Medicine And The Media - More Good Than Harm

A major news service ran a medical story on July 15, 1998 headlined "Ear Crease Linked to Heart Disease in Blacks."

The story stemmed from a study of earlobe creases in 27 men with a history of heart attack and 16 men with no history of heart disease. All 43 men were African-American. Earlobe creases were found in 16 of the men with a history of heart attack and 3 of the men with no history of heart disease.

The news release states that the author noted that: "This is the first study to link this physical characteristic with coronary artery disease in African- Americans." This study was presented at an International Interdisciplinary Conference on Hypertension in Blacks held in Charleston, South Carolina.

These results would appear to suggest that African- American men with creased earlobes are at increased risk for heart attacks, but intuitively the numbers of men in the study seem small. Only 27 men had heart attacks and there were just 16 normal "controls."

Rather than rely on intuition, all of the numbers in the study can be tested. And with an appropriate test (the chi- square test of goodness of fit), the numbers prove to be not statistically significant (chi-square=3.73; P>0.05).

Results that are "not statistically significant" can be all too easily stumbled upon by chance alone. In other words, there is NO meaningful evidence that earlobe creases are associated with heart attacks.

According to the news story, the doctor who presented the work in at the conference in Charleston, and her colleagues are at highly respected medical universities. This, too, would seem to put a seal of authenticity upon the research.