Study ‘proves alcohol causes cancer’. The problem? There wasn’t a study

A new study has proved that alcohol causes cancer according to the front pages of the Guardian and the i today. The i adds the kicker that the study shows that the ‘supposed health benefits of a glass of red wine are now “irrelevant”‘.

The study was published in the journal Addiction and the only problem with it is that it isn’t a study. It’s a comment piece. It doesn’t contain any new research, nor does it contain statistical analysis of previous research. It’s not a meta-analysis or a systematic review. It is a short essay in the ‘For Debate’ section of the journal in which one woman gives her opinion about whether correlation equals causation when it comes to the epidemiological evidence on alcohol and cancer.



For what it’s worth, I happen to agree with her that the associations between drinking and cancer in certain parts of the body, particularly around the mouth and throat, are sufficiently strong and consistent for us to be able to cry causation. I also think the strength and consistency of the associations between moderate drinking and lower mortality risk are solid enough for us to do likewise. The author of the op-ed, who seems to be no fan of booze, is more sceptical about the health protective effect of alcohol on the heart and this, presumably, is why her article is in the ‘For Debate’ section. The benefits of alcohol consumption continue to be hotly debated in some quarters.

My criticism is not of her, but of the media. How have we got to the stage where the opinion of a single academic from New Zealand, writing in the commentary section of a specialist journal, becomes front-page news for two British newspapers? How can these newspapers justify describing an op-ed as a ‘study’ and someone’s subjective view as ‘proof’?

It’s not as if this has been a slow news month. Has the silly season already begun?

  • Jankers

    Never let experts get in the way of a story.

  • disqus_izKB2mVZ9T

    HUffington Post was so quick to copy the Independant they didn’t think to check the Spectator first.

  • Sean Mcelgunn

    I swear, another opinion posing as fact. Why is this okay????

    • fundamentallyflawed

      Facts are irrelevant… If it fits the narrative that the great unwashed need to be told what to do its fine

  • Airwine

    New norm: if you get a lot of likes or re tweets you are right. Otherwise, who cares? Real Science is dead.

    • ernie whalley

      As is real journalism

    • jatrius

      I so want to like your comment but I don’t wish to run the risk of invalidating it.

  • Richard

    good work
    It’s a bad time that so called studies get debunked
    Keep up good journalism

  • Monello

    It has been proven that all of the terrible chemicals added to wine for fake flavors and color and the incredible amounts of fungicides sprayed directly onto the grapes cause cancer big time and many other diseases. This calamity has been revealed by the foremost agencies in Europe. It is also common sense.

    • Rod Smith

      Really? Who’s proven this exactly? Can you provide any studies, articles or evidence?
      Adding “fake” colo(u)r to wine is illegal in every wine producing country. I am quite sure the authorities would like to know which producers (of whom you are so obviously aware) are doing this in order to prosecute them.

      • Cbor Sody

        You may get additives with some lower end wines….these are usually byproducts of the winemaking process which are repurposed to provide color enhancement, or body to a wine. Most fungicides stop being applied after verasion (onset of color change), as at that point, the sugar content in the grapes is usually high enough so that mildew no longer grows on the fruit. Usually there is about 2.5 months with no spraying, and there is no real residual fungicide left at that point. Also, the most common fungicide is sulfur, which is part of most organic programs… is also very inexpensive, hence why it is widely used.

        • TheRealTruthSerum

          Wow! A factual, informed, detailed, and non-snarky post to answer a question on a comment section. Brother (Sister?), where have you been hiding?

          PS: Thanks for the education. I used to tend bar and knew none of this.

          • Cbor Sody

            : ) Bartended for many years too. Own a vineyard and small winery for a number of years. Also sell grapes to a number of wineries, so share best practices with them on a regular basis. There are always going to be outliers in any industry who do not follow best practices, or who do cut corners. There is actually a movement to put labeling in place for wines in the U.S. though I believe it will not be any time soon. Similar to the spirit industry. The biggest chemical which is normally called out for wines are sulfites, which are used as a stabilizer and an antioxidant. Since most of our wines are done in smaller batches, we can closely monitor sulfite levels, and use the bare minimum to avoid any spoilage issues (think vinegar). White wines usually have a higher level of sulfites than reds…….larger producers may also treat with higher dosages as they are dealing with tanks that are 10,000 gallons, and err on the side of caution. Many people think they may allergic to sulfites, but formal studies seem to show mixed results. Some people are actually sensitive to the tannins in red wines which they attribute to sulfites… high levels, sulfites can definitely have a negative impact, like headaches, etc. At higher levels, you can actually smell sulfites in wine, similar to a book of matches, so would not recommend drinking anything that smells of matches. In my humble opinion.

          • Monello

            There is no evidence that sulfites cause headaches. None. What causes headaches in wine is the terrible overuse of new oak barrels with hundreds of very bad chemicals. Also all the other bad chemicals added directly to wine. Wine for centuries, without added chemicals, was used to cure a headache. Natural wine (not chemical added wine) has similar properties to an aspirin.

          • Nate

            I know significantly more about wine than I did before I read these two posts of yours.

          • TheRealTruthSerum

            Good to know. I like the red wines better than the whites. But I like beer even better 🙂 It seems like allergies are the devils of the day now and everybody has at least one. I remember a Penn & Teller special where they went to a college campus with a petition to ban Di Hydrogen Monoxide (H2O).The few that asked about the side effects of DHM were told: excessive urination, sweating, abdominal bloating, Every person that approached their booth signed. etc. It was funny and pathetic at the same time.

            Maybe you can tell me if this story is true: I heard that French wine makers back in the day would walk along any new land they were thinking of cultivating and scoop up the dirt and actually taste it. Supposed their palates were so sensitive they could taste which soil was the best for growing grapes. Even if this is a load of garbage I can’t get the picture out of my head of a herd of Frenchmen walking up a hill eating dirt as they go. Monty Python should have used this.

      • Monello

        I’ve answered this on this site in detail derived from the most important agencies and studies in the world and from many, many tests — from fungicides to barrel chemicals to chemicals added in the fake industrial wine making process — most of them dangerous and carcinogenic. And they don’t have to be revealed on the bottle like all other food and drink! Very, very bad.

        • Rod Smith

          Your saying something doesn’t make it true. Which ‘agencies’, ‘tests’ and ‘details’?
          Accusing people of adding dangerous carcinogens to products for sale is an incredibly serious allegation for which you repeatedly fail to provide any evidence.
          Just because you want to believe something, does not make it so,

    • disqus_IKhcXxawuV

      And Santa Claus touches his nose to activate the tiny hummingbird wings that lift him up the chimney.You can cite which European agencies right? And the WHO has the mortality data right? And the alcohol in wine is safe, but all the other stuff is dangerous right? And all those French who drink 4x the wine as Amercans per person all die young right?

      • Monello

        This is just for starters. It goes on and on.

        French Wine Test Finds Pesticides
        in Each of 92 Bottles Analyzed

        Laboratory testing of 92 French wines from across the country found pesticide traces in every
        bottle, including those made from organically-grown grapes, leading consumer organization UFC-Que Choisir reported.

        “By drinking a glass of wine, you have every chance of unknowingly swallowing a few micrograms of these pesticide residues,” Que Choisir wrote. “No wine today escapes the pollution by plant-protection products applied to the vines.”

        Health-risk assessments for pesticides are generally based on toxicology studies for a single product, without taking into account cumulative effects, Que Choisir said. “there is a worrying lack of research into the accumulation effect and how the molecules interact with each other. It is possible that the presence of several molecules combined is more harmful than a higher
        level of a single molecule.”

        The biggest pesticide count was found in a bottle of Bordeaux from 2010 priced at 10.44 euros, with 14 chemicals detected,followed by a 3.75-euro 2012 Bordeaux with traces of 13 products, according to the report.

        • Monello

          And more!

          A study of French wine (Excell) says that nine out of every ten bottles contain pesticide/fungicide traces. (just as bad in Napa)

          The study tested 300 French wines for pesticide/fungicide residue. Pascal Chatonnet, the leader of the study told Decanter ‘there is a worrying lack of research into the accumulation effect, and how the molecules interact with each other. ‘It is possible that the presence of several molecules combined is more harmful than a higher level of a single molecule,’ he said.

          • Monello

            So Santa Claus and Rod, I hope you’re getting the message. It gets even worse when you
            realize that almost all the wine (?) you drink derives from GMO grapes which are
            the root cause of all the disease problems that then demand incredibly excessive
            use of fungicide poisons in your wine.

          • disqus_IKhcXxawuV

            Wow. You are really in the deep end. How do you manage to avoid tripping over all the dead bodies caused by apricots and orange cauliflower and Honeycrisp apples, not to mention all the wine poisoned corpses.

          • Monello

            Why don’t you just read the facts and deal with science? We are in a terrible factory-food culture in this country which has now made us the most unhealthy in the industrial world. Not long ago we were the healthiest. That was before we were adding up to 3,000 ugly chemicals to our bodies that never existed before in our food supply. It is people like you who deny science and facts and hide from the obvious truth. Before the dead bodies we have the obese bodies, the diabetic bodies, and the dementia bodies — all epidemics now thanks to these chemicals. Maybe your doctor will explain this to you. Enjoy your chemical soup in the meantime!

          • Cbor Sody

            and by the way……there are no real GMO vines in use today in traditional commercial winemaking. They are in development, but current regulations would not allow them to be labeled as traditional varietals ( Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.) as it would be a net new grape type. Might be under a generic red or white designation. Not into any holy wars on this topic…..personally I would not use them either. Just wanted to ensure the facts were presented. I can see you are very passionate about health.

          • Monello

            And I know you don’t believe there is Global Warning. There is science and then b.s. that you are stating. FDA Regulation of GMOs. Genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms (“GMO”s, or “GM foods”) are defined as those in which “the genetic material (“DNA”) has been altered in such a way that does not occur NATURALLY.” GMO in grape vines are unnatural grafted mutant hybrids of different conflictive species. It has been proven in tests and in practice overwhelmingly (look at Napa!) that there is an alarming lack of mineral and nutrient uptake, poor disease resistance, weed-like over-vigor, distorted grape bunches, unnatural berry size and color — a host of problems difficult to overcome, if even possible to ever remedy.

          • Cbor Sody

            You are so funny. You read as many articles as you have to until you find the desired results. Classic fear mongering. Grafting is not modifying the genetics of the plants. Grafting has been done for hundreds of years, you know, like when everything was perfect according to you. The good ol’ days when we had the organic plague, natural small pox, polio, TB etc.

            Rootstocks that are used today are done to combat a root louse called Phylloxera. It wiped out the majority of the vines in Europe in the late 1800’s (which were NOT grafted vines). There are multiple types of rootstocks, and you select them based upon the type of soil and vigor needed. The “issues” you comment on in your post are typically due to farming practices, or trying to grow the wrong grape type in the wrong climate. I have “fixed” a number of vineyards that had these same issues. Most were simply overwatering, under watering, or spraying at the wrong time…..yes, even spraying organic fungicides at the wrong time can cause issues with fruit set and the like. Unnatural berry size is not a desirable trait in wine grapes. In table grapes, this is indeed done by using growth regulators such as Gibberellic Acid or Forchlorfenuron. Nothing I would ever consider using.

            If you never listen, you will never learn. Try to at least open your mind, or you will go through your whole life misguided. You need to understand when you have an opinion versus a fact. You do not know the wine or grape growing industry. Please stop posing as an expert. I work in this industry and do not consider myself an expert….I am always trying to learn more to gain knowledge in my field, versus starting with the end state, and then working backwards to find supporting documentation.

            You can now have the last word, and tell me how misguided I am. I do believe in global warming by the way…..and our vineyards are almost completely organically farmed.

          • Monello

            There is nothing you can tell me about the history of how the GMO vine came about that I don’t know. GMO has created the viticultural downfall of Napa. The vine diseases Red Blotch and Leaf Roll plague Napa and Sonoma causing vines to last only a few years before being pulled up and destroyed. And as reported by UCCE at UC Davis there has also been a huge surge in the vine-killing illness Pierce’s Disease in 2015. Viticulture experts in both Napa and Sonoma counties report “an alarming increase in the number of
            vines being destroyed due to Pierce’s last year, including in areas where they haven’t seen the disease before, raising anxiety levels (and financial pain) among local vintners.”

            “Now every 10 years you have to pull everything out and replant,” says the eminent Chuck Wagner, who owns Caymus Vineyards in Rutherford. He describes how this excessive replanting hurts a winery’s economics and is problematic from an environmental standpoint. It also robs a vine of its legacy: “farewell, old-vine cuvees.”

            This concern is also voiced by the likes of Andy Beckstoffer and others that such a short life span is now typical and In Napa a vineyard lasts 9 years or so and needs replanting.

            Since it takes 4 to 5 years to obtain decent fruit, a vineyard now in Napa has only 2 or 3 years of grape production, then the vines are in decline and quickly gone. A vine can last 100 years and for centuries wine quality was connected to vine age — 30 to 40 or more years being the ideal. Napa can no longer be considered a viable wine region.

            You call yourself organically farmed and you use mutant GMO vines?! That is completely phony and makes a mockery out of organic!

        • disqus_IKhcXxawuV

          So how long is your list of things you won’t eat or drink due to small amounts of pest fung codes?
          Do you only consume what you grow ? What are the thresholds and amount of wine a person needs to ingest before hitting cancer?

          • Monello

            Not small amounts! Incredible amounts! Not listed on the label. And boosted big time by alcohol! This all gets into the brain. Ask your doctor the effect! It sounds like to me you already have the effect.

          • disqus_IKhcXxawuV

            What is your source of info now on amounts? And what do wineries add ? Yeast and enzymes and color agent made from other grapes. What else. What amounts. Why. Why no big news publicizing? Just you alone in the comments section of a rebuttal article . Are you related to the great Spanish explorer Quixote?

          • Monello

            Everything else you eat or drink has to have the added chemicals listed so you can make a choice if you do not want dangerous chemicals in your body. But not so with wine — getting away with murder! And worst of all — the chemicals in wine compound and are further boosted by the alcohol!. And why must we have these added chemicals in wine? Never had them for 8,000 years. The wine at the Last Supper did not have added chemicals. Get educated!

  • Carroll Price

    Nothing unusual about it. Today’s typical headline would read: Caring fisherman rescues evil fish from drowning”

  • anagdul

    Simple. If you can get enough “experts” to agree that something is probably true, it becomes an established fact, like Anthropogenic Climate Change. No need to deal with any of that tedious real “Science” stuff any more.

  • Almost Handy

    There’s nothing any worse than a reformed drunk, which I suspect this Bimbo obviously is.

  • Vinny Gracchus

    Why the surprise, propaganda replaced actual science decades ago in the prohibitionist wing of the ‘healthist’ cult! After all the risks of second hand smoke are outright fabrications and the risks of actual smoking are severely overstated. The temperance crew has been on overdrive trying to ban alcohol and tobacco in order to force their neo-puritan beliefs on others. This is another example of the denormalization they have been perfecting with attacks on smoking.

  • Some Rabbit

    Two Japanese studies have demonstrated (in vitro) that alcohol activates plasminogen in the blood which in turn dissolves clots. This may account for alcohol’s cardiovascular benefits.

  • Mike

    My encounter with this story started with headline that said: “scientists say…..”

    That phrase alone warns me of bad science journalism. As if these ideas are automatically accepted by the entire scientific body, with no consenting views.

  • EKeller

    Traditionally, August is “The Silly Season.”

  • Jeff

    Gated Communities

    Gated communities are taking on an important role in modern politics. Donald Trump grew up in a gated community, and made his fortune building gated communities that illegally exclude African-Americans. Trump’s approach is not based on ideology, but on consumer demand, and in particular, the demand of the working class to live in a place where there are no minority groups, criminals, wierdos or politically correct (Catholic educated) people.

    A gated community has a number of characteristics. There is ideally a six metre high concrete wall to keep out intruders. When the wall surrounds a very large number of houses, the average cost of the wall becomes insignificant. Getting past the security guards is like going through customs. Hence there is no crime in a gated community, and children can roam unsupervised in complete safety. Parents can be sure their daughters will not encounter males that would be unsuitable sons-in-law.

    Allotments are typically quarter-acre or five acres (one-tenth or two hectares). Houses are fireproof and of a similar appearance. Services are provided by underground ducts, including pneumatic mail delivery. Television and internet are unobtrusively censored.

    There is a shopping centre with a supermarket and other key shops. Prices are controlled to prevent gouging. There is a club for men and older boys from which women are excluded. On the top of the shopping centre is a hospital and old people’s home overlooking a race track and playing fields.

    There is a non-denomination church, which has leather sofas instead of pews, and wallpaper with pictures of saints like in an eastern orthodox church. The priest is a family man employed by the management committee. There is a co-educational school, so that if children conceive a passionate desire for a classmate, it will be someone of the opposite gender. The school has international baccalaureate and no homework.

    Once people move into a gated community, it occurs to them that, instead of their having to move into a gated community, it would be better if the “undesirables” were forced to live in ghettos, or were kicked out of the country altogether. No doubt this is what Donald Trump has in mind. The Conservative Party should take on board this trend in modern living and become the party for people who live or would like to live in gated communities. en

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