KSJ Tracker May 14, 2014

Stunning correlation between glyphosate use and gluten sensitivity?

Yesterday, I criticized Outside magazine for a story claiming that the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) could be causing a frightening rise in celiac disease--hypersensitivity to gluten.

That post left out what appears to be a very important chart, from the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology. Here it is:

The correlation between glyphosate use on wheat (the curve) and the incidence of celiac disease (the yellow bars) seems to be nearly exact. How could this possibly be due to chance?

Case closed, you might say. Glyphosate is indeed the likely cause of the rise in celiac disease.

Before you pronounce a verdict, however, you might want to consider this chart:

Or perhaps this one:

These charts, and others like them, come from a website called spurious correlations, by Tyler Vigen, who identifies himself as a student at Harvard Law School. Vigen--it's hard to imagine how he finds time for this as a law student--"proves" all kinds of things with his charts. For example, did you know that U.S. spending on science, space and technology closely tracks suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation? That's Vigen's latest discovery, so to speak.

Here's what he says about his work:

I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and to think about data. Empirical research is interesting, and I love to wonder about how variables work together. The charts on this site aren't meant to imply causation nor are they meant to create a distrust for research or even correlative data. Rather, I hope this projects fosters interest in statistics and numerical research.

Check out his site for his favorite books on math and statistics. And wish him well in his "research."

Now what were we saying about glyphosate and gluten?

-Paul Raeburn

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