Buzzfeed or Research Study?

The Telegraph has a report on a new study  that attempts to divide people in to 4 different types of drinkers, based on how alcohol affects them.  The four types are:

  1. Hemingway
  2. The Nutty Professor
  3. Mary Poppins
  4. Mr Hyde

My first thought was “this sounds like a Buzzfeed quiz”.  So I went looking, and found that yes, Buzzfeed has actually done this quiz.  Oddly, the Buzzfeed version has way more boring names for their classifications.  OTOH, they probably used more interesting gifs…though to be fair I haven’t seen the study questionnaire to verify.

When I went to actually read the study, I realized that they actually kicked it off by citing Buzzfeed-esque clickbait headlines.  So basically, a study inspired by Buzzfeed headlines ends up sounding like a Buzzfeed headline, and the research version was more creative than the Buzzfeed version. Whoa.

R&C: Drinking and Work

It’s been a lovely couple of weeks (months….almost a year really) at work, and I’ve been starting to ponder the effect of your job on your drinking.  Or the effect of drinking on your job.  Sometimes both at the same time.  I digress.

This week, I picked a paper called Job Strain and Alcohol Intake, A Collaborative Meta-Analysis which looked at the literature to see if high stress jobs were associated with higher drinking.



One of the most interesting parts of this paper was how they defined a “stressful job”….basically it was demanding jobs where you had very little control over your work.  By this metric, my job is not actually that stressful.  I’m not sure control inoculates you against stress the way they think it does, but I suppose it’s better than the alternatives.

I do not think it means what you think it means….

Oh teamwork.

I sat in a fascinating talk yesterday about some pretty interesting team failures.  One in particular stuck out to me: two teams, working on the east and west coast, funded by a huge grant from the NSF.  One team was tasked with building a database, the other was going to populate it with all of the data.  A year’s worth of work later, it was discovered that the two teams had never clarified what they meant by several words (including the word data) and that the whole thing was completely useless.  
Now, there are several lessons in that story, but one of them is the importance of knowing what certain words mean to the people who are saying them.  This can be a big issue in reading research and interpreting data, especially around popular public health type issues.  There are many issues….”rape” “excessive drinking” “binge eating” and “substance abuse” to name a few….that people tend to believe there is one hard and fast definition for.  When reading studies on these things, always verify that the authors definition matches your own.  In looking for good examples of this, I found this report on some drinking statistics that were being floated around a few years ago.  

A new study from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) claims that adults who drink excessively and youths who drink illegally account for over half of the alcohol consumed in the United States, and that the alcoholic beverage industry makes too much money from these groups to ever voluntarily address the problem.

 The article goes on to point out that if you look at the data, “excessive drinking” was defined as more than two servings of alcohol in one day, with no respect for height, weight, or frequency.  I somehow doubt this is the picture most people got when they read “adults who drink excessively”.

This comes up a lot in studies that have psychiatric diagnoses attached as well.  I have a friend who works with eating disorders who gets annoyed to no end that you can’t technically call someone anorexic until they’re 15% under a healthy body weight or have had their period stop, even if they stop eating for weeks.  Not many people know that up until this year, the FBI defined rape as something that could only happen to women.

Things to watch out for.