Saturday, July 22, 2017

Today in misleading, dangerous, overselling of the microbiome - UNC on babies and cognitive development


Uggh. Was pointed to this on Twitter:

In baby's dirty diapers, the clues to baby's brain development | EurekAlert! Science News

And I read the PR and made a quick Twitter response but decided to fill that in here a bit.
Basically the study being discussed found a correlation between the microbiome in babies poop and their cognitive development. There are 100s of possible causes for such a correlation. But the press release misleading went on about how their work suggests they maybe able to somehow intervene to guide development by manipulating the microbiome. Ridiculous.

Here are some problematic quotes


  • "In baby's dirty diapers, the clues to baby's brain development"
    • Not really any clues providing in this work towards brain development. They have an interesting observation. It is unclear if it provides any insight into brain development.
  • Findings from the UNC School of Medicine shed light on the surprising role of bacteria in how our brains develop during the first years of life
    • No no no no no and no. They do not show ANY role of bacteria in how brains develop.
  • Our work suggests that an 'optimal' microbiome for cognitive and psychiatric outcomes may be different than an 'optimal' microbiome for other outcomes."
    • Oh #FFS. They do not show in any way what is or is not an "optimal" micro biome. They have a $*(#($# correlation. That is it.
  • Though the findings are preliminary, they suggest that early intervention may hold the key to optimizing cognitive development.
    • Well sure if you use the term "may" generously here they may hold such a key. But if you want to use it generously then these results may also suggest that UNC may be a dangerous place to bring babies because some of them may get a defective microbiome there which may lead them to have cognitive problems. You see, the findings in this work actually do not really suggest anything about early intervention at this point. Ridiculous to even suggest it.
  • One was that when measuring the microbiome at age one, we already see the emergence of adult-like gut microbiome communities -- which means that the ideal time for intervention would be before age 1."
    • No not really. Even if intervention was actually indicated here (which again, it is not) this does not mean that the time to intervene can be determined by looking at where they get an "adult" like micro biome. Because they have no mechanism here. It could be something in the baby and adult microbiome that is doing this (again, assuming there is a causal connection which there is not one shred of evidence for).

And then this is the worst.
"Big picture: these results suggest you may be able to guide the development of the microbiome to optimize cognitive development or reduce the risk for disorders like autism which can include problems with cognition and language," said Knickmeyer. "How you guide that development is an open question because we have to understand what the individual's microbiome is and how to shift it. And this is something the scientific community is just beginning to work on."
What the living #$*@(#(@? Now they are suggesting that their results say you may be able to optimize cognitive development and reduce the risk of autism. All from a simple correlation for which they have no clue whether there is any mechanistic connection. Offensive. Dangerous. Ridiculous. Sad.




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