May 10, 2017

Bombs away

Q: Did you see the Jagerbombs ‘as bad as taking cocaine’ headline in the Herald?

A: Doesn’t sound all that plausible. What’s a Jagerbomb? Is it like a Molotov cocktail?

Q: Apparently it’s Red Bull with Jägermeister.

A: Well, I don’t think I’m in any danger of drinking that.  How did you get the little dotty things over the ‘a’, by the way?

Q: If you hold down the ‘a’ key they pop up as an option (on a Mac). Like the Māori long vowels. But we nearly digress. Is a Jagerbomb really that dangerous?

A: Well, the story goes on to quote the researcher saying “I wondered if they were having a similar impact but to a lesser degree”

Q: And are they?

A: For suitable definitions of ‘same’ and ‘lesser’. And ‘were’.

Q: ಠ_ಠ

A: The research (no link given) looked at whether combining alcohol and energy drinks led to people getting injured more.

Q: That’s not the first thing you think of as a risk of taking cocaine. And how did they do the comparison? Recruit undergraduates with poor taste and give them Jagerbombs?

A: No

Q: You’re not going to say ‘mice’, are you?

A: No, what they did was go to the library and find all the previous studies of alcohol and energy drinks and injury, to review and summarise them.

Q: Is that useful?

A: It can be very useful. You can’t keep all that information in your head even if you’re a qualified Jagerbombologist.  Systematic reviews are a great innovation in modern medical research.

Q: So, how does the risk of injury compare to the risk with cocaine?

A: They didn’t look at that.

Q: Oh. Ok. So how big is the risk?

A: They didn’t come up with anything quantitative, because the previous research studies hadn’t been done in a similar enough way

Q: Did they come up with anything?

A: Yes, the results “suggest support for a relationship between increased risk of injury and [alcohol with energy drink] use”

Q: That’s not all that strong.

A: No.

Q: Was there a stronger relationship than just with alcohol on its own?

A: They say “some studies did not differentiate between injuries occurring in alcohol-only sessions relative to AmED sessions, making a comparison of the risk of injury between alcohol and AmED use impossible.

Q: Even if there is a difference, couldn’t it be that the sort of people who drink Jagerbombs or rum and Coke are different from people who drink beer, or cosmopolitans, or Sauv Blanc?

A: “Although the results remain mixed in terms of whether impulsivity or risk taking may moderate the relationship between AmED use and injury risk, there is enough evidence to warrant further exploration.”

Q: That all seems very reasonable.

A: The actual story isn’t too bad, either. Just the web-front-page headline.

Q: Wait, doesn’t the headline punctuation imply ‘as bad as taking cocaine’ is a quote? When it totally isn’t?

A: Yes. Yes, it does.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »