Monday, December 5, 2016

Aschwanden's "You Can’t Trust What You Read About Nutrition"

Fivethirtyeight provides lots of beautiful pictures of spurious correlations found by their own in-house study.
At the heart of this article are the limitations of a major tool use in nutritional research, the Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). The author does a mini-study, enlisting the help of several co-workers and readers. They track track their own food for a week and reflect on how difficult it is to properly estimate and recall food (perhaps a mini-experiment you could do with your own students?).

And she shares the spurious correlations she found in her own mini-research:

Aschwanden also discusses how much noise and lack of consensus their is in real, published nutritional research (a good argument for why we need replication!):

How to use in class:
-Short comings of survey research, especially survey research that relies on accurate memories
-Spurious correlations (and p-values!)
-Correlation does not equal causation
-Why replication is necessary

Also included is an amusing video that shows what it is like to be a participant in a nutrition study. It details the FFQ, or Food Frequency Questionnaire. And the video touches on serving sizes and portions, how how it may be difficult for many of to properly estimate (per the example) how many cups of spare ribs we consume per week.