“What’s your sign?” is not a question you’d expect to hear from your family physician, but the dubious science behind some modern statistics may soon make health reports seem as credible as horoscopes.Prominent medical researcher Dr. Peter Austin recently investigated and analyzed the astrological charts of 10 million people. Using standard statistical methods, his study concludes that each of the 12 zodiac signs is linked to increased risks in multiple medical disorders. For example, Pisces are at greater risk of heart failure, and Libras are more susceptible to pelvic fractures. In a February 16 press release Austin explained the purpose behind his tongue-in-cheek report:
Replace astrological signs with another characteristic such as gender or age, and immediately your mind starts to form explanations for the observed associations … Then we leap to conclusions, constructing reasons for why we saw the results we did. We did this study to prove a larger point — the more we look for patterns, the more likely we are to find them, particularly when we don’t begin with a particular question.
Austin makes a point to differentiate between credible findings and unscrupulous studies. In order for most theories to gain scientific consensus, many other researchers must replicate and re-prove the results. The real target of Austin’s criticism is trendy research — often touted by agenda-driven activist groups — which relies on quick observational methods in a single experiment to reach a (later disproved) conclusion.A recent article in The Economist even notes that “if such a study tests many hypotheses, the likelihood its conclusions are correct may drop as low as one in 1,000-and studies that appear to find larger effects are likely, in fact, simply to have more bias.” Luckily, the Center for Consumer Freedom works tirelessly to rebut this misinformation, discrediting an overblown CDC obesity fatality report and highlighting the medical community’s rebuff of mercury-in-fish hype.