Mediocre science meets deplorable journalism

You may have heard the latest news about certain frozen meals, e.g., Lean Cuisine, and fast food restaurant meals having many more calories than advertised (of course, some have less to, but that's gotten much less attention).  Here's the press release.  I first learned about this story watching ABC news on Friday night (can't find the video) in a story in which they hyped the fact about particular meals having 20-30% more calories than labeled.  The take-home seemed to be, watch out for these particular products.  Only at the end of the report do them mention that these findings were from a single sample of the product.  Wow!  How could this even make it as peer-reviewed science?  Answer is in the press release– the investigators were interested in the accuracy or calorie labels for overall product lines, e.g., all Lean Cuisine meals, or Wendy's Value meals, not particular items.  From this perspective, it is reasonable to say that Lean Cuisine under-estimated calories by XX% on average.  Still think it would have been a good idea to multiple samples of the same item, but given what they were concluding, this was reasonable.  Count on a brain-less press to run with this and give advice on each item based on single samples.  That ought to fail a middle-school science project.  Yet there it was on the national news.  Sad. 

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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