Tuesday, October 28, 2003

#53 Citing your sources without misleading your readers

I've been doing some research on hyperinsulinemia, the over production of insulin in obese, non-diabetic people. Obesity is a topic that seems to appear in every magazine and newspaper. I think the media attention is building up to a demand from various anti-consumerism and pro-health fad groups to have government step in.

I came across this interesting item in a "Festschrift" printed in Obesity Research this year:

"Several reports suggest that the increase in obesity has actually been occurring for 100 years or more and may not be accelerating at all. Helmchen (4) studied data from U.S. veterans 50 to 59 years of age who were examined in 1905 and 1909 and found that the veterans were more than three times as likely to be obese than their counterparts examined 25 years earlier, an annual average increase of 4.5% in obesity rate. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys conducted from the 1970s to the 1990s showed an annual increase in obesity rates of roughly 4%. Helmchen concluded that obesity was increasing at least as rapidly at the beginning as it was at the end of the 20th century. Similar conclusions were reached by other investigators [e.g., Okasha et al. (5) ]. Environmental factors, such as industrialization, central heating, vaccinations, reductions in infectious diseases, increased availability of food, and changing attitudes, all of which may have both near-term and trans-generational (perhaps epigenetic) effects, should be considered as causes for the increase in obesity." in Douglas C. Heimburger, et al. A Festschrift for Roland L. Weinsier: Nutrition Scientist, Educator, and Clinician Obes Res 2003 11: 1246-1262.

(4)Helmchen, LA. (2001) Can Structural Change Explain the Rise in Obesity? A look at the Past 100 Years. Social Science Research Computing, University of Chicago, Chicago. http://proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu:3293/prc/pdfs/helmch01.pdf. Accessed September 12, 2003.

(5)Okasha, M, McCarron, P, Smith, GD, Gunnell, D. (2003) Trends in body mass index from 1948 to 1968: results from the Glasgow Alumni Cohort. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 27,638-640 [Medline]

The interesting thing about footnote 4 is that you can't find it. Notice, the URL is a proxy, or login from Ohio State. [None of the authors are from Ohio State.] If I'm already signed in, I can access this article, but no one else can. If you google "Helmchen structural change" you' find a pdf document, with no source except the author's name. The footnote says it was last checked on Sept. 13, 2003 for an article in the October 2003 issue of a research journal. Interesting that accessibility was checked but not scholarship.

After a lot of web surfing, I found all dead links to "Social Science Research Computing" at the University of Chicago. It has either been disbanded, or moved to another university. Lorens Helmchen is or was a graduate student in 2001 when this paper was written.

This is a very interesting paper to read (after I found it).** So are the other projects Helmchen has worked on (like Civil War pension records and some other health related research). There is no indication on the paper's title page that it was published by any department within the University of Chicago.

Helmchen is not at fault here--Heimburger, the lead author of the Obesity Research article is, as is the editor of that journal, Barbara E. Corkey. When citing a source from the internet, I think it is still important to note that it is unpublished just as we did in the pre-net days so that the reader isn't misled into thinking it has been through peer review.

**I contacted Mr. Helmchen about the problem of his paper being in an unidentifiable series, and he immediately got that corrected--but when I first linked to the paper this information wasn't available. Citation counts are very important in promotion and tenure!

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