7.3.17

SO MANY THINGS TO RAGE AGAINST.

The social justice warriors are now after Amtrak to get rid of the Angus Cheeseburger in the dining car. "Amtrak’s Angus burger is so good that it’s worth lurching your way to the Café Car as the train (even the popular 'Fast Pig' Acela Express) is engaging in excessive lateral motion through no. 20 turnouts that need some serious attention."  The food gets more attention than the tracks, but not in a good way, thanks to something called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  (I think that acronyms as NKVD, but I digress.)  And here's how they phrase it.  "Amtrak: Protect Passengers’ Cabooses from Processed Meats, Says Legal Petition."  That leads Railway Age editor W. C. Vantuono to engage in some rivet-counting, particularly over the use of the term "caboose" (it's colloquial for "tush") and over the risks to a rail passenger.

I want to rivet-count the statistical inference provoking the petition.  "The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found an 18% increased cancer risk per 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. Researchers also observed associations between red and processed meat products and stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers."  Phrased that way, it sounds scary.  But suppose the baseline is 100 cases of cancer in 250 million people?  A slightly larger serving each day correlates with 118 cases; double the serving, now you're at 136, and with a sample that big, the outcome probably has a publishable p-value.  But can any one person affect his or her chance of cancer by skipping the Angus burger on a train trip in any meaningful way?  Doubtful.  And perhaps the associations between red and processed meats and those cancers has less to do with the meat consumption per se and more to do with the fact that people well off enough to eat meat are not dying of malnutrition or pellagra or dysentery, and thus living long enough for cancers to develop?

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