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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Bad Science on Lyme in the NYT (Warning: Semi-Personal Post)

Bad Science on Lyme in the NYT (Warning: Semi-Personal Post)

Monday, 12 August 2013 12:40

Sorry folks, I usually restrict this blog to economic issues, but I am going to stray a little bit here to beat up the NYT over its Room for Debate on Lyme disease. (My wife has Lyme disease.)

Three of the participants in the debate assert that the research shows long-term antibiotic treatment is ineffective for treating people who supposedly suffer from chronic Lyme. The argument is that Lyme is an acute illness that can be effectively treated with 2-3 weeks of antibiotics. In this view, people who continue to experience symptoms after treatment either suffer from some other ailment or are hypochondriacs.

However the claim that the research shows long-term treatment is ineffective is not accurate. Allison DeLong, a statistician at Brown University, reviewed the three most often cited studies that claim to find long-term antibiotic treatment is ineffective. Her analysis showed that one of the studies had insufficient power to reach any conclusion about the effectiveness of treatment.

A second study showed that, while they were being treated, patients were significantly healthier than patients in the control group. This result has been ignored because the study also found that patients relapsed after the end of treatment. In other words, the study concluded that because 3 months of treatment did not cure patients (some of whom had already had years of antibiotic treatment), that treatment was ineffective.

The third study in fact did find that treatment led to a statistically significant improvement in patients' health according to the main measure the researchers had chosen (a measure of fatigue). However they opted to ignore this finding because the measure was subjective. The researchers also were confused about their own findings, wrongly believing that the double-blind nature of the study had been compromised even though the treatment and control group gave nearly identical answers when asked whether they thought they were being treated.

Given the importance of DeLong's findings to the Lyme debate it would have been appropriate to include her views in this exchange or to at least find an expert who was familiar with her research. It is a serious disservice to have an exchange on Lyme that does not include any mention of the latest research on the topic. 

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Robert Goodman, August 12, 2013 3:02
There must have been something in the water this week-end around Times Square.

What with the"Room for Debate" pieces on Lyme, the quaintly outdated Hubbard and Kane "Op-Ed", and a profoundly foolish anti intellectual Opinionator piece on the dark future of neuroscience by one Benjamin Fong, the NYTimes today has come to the mound this Monday pitching junk the size of soccer balls.

Maybe the Timesters are looking to attract a WaPo scale buyout.

written by watermelonpunch, August 13, 2013 1:13
First, "My wife has Lyme Disease", while of course being a distressing detail of your family's life, doesn't really require a warning, IMHO.
When I saw "Warning:" I thought it was going to be an update on a personal labor shortage related to the bed pans reference from a past post.
For future reference, any details on that ought to be preceded by a warning.

The CDC says long-term antibiotics treatment is unhelpful. But if you read into it further, they say it's been determined that it's not been shown to be helpful with cognitive functioning problems, and that it may have adverse effects. Not that it's unhelpful with other symptoms specifically.
The CDC's info is kind of dodgy in its presentation as well.
Not that I think this leaves the NYT off the hook.

Over the past 20 years, I've known personally, or through friends or family, about 20 people at least who've gotten Lyme Disease, and with varying severity & length of illness.

I've wondered why Lyme Disease in recent years has become such a controversy.
written by Lynn, August 13, 2013 10:51
Have you looked at any of the research on using Samento, a form of cats claw. It seems to have produced some very good results in some studies re LD.
written by eric, August 13, 2013 12:25
Sorry to hear about your wife's illness. Best wishes to you and to her. And thanks again for your excellent work here and elsewhere.
written by Dean, August 14, 2013 11:34
I appreciate the nice wishes. btw, my wife's has improved substantially. And, she did have long-term antibiotic treatment.
Try colloidal silver.
written by Bob Pinkus, August 19, 2013 10:20
Yes, it is alternative but it can be very effective against Lyme disease. Go to http://www.silvergen.com/.

Try it, it's well worth the price. Antibiotics often just suppress symptoms and long-term antibiotic use is really difficult. Colloidal silver, first ingested then merely used as a mouthwash, can be the "silver bullet".

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.