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Must we throw out the blue zones?


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On 8/7/2019 at 8:12 AM, Dean Pomerleau said:

Fascinating Mikii,I hadn't realized just how shaky some of the Blue Zone data may be. Here are interesting passages from the paper you pointed to (my emphasis) :
... Okinawa also has the highest murder rate per capita, the worst over-65 dependency ratio, the second-lowest median income, and the lowest median lifespan of all 47 Japanese prefectures... [23].

Except that at least part of the bolded statement is not true.

I was interested, so I checked. For example, in 2012, Okinawa ranked 31 out 47 prefectures in Japan, with a homicide rate of 0.57 per 100000 (number 1 was Osaka with 1.39 homicides per 100000).

The numbers fluctuate by a lot, since the murder rate is so low that one or two victims in a given year would change the order dramatically. In 2016, Okinawa ranked second in Japan (attributed to the presence of US forces by the Japanese press, BTW). In 2017, Okinawa is kind of in the middle:


I recommend watching "Brexit," it's not a bad movie and it is relatively accurate as to the big picture. But it does drive the point of how easy it is in open societies to destroy trust in institutions, experts and authority with nonsense, and how difficult it is to defend against such attacks.



Edited by Ron Put
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9 minutes ago, Ron Put said:

[...]I recommend watching "Brexit," it's not a bad movie and it is relatively accurate as to the big picture. But it does drive the point of how easy it is in open societies to destroy trust in institutions, experts and authority with nonsense, and how difficult it is to defend against such attacks.



I'll take a look. While disinformation propaganda can be very destructive, ask yourself how does it succeed in the first place. After all, Nazi Germany tried it in the U.S. and it didn't work at all. One of the ways Russian propaganda works, is by exacerbating divisions in a society along any given axis. They promote videos of police violence against African American people, and make them go viral. The videos are real, but the promotion amplifies them. They stoke racism of white supremacists and "Trump's base". They spread conspiracy theories about the CIA, FBI and security services, and as you put it, "institutions". 

What does all of this have in common, as opposed to the Nazi/Japanese situation? Why was Lord Haw-haw and the Tokyo Rose and earlier efforts ridiculed, whilst the Russian propaganda is eaten up with a spoon?

Russians exploit weaknesses, instead of inventing them. If our police weren't power-mad racist gangs in uniforms, whelp, the Russians would have no material - they didn't invent those videos showing the murder of black people by police, they merely spread the info. If vast numbers of our fellow citizens didn't fall under the sway of nationalism, base racism, xenophobia and hatred - all of which were exploited for decades (Southern Strategy) by our own homegrown politicians, whelp, the Russians would have no luck exploiting racism, nationalism, xenophobia and hatred - they didn't invent it, they merely amplified something our politicians were already doing. If our FBI did not routinely inflitrate and sabotage civil rights organizations, if our CIA didn't routinely overthrow legitimate governments, if our insitutions didn't routinely collaborate in redlining and economic sabotage of whole swaths of our populations, then fake conspiracy theories would not seem plausible in the least. But because they did all of that, and still engage in it, it if fully believable to almost anyone that those institutions might do whatever fake thing the Russians thought up. 

The blame is less on the Russians for exploiting our weaknesses, and more on our not dealing with our weaknesses in the first place. As the saying goes "you can't con an honest man" - too bad we are not honest, so yep, we get conned. 

Which brings us to the issue of data integrity. If widespread data fuckery was an unknown phenomenon, we'd all have faith in our record-keeping institutions. But because they are so fallible and have been shown as such, repeatedly, whelp, we find exaggerated claims of fuckery quite believable. Same for your "experts and authority" - when the vast majority of biomedical studies either cannot be replicated or are shown to have clear biases, and "experts" have conflicts of interest which are not disclosed, and "authority" is merely an excuse to abuse power, whelp, that's where sometimes exaggerated cynicism/scepticism gets its purchase. Except many would not say cynicism, but rather "realism". 

Here's another "authority" for those partial to the bible: "physician, heal thyself".

We all search for the truth - you seem to think that in this search we should generally trust "experts, authority, institutions" - but others may think strong distrust of those will get you closer to the truth. Personally, my attitude to any "data" proffered, is not to say "Oh, yes!" or "Oh, no!", but rather "Hmm, maybe". 

In this case, if I had to place bets, I'd place my bet on the odds being that the whole "blue zone" phenomenon is a lot of balderdash. But of course that's just IMHO, and YMMV. 

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I think the Adventist Health Studies certainly still have a lot of value. They are prospective cohort studies on actual individuals going to the doctor over many years, not based on demography data. And as for the Okinawans, there are old autopsy studies you can read documenting clear arteries and other signs of health, and other studies that are not this kind of correlational observational epidemiology. Also, I think there is a difference between areas with many supercentenarians, and ones with high average life expectancies for people 80+. Does bad data affect the latter enough to create blue zones out of people who actually weren't especially healthy at all? I'm not sure.

Anyway, the Blue Zones org has responded: https://www.bluezones.com/news/are-supercentenarian-claims-based-on-age-exaggeration/ 

Obviously they have a huge interest in not being invalidated. Hopefully, when the paper comes out, we will get some commentary from epidemiologists with no biases.


Are Supercentenarian Claims Based on Age Exaggeration?


By Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Founder and National Geographic Fellow and Explorer

A pre-print was recently posted to a pre-print server with a provocative headline questioning research in 3 of the 5 blue zones regions:  “Supercentenarians and the oldest-old are concentrated into regions with no birth certificates and short lifespans.”

It has been latched onto by bloggers and even some reputable outlets as newly published peer-reviewed research. Since we’ve received so many questions about it, we felt the need to respond to a few of the biggest inaccuracies in the pre-print here.

1 Age Verification in Blue Zones Research

Blue zones researchers did not rely on data crunching from afar; the research project’s goal was to actually go to these supposed longevity hotspots and validate or invalidate claims of exceptional longevity. It wasn’t based on datasets from afar. The author of the pre-print didn’t do his research, unfortunately. A team of researchers, demographers, and scientists visited each region to validate age. We checked birth certificates and cross-referenced with church baptism records or other available local records in all the international blue zones regions.

“The identification and certification of a blue zones area or group is based on demographic criteria that are country-specific and depending on available documentation and its reliability.”

The FIRST CRITERION for a blue zones region is:

“The reliability of individual longevity should be thoroughly proved and therefore the extreme ages of the oldest olds, dead or still alive should be proved based on ad hoc documentation. Without documentation like birth and death records and continuous population registration system, that reliability cannot be ensured.”

Blue Zones Criteria

An example of how vigorously data collection was in blue zones regions:

“The database developed for the present study includes all individuals born in Villagrande from 1876 to 1912. For each individual we traced the exact date at death or the proof that he/she was still alive at the date of investigation. The data was gathered from civil registers (which record all births, marriages, and deaths), parish registers and the population register (anagrafe). All information has been collected in the municipality population registration office and was cross-checked with information reported in the military register and orally reported information from any relatives of these persons. With regard to those who died outside the village, the information was recovered by using annotations on date and place of death reported in the margin of the birth certificate or transcription of the date of death in the anagrafe. For those who emigrated and for whom no death has been reported, the survival status has been verified with the municipality of current residence.”

Source: A Population Where Men Live As Long As Women: Villagrande Strisaili, Sardinia

The age validation in blue zones regions has been well-documented in both academic and popular literature:

Health and nutritional status among the oldest olds in Sardinia: evidence for geographic differences

Survival Differences Among the Oldest Old in Sardinia: Who, What, Where, and Why? Demographic Research

They really are that old: a validation study of centenarian prevalence in Okinawa

The Nicoya region of Costa Rica: a high longevity island for elderly males

The world’s top demographers and researchers do understand the need for age validation:

On the Age Validation of Supercentenarians.

Using Administrative Records and Interviewing Centenarians in the Blue Zones

2 Blue Zones are NOT Regions with Supercentenarians

Blue zones areas are not those with the most supercentenarians as the pre-print describes. The blue zones areas are places with the highest healthy life expectancy, where people reach their 90s with low rates of chronic disease, and where there is a high probability to reach 100.

The blue zones criteria are clearly laid out here:

3 Relative Poverty in Blue Zones Regions

The preprint makes this conclusion: “Relative poverty and short lifespan constitute unexpected predictors of centenarian and supercentenarian status, and support a primary role of fraud and error in generating remarkable human age records.”

Yes, certain blue zones regions like the Ogliastra cluster of villages in Sardinia are among the more remote and poorer regions of the country. They are all also places where modernization and the Western diet have been slower to take hold. People there walk rather than drive, eat more beans and plant foods than processed and fast foods, and they connect with their neighborhoods more than watch TV and stare at their phones.  Most people in America will die of diseases of affluence, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes and in this sense, poverty in the blue zones asserted a benefit to the people living there. All blue zones do, however, enjoy very good or excellent public health services.

We wanted to respond thoughtfully to the most misleading statements and assumptions in the pre-print. Any other questions or inquiries can be addressed to info@bluezones.com.

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Thanks for posting this, Mikii.

The fact is though, the "preprint" is mostly nonsense, since it makes sweeping and not necessarily valid assumptions, some wrong assertions (like Okinawa having the "highest murder rate,") which then fails to even attempt to support. It also cherry-picks time-frames which common sense would presume as significant, but are largely irrelevant today, and have been already adequately addressed by many researchers.

I hate to do this, but if you look at the author, it's a never before heard of guy who published his thesis in 2015 and somehow popped up in Twitterdom with little more than a bombastic title to justify the attention. The credibility factor is about as weak as it gets.

Edited by Ron Put
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