Claim: Coal plant emissions cause low birth weight babies

I wasted $6 on this junk study so you don’t have to.

Click the headline image (below) for the scare by WaPo green stenographer Darry Fears.

The study abstract is below.

Some comments:

  1. Near-zero correlation is not causation; it is zero.
  2. Were these ‘researchers’ to examine a number of power plants, they would find both slightly positive and slightly negative correlations — which would all balance out to zero.
  3. There is no biological plausibility or evidence to support this claim.
  4. Birthweight is a complex phenomenon that is more plausibly caused by myriad and individual factors not considered by these ‘researchers.’
  5. The real purpose of this study (as headlined by the WaPo) seems to be to attack the notion that wealth has anything to do with health.

7 thoughts on “Claim: Coal plant emissions cause low birth weight babies”

  1. I investigated this article after seeing this blog. I found a number of scientific papers analyzed by the American Chemical Society that show that the soil, water and air is contaminated with carcinogens, genotoxins and heavy metals up to several miles downwind from the power plants that release them. The levels of contamination are proportional to the distance from the power plants and are related to wind directions. Controlled studies with rodents show that these same coal emissions cause neurological damage and DNA damage. A number of studies also show that trees and other plants are also adversely affected by emissions. Several published epidemiological studies I looked at also suggest that human and tree health improves when the power plants stop burning coal and convert to another energy source. So the hypothesis that emissions from coal-burning power plants can adversely affect human development is not implausible. Birth weight is one biomarker for developmental disorders.

  2. When I read this story, I laughed because of the definition used. They didn’t look at an absolute number, they looked at the difference. If my wife could do it over, she would have rushed to live downwind of a power plant to decrease the birthweight of our children. Neither would have noticed 160gram loss.

    Innumeracy is everywhere.

    I forgive the researchers a tiny little bit. I have been on the wrong end of “That report doesn’t say what I want it to say!” They could never get me to falsify the data. They did get me to plot the 2nd derivative instead of the raw data though. I was terrified that someone would recognize the duplicity of the slide. No one did.

    I can’t say I have done well since. I should have embraced the deception and ran with it. I tried to embrace honest numbers. Honest numbers don’t make people happy. People who say “No” aren’t the ones you want to hire.

  3. John D is correct. This is an unusually stupid study. But the researchers will feel no embarrassment or shame. After all, this is how they make their living and the laugh is probably on us—the taxpayers. There are almost unlimited possibilities for such nonsensical “studies” by dredging the large number of data sets available and making correlations that are “statistically significant”. Rest assured that those with political and/or economic motives to do so will continue as long as there are funds to finance them and professional advancement to be had by virtue of the number of publications achieved.
    Perhaps someday truth will win out and there will be a generally accepted revelation that all epidemiologic “studies” are scientifically worthless. My optimistic side feels this may come about although I may not live to see it. We should all be grateful that Steve Milloy and others have dedicated themselves to scientific truth.

  4. What a stupid study. You would think anyone would be too embarrassed to release this.

    But, it was in WaPo so that explains a lot.

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