Friday, 2 September 2011

Truthiness and Scientific Research

In the comments on my blogpost about the latest move in 'abortion = insanity' game, I'm having a convo with an Anonymous who claims Priscilla Coleman's methodology is impeccable and I should read the study and not attack the messenger. Anon said Coleman would send me a copy if I emailed her. Anon didn't supply email address, though I suppose I could find it. But, as I said, I am not a statistician, so there'd be little point in my trying to figure how the figures were fudged this time. At this point, Anon hasn't answered my question about whether he or she is a statistician.

But Coleman belongs to a small gang of dodgy 'scientists' who are engaged in creating a body of pseudo-sciency literature to refute millions of person-hours of real research. In other words, they are just making shit up.

This con was spotted by PBS's Now back in July 2007. From the transcript:
[Senior correspondent Maria] HINOJOSA: It's a seismic shift in strategy...a carefully calculated effort to convince the public that abortion irreparably harms women. The Pro-Life movement has invested millions in a multifaceted strategy that embraces the language of the Women's Right's Movement, promotes questionable scientific evidence and seeks to portray women as victims.

There had been a recent Supreme Court decision restricting so-called late-term abortion that cited some of this bogus research.
HINOJOSA: Dr. Nada Stotland is president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association...we caught up with her while she was visiting her pregnant daughter in New York City.

DR. STOTLAND: It was a great shock to me to find out that—legislators and judges could write down anything they wanted whether it had a scientific basis or not. And, that Supreme Court opinion did not have a scientific basis.

HINOJOSA: Every year in the United States about 1.3 million women terminate their pregnancies. And while it's often a wrenching decision, most studies show that the vast majority of women suffer no long term negative mental health affects.

DR. STOTLAND: There is no such official psychiatric diagnosis despite attempts to produce what looks like evidence

HINOJOSA: In fact both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association—two giant mainstream scientific institutions—say there is no causal link: "Abortion in and of itself, is not associated with negative mental health consequences."

Got that? NO causal link.

Now, over to the pseudo side:
REARDON: It's in God's design that the woman and the child's best interests are intertwined.

HINOJOSA: But this man, David Reardon, says mainstream science is wrong.

He is the author of seven books on abortion. In 1996 he wrote, "Making Abortion Rare," often called the playbook for the pro-life movement's shift in focus.

Well, natch PBS wanted to interview him. But they couldn't get him so got Priscilla instead. Read her wriggle around on her association with the fetus fetishists.
HINOJOSA: David Reardon has not responded to our many emails and phone calls requesting an interview...however one of his frequent co-authors, Priscilla Coleman, a human development and family studies professor at Ohio's Bowling Green State University came to New York to talk about her research.

HINOJOSA: So you don't have a problem with the fact that David Reardon has a Ph.D. from an unaccredited university?

COLEMAN: It's—I don't have a problem with anything about David really, except for if, when we're working together, there's anything in the writing or the analysis that—that I don't agree with. I mean, I—all we do—we don't have discussions about pro-life issues. All we do is work on a paper together.

HINOJOSA: And you don't feel that your information—

COLEMAN: I know it—

HINOJOSA: —because you're so tied to David Reardon—


HINOJOSA: —is—is—

COLEMAN: —I'm not really tied to David Reardon. I've met him—

HINOJOSA: But you've published more than a dozen—

COLEMAN: Not that many—

HINOJOSA: —articles—

COLEMAN: —with him.

HINOJOSA: Well, actually, let's see. We have them right here.

COLEMAN: I don't think it's that many.

HINOJOSA: —the number of articles—that you have co-authored, and studies. One, two, three—we have 12 right here.

So when you have this level of collaboration with David Reardon—and—and people say, "Look, Priscilla Coleman is tied to the anti-abortion movement, we can't look at her science as being unbiased," you say?

COLEMAN: I handled the data, I analyzed it in a scrupulous way. We encouraged people to reanalyze our data.

And we've used—nationally representative samples, data that's been collected by other people—for other purposes that just happened to have the right variable repro—reproductive history and—various mental health outcomes.

And we're finding that—you know, approximately ten to 20 percent of women suffer severely from abortion.

HINOJOSA: Coleman and Reardon's articles have indeed appeared in peer reviewed journals, but that doesn't impress Nada Stotland.

DR. STOTLAND: This is another part of a deliberate effort. One of the—one of the parts of that effort is to accumulate as though you have more evidence if the stack of papers is higher rather than where are these people—people's papers being published? And, how good and how rigorous was the peer review?

HINOJOSA: This study by Coleman, Reardon and associates for instance appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and concludes that low income women who abort are more likely to need psychiatric care later...and even through the Journal's editors defended the decision to publish the paper - they said it generated a barrage of letters.

Several came from scientists, claiming the study's poor methodology rendered the results less than credible.

So when you, Priscilla Coleman, read the kinds of criticisms that say that your methodology is flawed—

COLEMAN: Actually, they don't usually talk about my methodology. They usually talk about—my co-authors who have been involved in—some of them have been involved in the pro-life movement. And so it's—it's usually not specifics about our studies that they're criticizing.

HINOJOSA: In emails, two prominent independent scientists, on a panel that is reviewing the scientific literature for the American Psychological Association told us the studies have "inadequate or inappropriate" controls and don't adequately control "for women's mental health prior to the pregnancy and abortion."

Ah, there's Priscilla, er, wriggling again. There was a major hoo-haw when the CMAJ published this tripe but to its credit the journal gave room to a respected scientist, Dr. Brenda Major, to demolish the methodology.

Ah, but all that is so long ago. Let's have a look at something more recent. This is from April this year.
Priscilla K Coleman, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, has, over the last few years, been the most prolific author of studies which purport to show a link between elective, induced abortion and subsequent mental health problems in women. Pubmed currently lists 21 papers on abortion and mental health in which Coleman is either a lead or co-author, a figure exceeded only by her sometime co-author and collaborator David C Reardon*, who currently has 25 papers to his name.

*Reardon’s output has dropped off considerably since 2004 following an article in the Washington Monthly by Chris Mooney which revealed that his claimed ‘PhD’ in biomedical ethics had been awarded by an unaccredited correspondence school that provided no classroom instruction. [1]. His most recent Pubmed listed paper dates to 2006.

In my previous articles on the evidence base relating to abortion and mental health, I’ve noted the strong criticism directed towards Coleman’s work and its methodological short-comings, the most serious of which have tended to be the use of inappropriate or inadequate controls and a general failure to control for women’s mental health prior to pregnancy and/or abortion. Coleman is part of a small clique of researchers, which includes David Reardon, Vincent Rue, Jesse Cougle, Phillip Ney, Martha Shuping and Catherine T Coyle, who are actively engaged in building a literature to be used in efforts to restrict abortion using methods which closely parallel those adopted by proponents of homeopathy and other so-called ‘alternative medicines’. The strategy in question is that of manipulating public opinion by creating a false perception of the strength of the scientific evidence which supports a particular hypothesis, such the efficacy of homeopathy or a causal relationship between abortion and subsequent mental health problems, based of the number of published studies which appear to support the hypothesis rather than on quality, validity and reliability of each paper’s actual findings.

The author goes on to demolish -- again -- the gang's methodology.

Now I'd never suggest that there is any kind of fraud going on. Maybe it's just some kind of irrremediable bias. And nothing, nada, zero, zip to do with money unlike the charlatan Andrew Wakefield, who totally fabricated the autism/vaccine connection. His work -- first published in the The Lancet, note -- was discredited, then more recently, was revealed by Brian Deer of The Sunday Times to be a lucrative fraud.
Research fraud happens, though rarely on this scale. The real tragedy is that many otherwise intelligent people have come to believe the purported MMR-autism link, and the health of a lot of children has been endangered as a result.

In Britain, childhood vaccination rates fell to as low as 80 per cent, allowing a return of measles, mumps and rubella. Thankfully, those rates are climbing back up again.

It is hard to imagine that the greed and arrogance of one man could do so much damage.

Hopefully, the diligent work of Mr. Deer has put the final nail in the coffin of Dr. Wakefield’s career of fraud and deception.

Synchronically, yesterday CBC's The Current had a piece on medical ghost-writing.
If you look at a scientific research paper, you probably assume that the person who signed their name to it is in fact the person who wrote it. But it turns out, that's not always the case. In some cases, the paper you're looking at was actually written by someone paid by a drug company ... a ghost-writer whose name is nowhere to be found on the final product.

Critics say this kind of medical ghost-writing taints the integrity of the results and that a medication's side-effects can end up being down-played or omitted altogether. It's not known how often this practice happens. But one study run by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that more than seven per cent of the articles in its own journal had unacknowledged contributions.

Again, prestigious journals duped.

To review: Coleman, P., et al., have a history and an agenda. Their methodology is continually questioned.

I have no doubt that this latest steaming pile paper will be demolished. Again.

Scientific journals have a duty to publish work that seems to go against accepted views. Fine. But they also have a duty to properly vet the work before it is published. Because, as The Lancet discovered, it really really smarts to issue a retraction.

Nonetheless, the media churns the SHRIEEEKING headlines out and people are confused and frightened.



Beijing York said...

The only peers that should be reviewing Ms. Coleman's work are fellow Home Economists:

The School of Family and Consumer Sciences offers undergraduate programs in Apparel Merchandising and Product Development, Food and Nutrition, Health Promotion, Human Development and Family Studies, and Interior Design. These programs prepare students for a variety of careers and professions and provide a strong background for students wanting to pursue advanced degrees. The School offers a graduate program with a specialization in Food and Nutrition.

Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Human Development and Family Studies

There you'll find that the majority of her publications are fixated on "post-abortion emotional sequelae".

At least the universities she attended are legit as is her CV. Her MA is in General Psychology and her PhD in Life-span Developmental Psychology (thesis on her favourite topic natch).

She's been an expert witness on a number of state cases against Planned Parenthood. She also founded and operates a non-profit called, Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training.

fern hill said...

Hee. I didn't check that stuff. Thanks, BY. She's got quite the bee in her bonnet, doesn't she?

If she ever took a stats course, it was obviously a loooong time ago.

fern hill said...

Go look at the photo of her here. That is an oddly aligned face. Reminds me of a fun-house trick that uses mirrors to show what looks like your face, but it's actually two left (or right) sides of your face put together. It's you, but it's weirdly NOT you. It's just 'off'.

deBeauxOs said...

Queen Priscilla is fixed for life, income-wise.

She will always find a gullible anti-abortion group willing to fund her truthy, fact-deficient ersatz-science studies.

Beijing York said...

Not to mention state prosecutors who wish to close down Planned Parenthood, and legislators who run to her for expert advice when drafting those ridiculous "must undergo counseling/ultrasound/exorcism before abortion procedure" laws. I believe she also does speaking [read: indoctrination] sessions for a fee.

fern hill said...

Here is the website for Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training, or APART.

It's apart, all right, from anything resembling truthy-facty-sciencey stuff. Coleman doesn't appear to be one of the principals, but her 'research' is featured.

Much fodder for future blog posts. Thanks again, BY.

Pseudz said...

We've been around this block before . . . from Wiki:

The Scopes Trial—formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and informally known as the Scopes Monkey Trial—was a landmark American legal case in 1925 in which high school biology teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach evolution.[1]

Scopes was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality and he was never brought back to trial. The trial drew intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to the small town of Dayton, to cover the big-name lawyers representing each side. William Jennings Bryan, three time presidential candidate for the Democrats, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow, the famed defense attorney, spoke for Scopes. The trial saw modernists, who said religion was consistent with evolution, against fundamentalists who said the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The trial was thus both a theological contest, and a trial on the veracity of modern science regarding the creation-evolution controversy. The teaching of evolution expanded, as fundamentalist efforts to use state laws to reverse the trend had failed in the court of public opinion.[2]

This isn't a case of "Lies, damned lies and statistics." Rather, this is an example of the subversion of one of civilizations proudest accomplishments - the scientific method. The scientific method is powerful, useful, and reliable only as long as it can remain amoral and implacable.

Coleman is risking bringing the entire structure into serious disrepute. The CMJA is in grave trouble, too. Can she be charged with fraud? Can the CMAJ be embarrassed enough to cause them to retract?

Niles said...

Ms Fern, there are classical art proportions for features on a face. Actual human faces tend to wander from those. Your photo of Ms Priscilla shows a lot of stretch vertically at the nose and parts south. I'm not informed enough to say if that's the model or the photo itself being skewed to fit some frame. In the long run, I expect it doesn't matter.

With anecdotal ad hoc evidence pointing to insistent homophobia being a cover for homosexually inclined politicians, I sometimes wonder if the people involved so feverishly in 'proving' surgical/deliberate abortion of a foetus causes mental breakdown in the previously pregnant woman have psycho-emotional neurological problems and have 'found' a cause to blame it on.

They are just blaming deliberate surgical/external intervention abortion right? They're not blaming having a trauma or biological system induced abortion are they?

Or is any woman whose system causes a foetus to be expelled, at any stage of the projected pregnancy, whether she was conscious of the pregnancy or not, going to suffer neurological damage?

If yes, than does simply having a biological system that renders or could render pregnancy unviable mean the woman possessor is neurologically damaged?

If yes, how can we be certain any woman alive of reproductive age and older is neurologically sound?

Does this explain why the legislators,(who seem to include the same gay-hating homosexual legislators mentioned earlier) who -- being overwhelmingly men and not women of reproductive years -- feel compelled by their rational and neurologically sound minds to restrict adult women as if they were feeble minded dolts?

Odd, how they then feel women, who are not ever agent enough to decide if they should bear children or not, should be the main daily labour custodian of children born into their custody and presume they will raise the children as good citizens. The boys anyway.

Given all of the above, I'm not sure how a mere woman like Ms Priscilla can be considered a good source of information on a matter, whatever her accomplishments proving a woman's place is in the home pleading for an epidural. Perhaps that's why she had to co-author articles with a man on a subject where a woman is at best a case study. However discredited he is, he is still a man and therefore more 'serious' a scientist.

Beijing York said...

Niles, she does make it clear that she is focus on "induced abortion" and does not include "spontaneous abortion" in her study. I think a bonfide scientist would want to compare the two types of abortions and impact on mental health.

Being barely a social scientist with a wee bit of qualitative statistical flexibility, I would be inclined to test the assumption that spontaneous abortions make some women sad and others deliriously happy. Again, you would have to examine a number of variables that might influence the outcome such as frame of mind: wanting to be pregnant, ambivalence about pregnancy or dead against it.

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