freedom doesn't mean that you can do whatever you want, how you want. Freedom means that the government will not limit what you can do.

Due up in 2012: Ban on trans fat
In the batting circle in 2016: Ban on large portions of food
Clean up in 2024: Ban on "unhealthy" food

Suck it personal choice, hurray government dominance!

Update: Ever since starting my job here in Tulsa I felt the need to post again about how no one does correct statistics in their studies. However, my comment that I left is close enough to scratching that itch that I will just post it here and be done with it (for now).

The first time that I actually looked at a study that was conducted, just to see what it had to say, was a study that the American Heart Association did on second hand smoke. What I found shocked me.
While the study was used to say that second hand smoke was dangerous and bad, the study actually found that unless you live with a smoker that smokes multiple packs a day for many many years second hand smoke does not hurt you.
They were lying to us about the outcome of the study.
This got me interested in other studies, mainly global warming, since the quick analysis that is presented to the general public is flawed. Sure enough, they aren't finding anything like they are claiming, but some how it gets reported that the problem is dire and completely our fault.
Now that I work answering statistical questions from people doing studies all over the world it is quite obvious -
It is rare for someone to do an actual statistically valid study.
I don't think that people are intentionally misleading people, or doing bad science on purpose, I think that it is a matter of not knowing what they are doing statistically.
And it is sad to say, but if you do the best experiment in the world, but then do a wrong analysis or misinterpret the results your study is for naught, or worse you come to the wrong conclusion.
So here we are with "evidence" for a need to protect peoples health with a smoking ban. Policy is made without regard to actually knowing the truth.
But we can all sleep better at night, right?

10 comments:

B.E. Earl said...

The argument is that any ban on smoking in public places (restaurants, bars, etc...) isn't really for the safety of the patrons. They, of course, could just stay home or go someplace else. Rather it is for the safety of the staff who breathe in the second-hand smoke. It's a work-place hazard.

I don't know if I buy it, but that's the argument.

Big Red said...

Great, now more and more underage students can experience the joys of drinking insane amounts of alcohol, picking fights with people much larger than themselves, driving home drunk w/o wearing a seatbelt and having unprotected "business time" with people who they don't really know...

...But at least they won't be inhaling second-hand smoke!!

Thank God the city of Manhattan has the health risks of its young people at heart!! What would we do without such a caring and loving government?

p.s. For those who are easily confused, this is satire. I disagree with the smoking ban, too.

The Math Ninja said...

As for the workers at these places that are subject to second-hand smoke. They don't have to work there. They can choose to find a different job. I know it may not be easy, but not everything you want is easy to get.

That is the kind of choice I think we should have.

Ookami Snow said...

@earl - The first time that I actually looked at a study that was conducted, just to see what it had to say, was a study that the American Heart Association did on second hand smoke. What I found shocked me.
While the study was used to say that second hand smoke was dangerous and bad, the study actually found that unless you live with a smoker that smokes multiple packs a day for many many years second hand smoke does not hurt you.
They were lying to us about the outcome of the study.
This got me interested in other studies, mainly global warming, since the quick analysis that is presented to the general public is flawed. Sure enough, they aren't finding anything like they are claiming, but some how it gets reported that the problem is dire and completely our fault.
Now that I work answering statistical questions from people doing studies all over the world it is quite obvious -
It is rare for someone to do an actual statistically valid study.
I don't think that people are intentionally misleading people, or doing bad science on purpose, I think that it is a matter of not knowing what they are doing statistically.
And it is sad to say, but if you do the best experiment in the world, but then do a wrong analysis or misinterpret the results your study is for naught, or worse you come to the wrong conclusion.
So here we are with "evidence" for a need to protect peoples health with a smoking ban. Policy is made without regard to actually knowing the truth.
But we can all sleep better at night, right?

@Lance - Can't agree more.

Braveharte said...

Oh dear oh dear... Well I'm really not sure where you get your "evidence" but we here in "science" like to look at the consensus of peer reviewed journal articles. Now my quick little search of the effects of second hand smoke (SHS) in the workplace alone found:
SHS in the work place produces short term health problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and breathlessness.
SHS in the work place also produces a significantly greater risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer, and early menopause.
Furthermore, studies of smoking bans have found a significant decrease in heart attacks following the implementation of the ban (replicated in Pueblo, Italy, and Helena, MT with appropriate control comparisons).

Now for your global warming... as I argued here: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8188417&postID=3170524911359744058&isPopup=true
The consensus of scientific evidence is against you here.

Now what exactly are these scientists doing that is statistically invalid. Certainly, the real world often violates the assumptions of some statistical tests which may make the p-values inaccurate. That's why science relies on replication of findings! You know that scientists do take statistics classes right? And that they probably do know something about them? Now certainly not as much as a statistician, but they are not blind monkeys sitting at type writers.

Now the smoking ban itself. You make it sound like the big bad government is forcing this evil onto the poor helpless masses. Aren't most of these smoking bans passed by referendum? This means those poor helpless people are the ones deciding what they want their city to do! Isn't that part of democracy?

Now let's imagine this was something other than smoking. Let's say that I wanted to go out to restaurants and have sex on top of their tables. Now why shouldn't it be my right to do that? Now couldn't the specific restaurants say that they didn't want me to? Couldn't the people turn away and not look at me? Would the smokers be okay with me doing it as long as I let them smoke? There's a law against it. Why? Because there's no reason to do that in a restaurant! It's inappropriate and disgusting. Do it at home on your own time! Just like smoking cigarettes...

Ookami Snow said...

I am sorry to say, but of what I have seen most studies are flawed or at least misinterpreted by the media. However it is possible that they are still useful if the underlying fact is obvious enough that the truth can still be found even with bad statistics.

But the more I think about it, the more my problem is with non-statisticians doing complex statistics. It is true that all scientists take stat classes but it is sort of like this:

Say that people take a class on building houses. Now that isn't too hard, and if you mess up nothing too bad is going to happen. Now these people get out of school and their employers, or they themselves, realize that they don't need to build houses, they need to build skyscrapers. The basic principal is the same, but the execution is hugely different. For one the foundation of a skyscraper is much more important than when building the house. So these people who are not trained to build skyscrapers are tasked with building something that they don't really understand how to do.

Unfortunately some of these towers get built real high and they tell everyone about them and they get recognition, however the foundation is shaky and when people turn away the city inspectors find that they are unfit buildings.

This is what is going on. People learn just the surface of statistics and then are tasked with doing something very specific and specialized. They might have a basic understanding, but they do not fully understand the principals behind the methods. I would even go to say that undergrads in Statistics do not learn enough about the field to conduct actual, real world, everything doesn't work out nice, statistics. It was only in my grad classes that I learned really what effects the violations of the assumptions really did, and how to handle messy, real life, data.

But I think I have mentioned this before: I do not think that doing flawed studies are completely bad either. That is because if the truth is obvious enough it still will stick out. The problem comes in when something is obviously wrong and people can point that out, but no one listens.

As a side note the study on second hand smoke that I looked at, it was about causing cancer, which it does not. I do not doubt that it causes other problems, dust causes problems, I can't see how smoke would be better than dust.

This comment is getting long, so strictly speaking I think businesses should be the ones to decided what goes on in their property, smoking/sex on tables/whatever. However I would hope that people have the decency and respect of others not to do such things. And i would hope that patrons would have the will to not patronize businesses that allow something that they do not like. I stopped going to restaurants that were smokey, and there is no way that I would go restaurants that had people having sex on the tables.

Braveharte said...

I completely agree with you on the media frequently misinterpreting research. There will be a research study that says something like "there is a small correlation between living near power lines and cancer" but by the time the media gets done with it the headline reads "power lines cause death". In the general media, people don't understand the psych mantra of correlation does not equal causation. So the second hand smoke causing cancer is absolutely not proven, but there does seem to be a correlation between exposure and increased chance of lung cancer (very different things!). I've got to tell you that I really like the smoking ban here... and honestly I don't think that the smokers are that upset anymore... you get used to the new rules. I know that your problem with it is in the principle of it though.

So I was writing a lecture on eating and I thought of you... Why? So this goes back to your post about fat chefs and how you think that they are less discerning and therefore don't trust them. So it turns out that there is some research that shows obese individuals tend to be pickier eaters and will only eat highly palatable food. Bizarre huh?

On the puppy platform, I understand your concerns... that's why you should get an adult dog from the pound! :)

Ookami Snow said...

Oh we will get a dog from a rescue site. And I do not need to have a purebred either, they have too many problems.

I would have to take a look on the obese study, that seems counter intuitive, I wonder what the conditions of the study were?

And yes I will enjoy the smoking ban in Manhattan, I really do not like smoke and it annoys me when I have to sit next to someone that smokes. I just don't like the president it sets. I can handle eating fatty (or sugary) foods in moderation, however others can't, now we are one step closer to banning them.

Miss Mountaineer and Mr. Husker said...

Ookami --

In your comments about people not understanding how to do statistics.....AMEN, brotha!!

My take: I think that too often media/policymakers/scientists seeking grant money have a conclusion in mind, they do some statistics and STOP once they have something that matches their desired conclusion.

They don't look into it deeper.

Ookami Snow said...

That is a very good point. And that what was one of the problems with the second hand smoke causing cancer study. It was a compilation of many studies and every once in a while there would be something significant, however most of the time the results showed nothing. So chances are that the studies showing significance were found only by chance. So the paper ignored all the studies that found nothing and focused on the few studies that did find something.
Type I Error mayhap?