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Sunday, December 20, 2009

NFL suspends concussion study

The NFL has suspended its concussion study. This is just as well.

The study's design was flawed.

"Epidemiologists said that its primary design — to examine 120 N.F.L. players and 60 men who played only through college, spread across ages from 30 to 60 — could not discover any heightened prevalence of dementia...."That is sort of like comparing two-pack-a-day smokers with one-pack-a-day smokers to see what the differences are," (Representative Linda Sanchez) said, "instead of two-pack-a-day smokers with the general population to see whether there is an increased risk of the activity that they are participating in to their health.""

In addition, the NFL's "a co-chairman of the league's committee on concussions, Dr. Ira Casson, was performing every neurological examination while consistently discrediting evidence linking football to cognitive decline and dementia in N.F.L. retirees."

I don't think I would have any confidence in a student project that had such a poor design. It's not that it's wrong to have the college group in there (reflecting length of exposure). It's just woefully insufficient. College players will already have had at least 4 years of college banging up, and 4 years of high school banging up. A player with 4 years of the NFL on top of that (a decent career length) has only added another 50% to their exposure.

Meanwhile, the NFL today announced it would like players and the general public to agree to donate their brains for a Boston University study. That's a good idea -- there's no full substitute for studying actual brains -- although the cynical among us would note that this means the study will take quite a long time, since the brains will be donated after death.