Results being “due to” causes somehow doesn’t imply causality

So, last week I had the pleasure of enjoying this delicious meal while exploring some backstreet neighbourhoods in Muscat, Oman. See can you guess what the green stuff is…


Here’s a closer look…


And here it is listed on the menu:


Yes! It’s brains! In a Masala! Ideal for zombies whose palates appreciate a bit of kick.

Actually, it wasn’t human brains. What we have here is the grey matter of a goat. But it still tasted lovely, though. Nicer than most goat dishes I’ve tried, and certainly nicer than goat’s cheese.

I guess this means that I’m even further away from being a vegetarian than ever before. I’ll never reach vegetarianism at this rate.

But maybe that’s just as well. I mean, while we often think of vegetarianism as being a healthy life choice, take a look at this, from the UK’s Independent:


You see? “Scientists say” that vegetarians are eating themselves into an early grave, and blighting their foreshortened lives with depression and misery:

Vegetarians are less healthy than meat-eaters, a controversial study has concluded, despite drinking less, smoking less and being more physically active than their carnivorous counterparts.

A study conducted by the Medical University of Graz in Austria found that the vegetarian diet, as characterised by a low consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol, due to a higher intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products, appeared to carry elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Hmm. A “controversial study“, eh? Sounds like a bit like an advertisement for the meat industry.

The study’s authors have already defended the research against claims that their work is simply an advertisement for the meat industry.

Oh. I thought the study implied that vegetarianism resulted in all these adverse outcomes.

Study coordinator and epidemiologist Nathalie Burkert told The Austrian Times: “We have already distanced ourselves from this claim as it is an incorrect interpretation of our data.”

You mean you didn’t imply cause-and-effect?

“We did find that vegetarians suffer more from certain conditions like asthma, cancer and mental illnesses than people that eat meat as well, but we cannot say what is the cause and what is the effect.”


“There needs to be further study done before this question can be answered.”

Then what about this statement in the abstract of the paper that you published on this study, the one that led to all this media coverage, and all these questions from irate vegetarians?

Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health…Therefore, public health programs are needed in order reduce the health risk due to nutritional factors.

Health risk due to nutritional factors.” How is that NOT implying cause-and-effect?!

Looks like a slippery case of say-X-to-get-published, say-Y-to-actual-people. It happens, you know. Hard and all as it is to believe.

Ah, the joys of professional science publishing!

You need brains for that…

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One Comment

  1. Peter Cahusac


    In the study by Pan et al (2012) Red Meat Consumption and Mortality, ARCH INTERN MED
    – amount of red meat consumption is inversely related to % with hypercholesterolemia. See Table 1, true for both the health professionals and the nurses studied. Why? (this is not commented on by the authors)

    So wonder whether vegetarians are more likely to have hypercholesterolemia?

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