I've noticed some people getting frustrated with the tendency of the anti-Atkins media (or even the ambivalent-Atkins media) to describe differences or results of pro-Atkins studies as "not significant." I just want to clear something up for all those of you who are not True Science Nerds
Those of you who *are* True Science Nerds, feel free to tune this out or correct me. Those of you who aren't, give me a smack if this sounds preachy, I'm trying to be precise:
"Significant", in the context of a scientific study of some kind, is a loaded word. It doesn't mean what it means in normal, everyday conversation. It means that when a statistical "test" -- basically, some kind of formula invented by somebody who likes math a lot more than me -- was performed on the data, there was a very low probability of the results of the study being random and meaningless. You can get that low probability in basically two ways. The first way is if the difference in the study is really big. This would be something along the lines of having 50 low-fat dieters and 50 low-carb dieters, where the low-carb dieters all lost 50 pounds and the low-fat dieters all lost 5 pounds. The second and more common way is if there are lots of small differences. So 5,000 low-carb dieters all lost 20 pounds, and 5,000 low-fat dieters all lost 15.
Now, here's where it gets annoying. An "insignificant" difference would be something along the lines of 5 low-fat dieters losing 15 pounds each, and 5 low-carb dieters losing 20. There's still a difference, it's just not *statistically* significant. So while we all know the truth, the scientists aren't allowed to give as much weight to that study.
Unfortunately, in the translation from a scientific study to the mass media, "insignificant" loses that special meaning and people start thinking it means "not important" or "very small". Of course I'm preaching to the choir here, but I think low-carb works way way better than low-fat, and so I'd bet you at least a dollar that in the case of low-carb studies, most "insignificance" is just due to a lack of participants. Solution? Let's all start signing up for low-carb studies -- and let's make sure the anti-Atkins people know what "significant" really means. After all, most of *their* studies aren't significant, either. Even the ones *with* lots of people.