JAMA’s Discredited Alcohol Articles
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has a long history of publishing articles with old data, inadequate research methods, unsubstantiated conclusions or other failings. It does this when such studies support its political or other agendas.
In promoting its abstinence-oriented agenda, JAMA publishes articles that are so weak and inadequate as to be of no value. For example, JAMA published an article on the exposure of alcohol advertisements by adolescents and youth. The study
examined advertising placements in a sample of 15 magazines from July 1997 to July 1998. However, the authors used the holdings of a local high school library and did not attempt to obtain missing issues for some of the magazines. Instead, they simply estimated the total number of ads based on the issues available at the high school or expanded the sample to include 1998-1999 ads for a few popular magazines. (The possible effects of this inconsistent sampling was not discussed in the article.) ….
In their reported results, the authors simply provide a tabular ranking of the magazines according to the estimated number of alcohol and tobacco ads, which fails to account for other differences in readership demographics, such as the number of adult readers. 1
Because of this serious sampling problem, it’s hard to imagine how any reputable scientific journal could ever accept this article for publication.
Another JAMA article on the subject examined the frequency of alcohol advertising in 35 major magazines during a five-year period. However, the study suffers from even more serious methodological inadequacies. Not surprisingly, a re-analysis of the data makes it clear that nothing valid can be concluded from the study. 2
Both studies lack reliability and validity, but they are very useful in promoting the AMA’s neo-prohibitionist goals.
JAMA doesn’t restrict the use of junk research to promote the reduction of alcohol consumption. To support its understandable position against smoking, the JAMA has published blatantly defective, even nonsensical research. 3
Similarly, the journal published a fatally defective study claiming that in states with laws requiring safe gun storage, accidental deaths of children by gunfire was 40% lower. And it published this defective and misleading study to appear shortly before the vote on a law in Washington State that would have required trigger locks on all handguns sold or transferred. 4 Good political timing.
In 1999, Bill Clinton was about to be tried in the U.S. Senate for, among other things, allegedly denying under oath that he "had sex" with Monica Lewinsky. Crucial to his defense was his allegation that oral sex (fellatio) didn't constitute "sex." Just before the trial began, JAMA published a study titled "60 Percent of Those Surveyed Do Not Define Oral Sex as Having 'Had Sex.'" The impeachment trial was clearly irrelevant to the contents of a medical journal. And although the study was highly flawed and almost a decade old, it was very useful in promoting JAMA’s political agenda. 5
When it comes to JAMA articles on controversial issues, the best prescription is Reader Beware.