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View Diary: 9/12/2001: Hunter S. Thompson Saw It Coming (254 comments)

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  •  Undead Myth (none)
    Actually, the current medical "debunking" of the "holiday death postponement" phenomenon, is itself flawed. The studies they "discredit" show statistical death spikes around the holidays, but include the holiday itself, as well as the few days before the holiday. The debunking ignores the fact that many of those dying before the holiday is past are trying and failing to live past the holiday. Even in theory, the holiday isn't magic - it's just a source of extra strength.

    The spike around the holiday isn't explained in other ways. Until it is, the status of myth/fact is inconclusive.

    •  I don't follow your logic (none)
      From what I can tell, the point is that there is no spike overall near holidays.

      A few studies kind of showed spikes...others did not or even showed an "unspike!" Overall the consensus seemed to be that there simply is very little evidence for any spikes at all.

      •  Death Takes a Holiday (none)
        "19 percent dip in deaths among prominent Americans in the month before their birthdays and a 14 percent rise in the month afterward. However, Skala and Freedland say, the original authors include the birth month itself in the "after" category."

        Skala and Freedland say that since some of the extra deaths happened in the birth month before the birthday, they're improperly counted among the the 14 "after" rise. While correct when measuring only "successful delays", those dying just before their birthday very well might have delayed, but not long enough. In which case that 19% dip is artifically smaller due to those people with birthdays early in the month, who delayed just as long (though not long enough), but died in the previous month.

        "Another [survey of Catholic priest mortality] found a dip in deaths before and a rise after Christmas, but no such pattern around Easter."

        That leaves the Christmas difference unexplained. In populous America, Christmas is a bigger holiday. And Easter features death (and rebirth) rituals, while Christmas only birth - perhaps the difference in the holidays has an effect.

        "one study concluded that deaths among Jewish men were more likely to show a dip before and a rise after Passover, while another study found just the opposite pattern."

        The holiday appears to have an effect, though different studies show different effects. Neither shows no effect.

        "And a study in Israel found no patterns around major holidays at all, either among Jews or non-Jewish Israelis."

        Perhaps that study shows the averaging of the two phenomena measured separately in the two previously mentioned studies.

        "Only one or two subgroups [of three: Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean] showed any significant variation from pure chance, and then only by pushing the day of the festival into the "after-the-festival" [Harvest Moon] category."

        2/3 of the subgroups shows significant variation. The day of the festival might include deaths by people who delayed, but not long enough.

        '"If a person is really able to postpone death until after the celebration of an important ceremonial occasion, shouldn't she be able to postpone death until after the main ceremonial activity?" Smith asks.'

        The answer is "NO". These people are losing their ability to live. The possible physiological effect of "a reason to live" is not magic - it's not a guarantee.

        The studies mentioned by the writer have conflicting, noncomprehensive methodologies. They each document populations which correlate holidays with altered death rates. Yet the writer, Aaron Levin is clearly biased against the "holiday postponement" theory: he ignores any doubt created by the results. He implies the holiday is causation, not correlation, to deny its significance. He refers dismissingly 2/3 of the Harvest Moon subgroups, rather than highlighting their importance.

        Just because Levin misinterprets inconclusiveness as denial doesn't make it so. The fact is that there is evidence, inconclusively investigated, of many people living longer, then dying together, at times of holidays relevant to them. Rather than construct rhetorical denials of the phenomenon, we'd be better served by Skala and Freedland's advice:

        "Future studies will have to be better designed to find valid answers, Skala and Freedland say."

        •  I agree more studies should be done.. (none)
          ..because if there is an effect, it's possible that the underlying factors could be used to keep patients alive longer in the future, and thus receive more treatment for what ails them. I

          We're arguing small details here. Hey, I'd like to see this be a real effect and I haven't totally denounced the effect as completely wrong. Let me restate my original point:

          There seemed to be widespread acceptance that people can extend their lives for holidays and other special occasions. However, some studies are confirming this, or at least suggesting it is not a very strong effect. More studies are needed to determine the extent of this effect.

          I think we'd both agree with that! :-)

          •  typo (none)
            "some studies are not confirming this," I meant
          •  Growing Old Together (none)
            I didn't think we were arguing. I have an argument with the author of the story I cited, which I have now made clear. You just asked for clarification of my logic. Which merely says that the studies reported in the story I cited don't support that story's conclusion.

            AFAICT, you and I agree that the studies don't disprove the proposition that people can live longer when motivated by holidays/birthdays. We'd both like to see better research. And I'd like to see better reporting, that doesn't require such rigorous analysis to debunk its bunk debunkery.

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