Chance News 34

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One more fagot of these adamantine bandages is the new science of Statistics.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Fate from The Conduct of Life (1860, rev.1876)


The following Forsooths are from the February 2008 issue of RSS NEWS.

Twenty-six new cases of the inflammatory lung disease sarcoidosis [were seen amongst rescuers] in the first five years after 9/11. Five or fewer rescuers got sarcoidosis anually before 9/11.

New York Daily News
21 September 2007.

Actually, I like the Poles' second idea even better. Instead of re-enacting a battle, they suggested, the summiteers should re-sit advanced level mathematics. Voting weights should be based on the square roots of the member states' populations. (Pocket caclulators allowed.)

The next two forsooths were suggested by Paul Alper

Much of the data on overweight people and obesity are limited, equivocal and compromised.

Patrick Basham and John Luik in BMJ, Volume 336, page 244, 2 February 2008

The adverse effects of obesity on health are well established, serious, and causal.

R.W. Jeffery and N.E. Sherwood in BMJ, Volume 336, page 245, 2 February 2008

I didn't major in math, Huckabee said to the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting, according to the Associated Press. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them.

Telomeres Tell A Lot

Conventional wisdom, indeed wisdom of any form, indicates that physical activity, a.k.a. regular exercise, is good for you. In particular, intuition would imply that the risk factors for age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis would be reduced if people were engaged in physical activity. To make a direct connection between ageing and physical activity, consider a paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Vol.168, No. 2, January 28, 2008), “The Association Between Physical Activity in Leisure Time and Leukocyte Telomere Length” by Cherkas, et al.

“Telomeres consist of tandemly repeated DNA sequences that play an important role in the structure and function of chromosomes.” Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is a proxy variable for one’s biological age as opposed to one’s chronological age. That is, the longer one’s telomeres, the younger one actually is. Conversely, the shorter the telomeres, the more aged.

This study measured the telomeres of 2401 twins who were put into four mutually exclusive categories of physical activity: “Inactive,” “Light,” “Moderate,” and “Heavy” corresponding to “16 minutes, 36 minutes, 102 minutes and 199 minutes” physical activity per week, respectively. The result after adjusting for “Age, sex, and extraction year” was that the “LTL of the most active subjects (group 4) was an average 200 (SE, 79) nt [nucleotides] longer than that of the inactive subjects (group 1)” producing a p-value of .006. The biological implication is “that the most active subjects had telomeres the same length as sedentary individuals up to 10 years younger, on average. This difference suggests that inactive subjects may be biologically older by 10 years compared with more active subjects.” When more complete information was available concerning BMI (biomass index), smoking and SES (socioeconomic status) this reduced the number of subjects to 1531 from the 2401; the LTL difference increased to 213 nt and the p-value increased to .02. Below are a summary table and Figure 1


1. The article states, “The results of this study can be extrapolated to other white individuals (men and women) of North European origin.” Find a biologist or a helpful librarian to determine whether it is suspected that non-whites have different telomere lengths and/or have a different distribution. If so, what does this imply about telomere length and ageing?

2. There were about nine times as many women in the study as men. Why might this be a concern?

3. Something important is missing in Figure 1 and its absence serves to magnify the average difference. What is it?

4. The subjects in the study were twins and therefore, attracted extra lay media attention. Six of the ten authors are affiliated with Kings College, London. From the Kings College website, “Comparing the telomere lengths of twins who were raised together but take different amounts of exercise, reduces the effect of genetic and environmental variation and so provides a more powerful test of the hypothesis.” Obtain the article and reference #21 to determine why twins as subjects as opposed to non-twins are sort of beside the point.

5. There was a “discordant twin-pair analysis” performed “as a further confirmation of the larger analysis.” A paired 2-tailed t test for 67 twin pairs, separated by at least a two category difference is displayed in Figure 2. What defect does it share with Figure 1? Why is it even more misleading given that a paired t test is being done?

6. The article states, “A limitation of this type of study is that physical activity level was self-reported.” Why might this be a limitation?

7. Assume there is a positive association between LTL and physical activity. Give an alternative explanation to physical activity causing greater telomere length. Give another alternative explanation.

Submitted by Paul Alper