Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DG XXV: "Verghese, chess, Alzheimer’s"

Clause 1 Accuracy
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

Verghese, chess, Alzheimer’s. Ray Keene - who is currently the subject of a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation relating to comments about chess and dementia that he published back in May - returned to this familiar combination at the weekend.

On Saturday I splurged £1.50 at WH Smiths to get a look at Saturday’s chess column (see left). If Ray’s efforts mean that more people will find "Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia" in the Elderly - the article that Verghese and others published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 - then that’s great news. If they end up actually reading it, so much the better. If nothing else, it will become very obvious very quickly that there is nothing at all in Verghese’s work that justifies that claim that "chess is a valuable way to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s".

To recap, the Verghese’s study:-
(a) doesn’t mention the word "chess" even once (DG III);
(b) doesn’t conclude that playing board games prevents Alzeheimer’s (DG VII).
That chess may be helpful with respect to Alzheimer’s disease is an entirely reasonable conclusion to draw from the Verghese’s work. Especially if we assess the study in the light of more recent research (see DG: The Knowledge Pile). Unfortunately - if not unsurprisingly - entirely reasonable conclusions are going to be in short supply in the Times’ chess column this week.

If you do a search for Verghese, chess, Alzheimer’s over the next few days, please feel free to use the comments box to let me know what you find. In the meantime, it’s back to IPSO we go.

Chess and Dementia Index

1 comment:

Jonathan B said...


Given that one of the consistent themes of this series is appropriate referencing, I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to take cut and pate quotes from websites unless a link was provided to that website. If you want to resubmit your comment with a link I’ll publish.


the Verghese article doesn’t mention the word "chess" at all. That is a fact. An attempt to use Verghese’s study to claim that "chess is a valuable way to combat Alzheimer’s" without mentioning that the study doesn’t actually mention chess is inherently suspect.

We do know that the analysis category that Verghese used "playing board games or cards" actually meant "board games such as chess, checkers, backgammon or cards"
- see DG III and DG IV from May and June last year.

However if you read the Verghese itself - link provided in the current post and many others in the series - there’s absolutely nothing to say how many of the boardgamer/card players where chess players, still less how many of the 'frequent' boardgames/card players where chess players.

Finally, that there is an association between cognitively stimulating activities and favourable outcomes with regard to dementia is not in dispute. The question that remains unresolved is whether there is a causal link.

See DG VII for details of the Verghese study stating explicitly that their study didn’t demonstrate a causal link.

See DG XXII for a discussion about the difference between association and cause.

Finally, I was already aware of the interview that you mention. I’m not super keen on references to newspapers and interviews on websites - see DG V. If you are going to resubmit your comment you might want to explain why you think a few lines of a radio interview is more significant than articles written up in peer-reviewed academic journals as cited in this comment/the current post and elsewhere in the series.

I’ll leave that one up to you.