Astrology, aspirin and your heart

One of many things to warm to from Richard Peto's appearance on The Life Scientific (the programme radio with the title odd)...

...was a re-telling of his argument with The Lancet when publishing findings about the beneficial effects of aspirin and other drugs in heart attack patients.  Huge trial, uncontrovertible results, practical implications: great stuff:

During the first 5 weeks there were 804 (9.4%) vascular deaths in the aspirin-allocated group compared with 1016 (11.8%) in the placebo control group.

The benefit is modest, but clear and if followed everywhere, as it was, could save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide.

The editors or reviewers responded with a request to analyse sub-samples of the data set, to see, for example, if the patients who benefitted were all or mostly male, or old, or middle-class, or...

That seems plausible, but to go back and re-interrogate the data for additional results is bound to show something, although this may be a mere consequence of doing lots of analysis (the problem of multiple testing), and Peto was opposed in principle to this sort of data dredging.

In the end, Peto and his colleagues agreed to perform and publish the requested analysis, but first, they performed and published an analysis by star sign:

subdivision of the patients in ISIS-2 with respect to their astrological birth signs appears to indicate that for patients born under Gemini or Libra there was a slightly adverse effect of aspirin on mortality (9% SD 13 increase; NS), while for patients born under all other astrological signs there was a strikingly beneficial effect (28% SD 5 reduction; 2p < 0-00001).

As they say, if you torture the data long enough, they'll confess to anything!

But if the results were significant for some biological or social sub-division that fitted our assumptions, would we be so quick to laugh?

Full story in readable format:

Original article:





Comments about SHEU

"I would like to say how much we appreciated the work you and your team have put in to this project, a big thank you for the excellent reports that you have completed on our behalf." Assistant Director of Public Health

Assistant Director of Public Health

"SHEU data proved the best source of the kind of information we were looking for (...) to provide research support to the National Healthy Schools Programme." 

Department of Health

...our analyst here in Public Health- is beside himself with excitement about all the juicy data pouring in...he can't wait to get his hands on it!!!!
He is happier than I have seen him for years.

Public Health Principal

"I really appreciate the professional service which SHEU offers.  We have had a great experience working with Angela on the school surveys." 

Health Improvement Specialist

"Many thanks to SHEU for your excellent professional support over the years."

PSHE teacher

(Our) Senior team were very enthused with the rich source of data provided within the reports (and thought that the analyses including within the appendices section of the main reports were really interesting).

Health Improvement Specialist (Children, Schools and Families)

"I would like to say that this survey was very useful and made me realise things about PE and health that I had never realised before......Food at school is groovy, especially if your school does Jamie Olivers School Dinners. Viva apples and thanks for the survey." Female pupil, 13 yrs old

Female pupil, 13yrs

"Thank you from my staff to you and all your staff. The speed of 'turn-around' of the questionnaires is outstanding in anyone's terms." Headteacher


"We were talking about (the SHEU survey) data at our recent NSCoPSE Conference, for PSHE advisers and consultants. It would be really helpful if some of this powerful data and the trends could be shared in the consultation around the PSHE Review. Colleagues shared their very positive experiences of (the SHEU survey). It provides excellent evidence of behaviour change for children and young people and of the impact of PSHE and wider interventions."

Personal and Social Development Consultant

"As a result of the survey we reviewed and amended PSHE schemes of work, we are currently working on a "Green Travel Plan", a morning breakfast club was established and we further developed 6th Form mentoring."

Health Education Coordinator