Joke science

Coffee makes you hallucinate. (Yeah, right….) Well, it says so in a piece of research reported in lots of today’s UK papers.

The NHS Choices website says that

This bizarre claim is based on research into 219 students who answered questionnaires on caffeine intake, hallucinations and feelings of persecution. Various other news sources have reported the study, including the Daily Mail, which says that “drinking cup after cup of coffee dramatically increases the risk of hallucinating”.

Hmm, what percentage of 219 students reporting that they hallucinate after drinking coffee isn’t taking the piss? (~0% is my rough guess.)

This hallucinogenic coffee must be the best-kept secret on the planet. After centuries of coffee drinking, noone else has ever reported a caffeine -induced hallucination but these researchers found enough coffee-trippers in of a sample of 219 students to generate comparative results.

The NHS website demolishes the “coffee makes you hallucinate” claims quite comprehensively. This is reassuring in terms of the quality of NHS advice, after spuriously precise numbers of fruit-and-vegetables to eat or steps to take every day had made me a tad sceptical.

It’s obvious why the press excitedly report such nonsense (Ben Goldacre has pretty well said everything that needs to be said on that subject). But why do research projects that a 10 year-old could find gaping flaws in get done at all?

(sparing their blushes, no names) …of the Department of Psychology, Durham University carried out this research. No sources of funding were reported. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Oh yes, publication targets for academics and universities. Publish or be damned.

5 thoughts on “Joke science

  1. Bizarrely the radio news has been going on about this all day – with no signs of a counter argument from the NHS…

  2. unless, on second thoughts, this is just a scam by coffee companies to sell more coffee as people try to “recreate” the experimental results.

    I know dozens and dozens of people who drink this quantity of caffeine. If there was any legitimacy to the claims at least 1 of them would have experienced it.

  3. Really? Who drinks seven coffees in a day? I thought I drank more than could possibly be healthy, and I reckon I have little more than half that much on a heavy day. It has never made me hallucinate. In fact, given that it keeps me awake, it stops me hallucinating.

  4. Another terrible piece of psychology department rubbish ‘research’.

    You can’t tell anything from it because they once again just surveyed their own students by email.

    There is no sample size and there is no response rate. There is also no control over having multiple responses from the same person or possibly from people outside of whatever the sampling population was (not that they tell you what that was exactly).

    People who have abberant behaviour (like drinking 8 cups of coffee a day) tend to also have high prevalences of other unusual behaviours as well. A cross-sectional (almost retrospective actually) observational self-report study with a sample size of 219 which fails to control for more than the smallest handful of confounders does not allow much in the way of conclusions.

    But to be fair to the authors they do not make strong statements about their findings.

    So basically some university students (possibly only psychology students from one university) in England who don’t smoke show an association between a psychometric measure and another psychometric measure.

  5. Very interesting post, as are some of your other posts. I have bookmarked your great site for future visits.

Comments are closed.