Figures lie and liars figure

Most of us frequently read mainstream media “science news” articles that make startling assertions about this or that. And, with very few exceptions, the assertions made in those articles are not supported by data included in the article, nor even by a link to the original paper.

For example, I read an article the other day that claimed that sitting for 6 hours or more per day greatly increased the likelihood that one would die young. Furthermore, said the article, exercising regularly did not offset the harmful effect of sitting for 6 hours or more per day. Presumably, one could run 10 miles before work and 10 miles after work, but that six hours of sitting in the middle renders all of that exercise worthless.

And the figures were pretty startling. Men who sat for 6 hours per day or more experienced 20% higher mortality over the course of the study than men who were less chair-bound. For women, it was even worse, with 40% increased mortality.

The obvious lesson here is that everyone who wants to live to a ripe old age should flee screaming from their chairs. Offices should scrap their desks wholesale and replace them with standing desks. Everyone should get rid of the sofas and easy chairs in their dens and watch TV standing up. Restaurants should get rid of their tables and booths and replace them with bars where one stands to dine. Sporting stadiums should rip out those rows of benches and chairs and require sports fans to stand while they watch a game. Schools and universities should remodel their classrooms to require students to stand during lectures.

I haven’t even looked at the original paper, but I still call bullshit. In the first place, this study, like all such studies, depends on self-reported behavior, which is notoriously unreliable. In the second place, although I might believe that it’s harmful to sit for 6 hours straight every day, week after week, year after year, not many people actually do that. Even the most chairborne office worker takes bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, smoke breaks, and so on.

I’m probably pretty typical in that respect. Even when I’m writing heads-down, I seldom sit still for more than an hour, and usually much less. I get up to use the bathroom. I get up to walk into the kitchen for more Coke or a snack. I take the dog for a short walk. (Right now, with a four-month-old puppy, that happens literally 20 times a day or more.) I get up when the mail arrives or the UPS guy delivers a package. Do I sit 6 hours during the course of a day? Sure, every day. I sit at my desk during the day, and on the sofa in the evenings. But I think the last time I sat for 6 hours straight was … never.

37 thoughts on “Figures lie and liars figure”

  1. Bob,

    I like the look of the new site. Very readable. Do I get a book for the first post?

  2. Congrats on moving to a WordPress-based site! Nice look (although this is the default template..)

    In regards to comments on the previous day (the ‘moving notice’):
    – comment spam: enable Askimet plugin; it will get rid of most of your comment spam automatically. Works quite well.
    – use the stats and WPDashboard stats for good tracking of visits. There is even an iPhone plug-in for the stats-obsessed.
    – I like the ‘Contact Form 7’ plug-in for ‘contact me’ pages. Works well, easy to set up
    – My favorite template is ‘Atahualpa’. Very configurable, although you need to know a bit of CSS. Good support on their forums.

    You’ll find lots of people who can give you advice on setting things up in WordPress. Me included. Let me know if you have any questions.


  3. Another for vote on the ‘regime’ change.

    I also call BS on the sitting is bad report. I’ve been working an office chair for decades, and yeah I got fat and lazy. That was because I overate and stopped exercising, not because I sat down. I rarely was at my desk for 20 minutes. If we weren’t supposed to sit, why do our knees bend the way they do?

  4. No, just the glory of having the first-ever post on this forum.

    Well, I suppose I could give you an ebook. Once I get around to putting stuff I have rights to in ebook form, that is.

  5. Thanks. Yes, pretty much everything is at default for now. I have installed Akismet and set up some categories. Actually, I set up categories, deleted them, re-entered all of them as tags, deleted all the tags, and then re-re-entered them as categories. I’ve read several pages that describe the difference between tags and categories, and frankly I can’t see much use for the former.

    As a complete newbie with WordPress, I really appreciate your offer of help. No doubt I’ll be taking you up on it.

    Right now, my goal is to learn the 5% of WP that I’ll need to do 95% of what I want to do. I was going to hold posts until 1 July, but I decided to go ahead and start posting. Nothing like just diving in.

    At some point, I’m going to move Barbara’s journal off her current static pages and get her set up on WP as well. That point may arrive sooner than I expected, possibly later this week. We’ll see.

  6. I still think you should enforce registration for comments. It’ll cut down on the spam without putting much of a burden on people who really want to comment. It’s really no different than the registration you wanted for the forums.

    And regarding progress … Yah, it’s fun to keep playing with sticks and rocks while all the cool kids have GameBoys and iPads. But as you know, sticks and rocks were surprisingly high maintenance – the price paid for a simple HTML site.

    Finally, backup your site every day. On the off chance someone manages to own the site, you want to be able to restore it to yesterday without too much trouble (and then change all the passwords).

  7. Separate conversation (since comments are replacing your forums):

    dSLR cameras … I’m teetering on the brink of moving up to dSLR, and frankly I don’t want to go in at the entry level. I figure I’ll outgrow a beginner dSLR long before its useful lifespan, and I’m a reasonably quick study.

    Right now, I’m interested (I think) in one of these two configurations:

    Nikon D7000 body with two lenses
    Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Lens
    Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR

    Pentax K-5 body with two lenses
    Pentax 21987 DA 35mm f/2.4 AL Lens
    Pentax DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED Lens

    I’m leaning towards the Nikon, but I’m interested in contrary opinions and lense recommendations. I could always go for the kit lenses to start, and add a 35mm prime later. Note that I don’t have any legacy SLR gear, so there’s nothing to keep me from picking any particular brand.

    I will probably get extra batteries, memory cards, etc. But the big stuff I can use advice on.

  8. Pretend I’m a complete WP newbie. Okay, you don’t have to pretend.

    What do I install to enforce registration for comments?

  9. Brian, this is sort of like picking between a blonde and a redhead. I suggest going to the store and handling both cameras. They are so similar in specification that the deciding factor will come down to feel.

  10. I’ve always preferred Pentax gear, but that dates from the 60’s and 70’s, when Pentax lenses were better than Nikon or Canon lenses (and usually a match for Leitz and Zeiss lenses). The truth is, I think you’d be happy with either Nikon or Pentax, or with Canon for that matter.

    For professionals, it really comes down to Nikon or Canon, because they’re the only ones who offer a full range of lenses and accessories. On the other hand, you probably don’t need a $20,000 lens to shoot pro sporting events, so that breadth probably shouldn’t matter much to you. All three offer a good selection of the lenses you’re likely to want, such as fast lenses in moderate focal lengths, macro lenses, and so on.

    I’d suggest you buy more on features than on brand, but even there these three are pretty competitive. Do consider features that are still not universal, such as live-view, XDR, and so on. Also, I’d start with the standard kit lens (18-to-55mm or whatever) and the 50-to-200mm telephoto zoom. Between those two, you should be well covered. And, although 35mm is pretty much what 50mm used to be on 35mm SLRs, most people who want a fast lens find that a fast short telephoto is more useful. For example, I had a 50mm f/1.4 “normal” lens for my 35mm Pentax SLRs, but I found the 85mm f/1.8 to be much more useful for low-light shooting. It also makes an excellent “portrait” lens.

  11. Login as the site administrator

    Dashboard -> Settings -> Discussion

    Checkbox that says “Users must be registered and logged in to comment”

    Look at the other settings and see what might be useful.


  12. I agree, but rather than the Canon blonde or the Nikon redhead, I’ve always preferred the feel of Pentax brunettes.

  13. Just to change the subject, as we used to do, I am abandoning Ubuntu as of today. It just had too many issues, and I suspect Norman (it was Norman, wasn’t it?) is right that Ubuntu is not really a serious version of Linux. So, I will be trying out the latest release of CentOS, instead.

    I had imagined that I would be slowly but surely migrating to Ubuntu, but instead, found myself having practically abandoned it. Even today, as I was moving stuff from the home directory over to the Windows partition,–due to a workman in the house, I had the router off (long story, but it was easier to take it down than the alternative to keep it alive). I still had power in the office, and at one point while transferring files across partitions, the supposedly password-protected screensaver came on. When I returned to computing, I moved the mouse, and the screen came back up, with no password protection. I could move around, switch applications, but could not type in any field–until the router came back on. Then I got the screensaver password dialog, the keyring password dialog, and everything reverted to normal. This kind of stuff is just far too normal for Ubuntu. Hopefully, CentOS fixes a lot of that. The fact that AviDemux will not work under Ubuntu, altogether kills Ubuntu’s usefulness for me.

    So, I will be reducing the Linux partition by at least 100gb (it is 250gb now), and starting all over with CentOS. Will report back on whether that is better, as it happens.

  14. Regarding backups: my favorite is called “WordPress DB Backup” by Austing Matzko. Easily set up to hackup the database and email it to you on a scheduled basis.

    I put it on all the WordPress sites I manage. just installed it on “Chaos Manor”. Setup quite easy, about 2 minutes. Good stuff.

  15. (er: “Austin Matzko”, “Easily set up to backup”. I blame my keyboard, since it can’t talk back.)

  16. WordPress may be the future, or at least the present, but I kind of miss the old forums already. WordPress blogs seems limited to discussions about the blog subject itself, something we only rarely ever touch on.

  17. I won’t like the new forum either… 🙁

    The old forum was like sitting around in a bar chatting.

  18. Yeah… modernising the journal might be a good idea, but the forum will be sorely missed.

  19. I’ll give this new setup a try before I offer any feedback, but I think I will probably make heavy use of RSS, assuming it works OK. I’d hate to see static HTML pages becoming a relic of web 1.0

  20. Re Forums –

    What if Bob simply pops a post called Weekly Forum every … week. Then the forum can happen in the comments for that post, independent of comments for any given post.

    Or are we mourning the fact that there were a double handful of regulars and many more lurkers in the forums, and this new place is too light and shiny?

    I’ll give Bob this: WP is going to be MUCH easier to maintain, and replacing the Forum with comments removes an entire code tree that is vulnerable (that said, as long as he leaves that up, it still needs maintenance)

  21. That’s certainly a workaround. It’s not that I don’t like the new format, WordPress works well for the daynotes side of the forum, but the forum was a unique place to hang out in. I suspect Jerry is going to have the same trouble trying to merge View and Mail on his site.

  22. I won’t criticize the new format until we have had a shot at playing around with it for a while. I am pretty sure this collection of geeks can find a way to set up a facsimile of the older format if wanted. Cheers!

  23. Well, as you can see Bob turned on required log in then turned it off. I for one couldn’t find out how to register. For all I know I may have a long forgotten WP user name. I tried a few of my old standbys with no result. Anyway I’m sure it’s just something to get ironed out.

    I, for one, still prefer the weekly top down format Bob, Brian and Jerry all used. Change happens.

  24. Yes, I turned on required registration for a few minutes at Brian Bilbrey’s suggestion. I assumed it would allow first-time commenters to create an account on this site, but it apparently requires a WordPress login. Bill noticed the problem immediately, when he was unable to log in. I tried to log in from a different browser, and found there was no way to do so short of creating a WordPress account. I’m not going to require people to do that, so I disabled required registration. Now, messages from first-time posters are held for moderation, but once I approve the first post that user can post freely unless I disapprove him.

    Incidentally, the top-down format seems to be working so far. I’ve posted two entries, and the second appears below the first. We’ll see what happens when I post tomorrow.

  25. Naw, the registration problem was my fault, I forgot (then forgot to tell Bob) you have to require logins *and* allow registration. I sent him email on how to do that. Logging in facilitates filling out all of the required fields each time for regular commentators.

  26. I’m using IE6 at work and the avatar is overlaying the first 4-5 letters of the poster’s name.

  27. I preferred the old system, simply because I’m a cranky-old-geezer-in-training and like what I’m used to. But I guess I’ll get used to it.

    I went to Pournelle’s site and the last post was June 3rd. Had to Google him to find his new WP page.

  28. Okay, I just made the two changes that Brian mentioned, so this should now allow anyone to register and require login to comment.

    Nope. It still brings up a dialog that requires a WordPress account, so I just reverted back to the way things were, which seems to work fine.

  29. I tried to post a comment on the Kit related topic and got “You must be logged in…” although I’m using the same browser and had my name and e-mail address prefilled.

    I went back to the home page, found the post again and reply worked. Is there some sort of timeout for inactivity?

  30. Not every change is an advancement–in fact, change seems to more about change itself than actual improvement nowadays, with most changes being mostly hype accompanied by actual retrograde steps. But meanwhile, almost everyone has been jumping off the WordPress bridge these days. It is much more difficult and time-consuming for me, the reader, to use than the old system, but if it really cuts down on Bob’s overhead time, I am willing to give it a try.

    However, I am blinded by the white background. The old board color was much easier on the eyes. If I engage the Firefox Readability add-on, it kills my ability to post.

  31. Hmmm…so now you have to check the comments from each new post even if the parent topic is not of immediate interest as it seems for now off-topic comments are turning up there for a lack of a better place to put them. Sure, a “Forum” post could be a work-around but as a loyal reader (and occasional contributor) of not only Bob’s postings but also of those of the other regulars around here, if given a vote I’d say go back to the old format. Also miss the “Quote” and “Preview” buttons, peoples’ avatars and sigs and easy insertion of links.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  32. Nice clean layout, would prefer to see the week scroll from oldest to newest but that’s just me.

    Certainly better than Jerry Pournelle’s site which looks as though it was designed by a colour blind drunk monkey 🙂 Nice content though.

  33. Brian; Have a look at, the blog of University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse. She periodically drops in a “placeholder” post and invites people to “talk among yourselves”, similar in substance to your proposal.

    RBT: Looking good so far! Of course, I’m the kind of reader who cares more about the content than about the style or appearance.

  34. Re: Jerry’s site: this first week will have all sorts of different colors combos. Working with Jerry on settling things down a bit, with a bit more consistancy in the look of View and Mail. He’s still getting used to the new way of doing things.

    Comments via his “Contact” form are appreciated and considered. (For lurkers, the new content is at ).

  35. For laffs I clicked on my highlighted initials and got a Google invitation page to set up a web site with them. When I click on Brian’s highlighted initials, I get his web site. So far, on this end, he and I are the only ones with highlighted initials.

    Does this mean he and I are special IT warrior-gurus? Or is it just……


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