Claim: 21st century US droughts increased death rate


A textbook example of epidemiologic abuse — a data-dredged, non-correlation correlation (a reported 1.55% increase in mortality) with no medical/biological data to back it up.

How did “drought” in the US kill anyone? Was someone overly upset that their lawn turned brown? Maybe that they had to ask for water in a California restaurant? What? If this is not fraud, then the researchers are so stupid they should be straighted-jacketed for their own safety.

The media release is below.


Drought linked with human health risks in US analysis
Increased mortality and cardiovascular disease observed in US analysis


A new Yale-led study reveals a distinct connection between drought exposure and adverse human health among older adults.

In a retrospective study of health claims for 618 U.S. counties over 14 years, researchers found that severe drought conditions increased the risk of mortality among adults 65 or over. They also found that individuals in places where droughts were rare, such as counties in Minnesota, showed a larger risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease compared with counties where drought is more common.

“There’s a lot of research on how different kinds of environmental disasters — such as forest fires, hurricanes, air pollution, or heat waves — impact human health, but the most widespread natural disaster is drought,” said Jesse Berman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. “And yet there’s been limited research looking at the health impacts of drought — particularly here in the U.S.”

“For this study we looked at a large geographic area over multiple years, encompassing different types of environments, and many drought periods. And even with all of this variability, we still observed an association between drought and health effects.”

Michelle Bell, Professor at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and senior author of the study, noted, “These findings are critically important given that climate change is anticipated to increase the frequency and severity of droughts.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

For the study, the researchers examined U.S. Drought Monitor data compiled across 22 western states from 2000 to 2013. They identified periods of periods of “non-drought,” “full drought,” and periods when droughts were “worsening.” In the case of periods when droughts were worsening, they further broke down the drought days into “low severity” and “high severity.” They then used Medicare claims made between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2013, to calculate daily rates of cardiovascular admissions, respiratory admissions, and deaths among individuals 65 and over.

From there, the researchers estimated the percentage change in health risks during drought compared to non-drought days (controlling for daily weather and seasonal trends).

According to their findings, respiratory admissions decreased by 1.99 percent during full drought periods. But when drought escalated to periods of “high severity worsening” conditions, the researchers found, mortality risk increased by 1.55 percent. In counties where droughts occurred less frequently, both mortality and cardiovascular disease risk increased during worsening drought conditions.

This study does not address how drought specifically triggers these health outcomes. However, one possibility is that drought changes growing seasons or impacts the allergens that influence respiratory illnesses. Dry conditions also trigger more dust and particulate matter in the air. Then there are the mental health-related stressors associated with drought, including for farmers or ranchers whose livelihoods are affected by dry conditions.

While further research can examine these different factors, Berman said, the new findings provide an important basis. “Because this was an initial study, we wanted to capture as wide a picture as we could and not isolate ourselves to a tiny snapshot,” he said.

The good news, Berman says, is that droughts, unlike other extreme weather events, are slow moving. “Since health risks appear to increase with drought severity, you have time to enact clinical interventions to help avoid some of these adverse health outcomes,” he said. “Once we’re able to identify the mechanisms behind these effects, we can intervene before drought reaches that severe stage. Other environmental hazards, such as heat waves, occur without warning and we are not afforded this opportunity.”

“I am so delighted to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the Yale and the Hopkins teams to conduct such important study,” said co-author Francesca Dominici, Professor of Biostatistics and co-Director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.


11 thoughts on “Claim: 21st century US droughts increased death rate”

  1. Australian “permanent drought” update:
    2008: “IT MAY be time to stop describing south-eastern Australia as gripped by drought and instead accept the extreme dry as permanent, one of the nation’s most senior weather experts warned yesterday.

    “Perhaps we should call it our new climate,” said the Bureau of Meteorology’s head of climate analysis, David Jones.

    BoM Drought report, issued April 5, 2017:
    “March rainfall was above to very much above average across the east of Australia, extending across eastern Queensland from around Townsville southwards and into central and eastern New South Wales. Severe tropical cyclone Debbie was a major contributor to above average monthly rainfall in Queensland and northern New South Wales. Numerous monthly and daily rainfall records were set in Queensland and New South Wales, with significant flooding ensuing.
    Rainfall was also above average for southwestern Victoria and far southeastern South Australia, and across large parts of Western Australia.”

  2. I recall reading once (it might have been Richard Feynman) something to the effect that any alleged “study” that degenerated into including “possibilities” as a basis for its conclusions automatically relegated itself to the trash heap of junk science and should be ignored.

  3. The press release includes the admission: “This study does not address how drought specifically triggers these health outcomes.”
    If the study cannot state how drought caused this, how can they claim that drought had anything to do with health problems?

    The release then goes on to list several possibilities (they mean: guesses) as to why drought had this claimed effect. Meaning–the study told us nothing so we need to make something up to justify all the money spent.

  4. Not a mention in the research that the elderly population is increasing at a much higher rates than other age cohorts, thus, definitely resulting in a higher rates of deaths for those 65+? I wonder why Yale’s School of Public Health abstained from participating in this study. Maybe they didn’t want their name attached to bad science.

  5. I remember once reading a tongue-in-cheek “study” that reported a strong correlation between coal production in Manchester, England and some obscure variable “fact” in Indiana or some such place, the purpose of which was to clearly show that correlation statistics can be used to manufacture results to fit preconceived objectives.

    I’m now ashamed to admit that I’m a graduate of the Yale
    School of Forestry, even though it was before they added the “and Environmental Science” and became a hotbed of progressive, left wing, socialist save- the-planet tree huggers.

  6. Nothing can increase the death rate, it’s been at 100% for the entirety of history.
    All that can possibly happen is a reduction in average lifespan.

  7. Well . . that’s interesting (fake news). Obama’s Dec 2014 National Climate Assessment (thanks to Roger Pielke, Jr. for the research) made it clear that:

    “There has been no universal [worsening] trend in the overall extent of drought across the continental U.S. since 1900″

    But, as Obama preached to us:

    ” . . we also know that in a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it – more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes. .”

    Good riddance, Obama.

  8. In An area where there’s a water shortage a person might be inclined to drink more beer. Alcohol and driving do not mix so the potential for a death behind the wheel is increased so you could say a drought would increase the mortality rate.

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