Blog: Olly WehringWill the real scientists please stand up?

Olly Wehring | 30 July 2008

Another day, another pile of public money thrown onto the proverbial bonfire in the name of scientific research.

A researcher in the US has come to the inspired conclusion that young people who consume energy drinks regularly (that's on six or more days per month) are more likely to have unsafe sex, get involved in fights and take illegal drugs. They're also more likely to ride in cars without fastening their seatbelts.

This is because energy drinks encourage people to take risks, says the study from the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA). Or is it that risk-takers are attracted to energy drinks? The press release finds it hard to decide.

Nearly 800 male and female undergraduate students were surveyed.

By a similar token, I could argue that people who drink expensive cocktails are more likely to buy frivolous luxuries such as shoes and handbags, rather than, say, give their money to environmental charities.

Perhaps a US government organisation would like to pay me US$471,000 to investigate. After all, that's how much the National Institute of Drug Abuse dished out for this energy drinks survey.

I'm not getting into the arguments here about regulation on energy drinks and their various ingredients – and there are some serious ones to be made on both sides. This blog is about bad science. I'm sure the RIA findings have been honestly reported, but is there really a causal link here?

It seems that every day the world wide web is packed with new studies, either claiming one thing or disproving the other but always masquerading as proper science. Flooding the world with this fluff is really not going to help regulatory authorities, and often only degenerates into mud-slinging between opposing groups.

Of course, it can also be used as a cheap space filler for some of us lot in the media.

At least RIA study author Kathleen Miller PhD was sensible enough to include a qualifier in her report: “Although energy drink consumption can be used to predict other problem behaviours, it does not necessarily follow that drinking these substances is a gateway to more serious health-compromising activities.”

She added: “It is entirely possible that a common factor, such as a sensation-seeking personality or involvement in risk-oriented peer sub-cultures, contributes to both. More investigation is needed to study these relationships further, over longer periods of time.”

Judge for yourself readers: Energy drinks linked to risk-taking behaviours among college students


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