One of the great mysteries of modern times is how "researchers" pick their targets.
Do they wander around supermarkets looking at the various items on display and decide that yes, they really must test toilet paper for carcinogens, or whether using a particular type of dish washing brush will cause Spina Bifida?
Picture the scene – a crowd of unemployed researchers have been out scouring the countryside looking for inspiration and they meet up in a pub for a few bevvies to drown their sorrows. After, they naturally go fo a curry [as one does], and as they sit there fanning their mouths after a grand strong Vindaloo they have a Eureka moment. "I know", says one. "Lets see if curries make you live longer!"
Now this is a perfect subject. They all love their curries [particularly after a few bevvies] so it is a simple case of proving that curries improve longevity, and naturally, that they reduce the risk of cancer. After all, no study is ever complete without mentioning cancer somewhere along the line. Even if you are studying the trajectory of asteroids, you still have to give cancer a mention somewhere, otherwise your research is useless.
So they draw out a questionnaire. We don't want to waste money we don't have on laboratory equipment or any of that shit, and anyway questionnaires are so easily slanted to get the results we want. Who cares if the respondents lie through the teeth? We can always "adjust" the figures we don't like to take that into account. Then all we have to do is bang the numbers into our iPad and Bob's you uncle – research done and all we have to do is write a startling conclusion.
Yes. Curries prolong life.
People who ate spicy foods three to five and six or seven days a week were at a 14% reduced risk of death. Note that they don't say "three or more times a week" as "three to five and six or seven days a week" sounds more precise. And who says researchers have to be literate anyway?
So there you go now. If you like curries you have a better than one in eight chance of never dying. Presumably if you munch through two Vindaloos every day you will live beyond eternity?
However we must play it safe. We don't want to be discredited so we stick in a little note saying that we must caution against linking any of these with lowering the risk of death.
So we have proved something and then tell people not to believe our proof. What is the point in that?
So, should people eat spicy food to improve health? Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge says in an accompanying editorial that it is too early to tell.
She calls for more research to test whether these associations are the direct result of spicy food intake or whether this is a marker for other dietary or lifestyle factors.
Ah! Surprise, surprise.