This is sloppy, risible science. A new paper finds that Pill use in different countries correlates with incidence of prostate cancer. Here is an extended version of a rant I had on Twitter.

1) You may have noticed that people who take the Pill don't have prostates. Their suggestion is that Pill use -> higher oestrogen levels in the environment or drinking water -> higher prostate cancer risk. The problem is that both of those links are tenuous as hell and they haven't made any efforts to substantiate them. Did they actually measure oestrogen levels in the environment to see if they correlated with either of those things? No. Because that would be too close to actual work. They also say that this mechanism is “plausible” without providing a reference. Which means they pulled it out of the air. Lots of studies produce correlations that aren't necessarily causative, but if you don't have the first clue about a mechanism that could plausible explain your result, perhaps it's time to find one first?

2) There are all sorts of things that vary between countries that could affect these results and it's good to see that they accounted for all of them. They adjusted their stats for GDP and... wait, that's IT? Give me a break.

3) What the hell do national boundaries have to do with anything? If this mechanism is at all plausible, the variation would be at the local or regional level. Why compare national differences? Because it's easier.

4) They say study is "speculative" and “hypothesis-generating”. That's a common refrain with these sorts of "ecological studies". It is a fancy way of saying "so shallow as to be useless”. No, these studies can't prove causation on their own, but the evidence they provide is so pathetically weak that they could equally well have generated some hypotheses by shouting them to the winds.

5) Rubbish like this is a complete insult to scientists in fields who actually have to do significant work before they can publish a paper. Just think of how much effort goes into your average neuroscience or molecular biology or behavioural ecology paper - months, probably years, of experiments, pernickety reviewers, and more. And these folks just clumsily mash together two data sets, found a correlation that they can't explain, and publish it?? Thanks. Thanks a bunch.
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