Science by anecdote and false balance

A rather strange article by Shari Roan in the Health section of the Los Angeles Times titled A bit of tarnish on marijuana’s benign reputation

Ooh, I wondered, what dire medical study has been misinterpreted just in time for the final weeks before Prop 19? What is this “bit of tarnish,” then?

But, with a $5,000-a-year habit and chronic bronchitis, she tried repeatedly to quit. About a dozen times over the years she checked in alone to a hotel in Desert Hot Springs to white-knuckle herself through nausea, sweats and tremors.

Yep. They found some crazy lady with a $5,000-a-year pot habit. That’s not tarnish, that anecdote. Guess what? I found a crazy lady who has 130 cats. Doesn’t really say much useful about whether people should be allowed to own cats.

The meat of the article, if you can call it that, was another re-hash of the litany of health concerns while trying to strike a false balance in most instances.

Even Keith Humphreys made a cameo appearance as he chucked a random straw man into the article’s murky depths.

One particularly solid bit of research was the part about cannabis and driving:

The science of marijuana becomes murky when one steps beyond addiction statistics to examine effects on health.

A series of studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published in 1998 found that the effects of marijuana alone on driving were small or moderate, but severe when combined with alcohol.

But other studies show little impairment from a moderate dose: A 2004 study in the journal Accident, Analysis and Prevention found no increased risk of motor vehicle accidents causing traumatic injury among drivers using marijuana.

“Even after smoking, there aren’t any real deficits in driving ability that we can detect in the laboratory,” said Mitch Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany who serves as an advisory board member at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Exactly. Other than the part about driving after drinking alcohol, it’s pretty much unanimous that marijuana and driving is not a serious issue.

Except the next line is:

The data on lung damage and smoking-related cancers are similarly mixed…

Wait. Similarly mixed? As in… not at all? Where was the mixed data on drugged driving in the article?

And then…

The data on lung damage and smoking-related cancers are similarly mixed, in part because a large portion of heavy marijuana users also smoke tobacco, which muddies the picture of marijuana’s effects.

No, the data on lung damage and smoking-related cancers are not mixed. Not unless you ignore the definitive study of its kind conducted by Tashkin at UCLA and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That study accounted for tobacco use, unlike the tiny study in New Zealand that the drug prohibitionists like to quote, since their own big definitive study failed to produce the cancer they hoped for.

Like I said. A strange article. Not an all bad one, as there are plenty of good points in it. But to hang it on one woman’s addiction, and then use the false balancing technique, for each point (whether there existed balance or not).

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16 Responses to Science by anecdote and false balance

  1. Cannabis says:

    The comments on the story are pretty good and are worth reading. I really appreciate being able to have commentary and analysis like Pete’s available, too.

  2. Jon Doe says:

    Given the outrageous price of black market cannabis $5000 a year isn’t that exorbitant. That’s only a little less than $14 a day, about the price of a gram on the street (though, if this woman actually exists, she probably bought in bulk and smoked more a day). As for the chronic bronchitis, well that just means she needs to invest in a vaporizer.

  3. Ben says:

    Seriously, $5k per year is less than an ounce per month on the East Coast.

  4. darkcycle says:

    Nausea, sweats and tremors? Flatly impossible, outrageous and a lie. What did she do, eat a plate of bad shrimp before she stopped smoking pot? Because, baby, it wasn’t withdrawl that caused that. Marijuana cessation does not cause physical symptoms. Agitation and a little sleep disruption are the worst it’s ever done to anyone. This lie was fabricated out of whole cloth.

  5. darkcycle says:

    The LA times sight won’t take my comments.

  6. Jon Doe says:

    Darkcycle: Exactly. What did this woman do, mix in a little heroin with her pot?

  7. warren says:

    Sad. If you put these spin doctors in charge of propaganda a country would never have to fire a shot to win the next war and next and next and next and next.

  8. Kyle says:

    My feelings on this article are also ‘mixed’: I think it’s crap.

  9. Servetus says:

    Complaints about the Shari Roan piece can be forwarded to the LA Times at:

    No guarantees a comment will be published. But at least readers’ displeasure at Roan’s ineptitude when it comes to drug topics, as well as her amateur misrepresentations of cannabis physiology, will reach at least one editor.

  10. Just me. says:

    …she checked in alone to a hotel in Desert Hot Springs to white-knuckle herself through nausea, sweats and tremors…

    What the hell kind of drug was she using? It sure as hell wasnt cannabis, I personally have started and stopped consuming cannabis many times and NEVER had any side effects ofther than maybe not sleeping quit as good as I did after taking a couple puffs before bed.

    The data on lung damage and smoking-related cancers are similarly mixed, in part because a large portion of heavy marijuana users also smoke tobacco, which muddies the picture of marijuana’s effects.

    How many test did they conduct on those who just consumed cannabis? I for one had many problems with bronchitis when I was a tobacco smoker and cannabis consumer. When i quit smoking tobacco but , continued to consume cannabis, all my problems with bronchitis disappered along with many other health problems I was having.

    The facts show that cannabis consumption on its own has very little negitive side effect, much less than tobacco , alcohol or any other subtance.

    Yep, they are going to pour on the stupidity now.

  11. the fact that such trash is still making it into mainstream media is a sign of just how much work we still need to do.

  12. primus says:

    This article highlights why MSM is becoming irrelevent; they have already lost credibility, and even when the facts are plentiful and easy to find, they still can’t get it right. The sooner they disappear the better.

  13. ezrydn says:

    MSM newspapers are good for only one thing, lining the bottoms of my Cockatoo cages. Skip looks at the pixs, then he marks the articles he doesn’t like. So far, he’s got a full spread.

  14. Duncan20903 says:

    Did you know that if you go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and tell them you’re ‘addicted’ to cannabis, that the other members of the group will make fun of you and haze you mercilessly? Well at least they did back in 1990 or 1991. The first question the NA people would have pounded her with is demanding to know if she had ever sucked cock in an alley or under a bridge just to get $10 to get her buzz on. I decided to pass on asking whether they had done that because they sure treated it as if it were prerequisite. Sorry, but it’s the way it is, NA members are really nasty people on average.


    @Just me, I like to remind the know nothings from time to time that smoking isn’t required in order to introduce cannabinoid medicine into the patient’s body. I was seriously amused when they made last week’s medibles bust. Naturally they’re marketing to children. The only carriers we’re allowed to use are meadow muffins or nuclear waste from North Korea. I’ve seen some none too bright children that were fascinated by meadow muffins so that might not even qualify. It makes me wonder if these prohibitionists lost their sense of taste when they turned 21.

    I’ve made a list of cannabis delivery methods.

    You can put it in food and swallow it. This category includes drinking a liquid like bhang.

    You can make a tincture and take it under your tongue.

    With a little bit of help from a real medical R&D lab transdermal patches and eye drops could be developed. Hey, the eye drops thing is news to me in the last couple of weeks. You know I suppose you could probably turn it into a spray and take it nasally. Simply fascinating IMO.

    You can make a salve and apply it topically. Very beneficial for severe burn victims living with too much scar tissue. That gets might uncomfortable when you have suffered 3rd degree burns over 50% or more of your skin. This particular method of delivery requires a lot of cannabis and is reported to not get you high.

    Hey, speaking of severe burn victims, is everyone aware that maggots are an FDA approved medical device for severe burn patients? You see maggots only eat necrotic flesh, they won’t touch living tissue. The most common cause of a burn victim dying is infection, if the patient made it to the hospital alive. The most common cause of infection in burn victims is necrotic tissue that the doctors didn’t or couldn’t remove. So buy a cupful of FDA approved medical grade maggots from an FDA approved medical maggot vendor and sprinkle them into the burned areas. It’s FDA approved! Leeches are also FDA approved medical devices. This one comes in handy when a know nothing says **”there’s no such thing as medicine that you smoke.”** Well heck, in 2002 you could have said there’s no such thing as medical device that is a necrotic tissue feeding insect larvae, or a medical device that’s a blood sucking worm.

    There are reports from some men that a topical salve is a cure for male pattern baldness.

    You can use a vaporizer to inhale minimize the number of chemicals you want. Vapor produced at the optimal temp has 5 chemical constituents, with 2 being THC and CBD. Research done at the University of California proves that vaporizing is safe.

    In the area of non-smoked routes of cannabis administration, Dr. Donald Abrams’ study, “Vaporization as a ‘Smokeless’ Cannabis Delivery System,” has been completed and the results published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. This study found that vaporization was a safe and effective mode of delivery. Two CMCR clinical trials are now in progress utilizing vaporization

    Chief Executive Liar Emeritus for the ONDCP John Walters put his royal seal of approval on the CMCR when he was still Chief Executive Liar of the ONDCP. Why is it so many anti-drug zealots think that when they appoint these blue ribbon committees that they’re going to produce results of which the hysterical propagandists will disapprove? All the way back to the India Hemp Commission in 1894 they’ve been periodically appointed and always came back with an answer that the idiot know nothings don’t like.

    Another delivery mode is that you can make a suppository and take it anally. Much quicker uptake into the body than medibles, people puking their guts out can still use this method, supposedly you absorb almost all the THC and CBD through the walls of the colon as compared to routing it through your digestive tract which can leave up to half what you’ve eaten not digested. This method is great for traveling and long airplane flights. We should probably anticipate and cheer the development of Preparation M. I must say I’m not sure that we should share this method with the know nothings. It just might make them switch sides. When I do share this with the know nothings I make sure to remind them that it’s cruel to get your gerbils high.

  15. Duncan20903 says:

    @brian bennett “the fact that such trash is still making it into mainstream media is a sign of …”

    Hey brian, I think you’re misinterpreting what is going on here. Consider this point of view: Newspapers are going the way of the buggy whip manufacturers. They are literally in their death throes and still alive enough to want to survive.

    Some of the smarter editors have found if they prime the pump with stupid cannabis lies that the potheads show up and fill them in on the facts, which stimulates the know nothings to sign on to insist that they’re fantasy world is real, and a vigorous debate ensues causing them to rack up lots of page views. If they were to publish with a point of view slanted our way we’d give them a thumbs up and go about our business.

    I can’t seriously believe that as many professional journalists as we’re dealing with are stupid enough to fall for the scam. They’re just using us as a life preserver. The ironic thing is it’s giving us a platform to get the truth out, so I’m willing and pleased to throw them a line. In the long run though it doesn’t matter to their business prospects, they are dead men walking.

  16. Duncan20903 says:

    I flew into Oakland a few years ago, and when I got on the shuttle to the hotel I met a man decked out in Boston Red Sox promotional paraphernalia from head to toe. I was unable to resist telling him that it seemed he had gotten on the wrong airplane and ended up in Oakland when he obviously wanted to be in Boston. Well, he did know where he was, as he followed the Red Sox from town to town to watch every single one of their games, and the Red Sox were scheduled in a match against the Oakland Athletics that day. Seriously, how does it benefit society for a man to fly from city to city to watch professional athletes chase after a ball?

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