ABC biased against coffee?

After the kerfuffle about Emma Alberici’s piece on company tax, I’m highly attuned to signs of bias at the ABC. And, sure enough, I just found one. Its an article on coffee consumption that quotes just one authority, Laure Bajurny of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, where her Linkedin profile describes her as a content developer.

The article is headlined Coffee addiction and why it could be worth shrinking your caffeine habit and Ms Bajurny is quoted as saying

“The regular heavy use of caffeine may increase your risk of things like osteoporosis, high blood pressure and heart disease, infertility,”

I’ve emphasised “may” and “could” because they are doing a lot of work here. On my initial consultation with Dr Google I found (as first or second hits)
* This article finding no association between osteoporosis and caffeine consumption
* This one on coffee consumption and blood pressure. Paywalled but you can read enough to see that there’s no clear link, and it’s worth a visit for the line “Some of coffee’s negative press seems to depend on the widespread belief that anything that tastes so good must be bad for you”
* This one linking coffee to reduced risk of heart disease and stroke

Digging a little further, I want to the caffeine page Alcohol and Drug Foundation website. It presents most of the content of the article, along with a set of references. However, I could only see one that refers to actual research on health effects of caffeine consumption by adults. From the abstract

Based on the data reviewed, it is concluded that for the healthy adult population, moderate daily caffeine intake at a dose level up to 400 mg day(-1) (equivalent to 6 mg kg(-1) body weight day(-1) in a 65-kg person) is not associated with adverse effects such as general toxicity, cardiovascular effects, effects on bone status and calcium balance (with consumption of adequate calcium), changes in adult behaviour, increased incidence of cancer and effects on male fertility.(emphasis added)

I don’t want to criticise Ms Bajurny here. I infer that she maintains the website and that the author of the article rang the Foundation and spoke to the first person she could find. The website info is pretty biased, but that’s not surprising given that it’s an explicitly anti-drug organization. In fact, contrary to the evidence quoted above from its own sources, the page says There is no safe level of drug use. (emphasis in original).

Of course, I’m not seriously concerned about anti-coffee bias. But this article is an illustration of the point that, by the very nature of journalism, articles in the media rarely give a comprehensive and accurate picture of the subject. Rather, even in the absence of any conscious bias, they reflect the accessibility of sources, the ease with which particular arguments can be framed and so on. In the economics context, the views of the banks get much more attention than they should because they have media-friendly analysts on call at all times.

What’s striking about the Alberici episode is the haste with which the current ABC management moved to suppress an article that leaned towards criticism of the government line, apparently in response to pressure from the government.

24 thoughts on “ABC biased against coffee?

  1. ? Surely you should have been looking in GoogleScholar rather than clickbait Google? I suspect its one resource advantage Universities have over not only the corporations but also the news outlets.

    Here is the abstract from an older review at the top of GoogleScholar – the message seems to be everything in moderation but yes, like alcohol, there are health effects in excess or for the vulnerable. Whether coffee etc. should have a health warning is another matter. Even Vitamin A can be consumed in excess.

    Coffee and Health: A Review of Recent Human Research
    Jane V. Higdon & Balz Frei
    Pages 101-123 | Published online: 18 Jan 2007

    Download citation

    Full Article Figures & data References Citations Metrics Reprints & Permissions PDF

    Coffee is a complex mixture of chemicals that provides significant amounts of chlorogenic acid and caffeine. Unfiltered coffee is a significant source of cafestol and kahweol, which are diterpenes that have been implicated in the cholesterol-raising effects of coffee. The results of epidemiological research suggest that coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease and liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma). Most prospective cohort studies have not found coffee consumption to be associated with significantly increased cardiovascular disease risk. However, coffee consumption is associated with increases in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure and plasma homocysteine. At present, there is little evidence that coffee consumption increases the risk of cancer. For adults consuming moderate amounts of coffee (3–4 cups/d providing 300–400 mg/d of caffeine), there is little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits. However, some groups, including people with hypertension, children, adolescents, and the elderly, may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of caffeine. In addition, currently available evidence suggests that it may be prudent for pregnant women to limit coffee consumption to 3 cups/d providing no more than 300 mg/d of caffeine to exclude any increased probability of spontaneous abortion or impaired fetal growth.
    Keywords: caffeine, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy

  2. ps – a googlescholar search on “effects of coffee consumption human health” reports back about 400,000 references so it clearly is a fund topic.

  3. Moderate coffee consumption appears to be actually good for the population, and there are no standout negatives, noting, of course, that YMMV and being semi-permanently wired and missing sleep is very likely to be bad for you. I guess that a moderate boost to alertness and circulation may partially counteract modern sedentary work and life styles which are clearly harmful.

    See eg,

    It appears to me from random irregular consumption of ABC journalism that after the statins screwup the ABC got a bit more careful about sloppily mining opinionated individuals, single studies, and general evidence-free narratives for health stories. (Which used to drive me nuts.) Did anyone else notice this?

  4. Well my reaction to this post criticising the critics of John’s drug of choice was MRDA (Mandy Rice-Davies Applies).

    We all know that John really is a reincarnation of Anthony Powell’s character, even if, like so many of his critics, Powell habitually misspelt his surname.

  5. @Newtownian

    But the evidence for the message is in two parts

    (1) Extensive empirical evidence of benefits for moderate consumption
    (2) The a priori principle “All things in moderation”

    AFAICT, no one has ever tested the effects of consumption significantly above 400mg/day

  6. Coffee, cappuccino 101.9
    Coffee, flat white 86.9
    Coffee, long black 74.7
    Coffee, from ground coffee beans, espresso style 194.0

    The above figures about caffeine content don’t make any sense to me. Assuming that each coffee, – cappuccino, flat white, espresso, long black – all start off with – are based on – 1 x(one) shot/pull of coffee they should all contain the same amount of caffeine. Unless caffeine strength is moderated by milk or water. and even in that case there should be no difference between a cappuccino caffeine and a flat white.

  7. “All things in moderation.” Is that an a priori principle or an heuristic (or both)? 😉

    And let us not forget, “The dose makes the poison.”

    Credited to Paracelsus as: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.”

  8. and the only kerfuffle about the tax thingo is that it couldn’t be proved wrong.

    there is an interesting little bit in Fitzsimons “Eureka” of the whinging “bunyip aristocracy”
    got up to in 1853.

    well well, i thought, change a couple of names and the situation looks like a template for the mining tax (as well as other things) and now.

  9. …but more importantly, have they pulled the story yet? Does Turnbull know?

  10. Another example were the Catalyst programs on statins and wifi, which seemed to demonstrate the latitude of editorial control over the whole series. Only after significant adverse commentary did they act; the program was pulled despite years of useful scientific commentary.

  11. “There is no safe level of drug use.” Balance? Is there a safe level of ABC management’s journalistic balance fallacy?

    Anyway, it just may not be the caffeine content of coffee that promotes good health and longevity. It could just be the pleasure experienced more than any other of the multitude of factors involved, but the odds are high for most that their coffee consumption has positive health effects. At The Conversation there’s a growing multitude of articles supporting the benefits of coffee drinking:

  12. “There is no safe level of drug use” has always seemed an especially stupid slogan to me – why not “There is no safe level of living”? After all, life is 100% fatal.

  13. We know we are in trouble when recent comments by Pauline Hanson on tax reform appear to be at least as well grounded in fact as any from the Coalition….

  14. I think those 2 Catalyst programs had the same presenter, and she no longer works there?

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