Annoyingly Incomplete Research Breeds Annoyingly Alarmist Message
“Why You Should Take Your Shoes Off Before Entering Your Home, Backed By Science”
It opens with:
While it may be commonplace in most Asian countries, the cultural norm of taking your shoes off before entering your home has yet to catch on in Europe and America. In Asian cultures it’s easily understandable as to why people remove their shoes before coming into a home as their meals are typically eaten on mats on the floor, and they sleep on rolled out futons at night.
A new study has researchers suggesting that maybe we might want to be more aware of what exactly we’re bringing into our homes via our shoes.
Bacteria in the home — Research conducted at the University of Houston found that 40% of shoes were carrying around the Clostridium difficile, or “C.diff”, bacterium. Infections caused by C.diff are highly resistant to antibiotics, which can lead to difficult and lengthy recovery times for anyone who becomes infected. C.diff is also able to survive in most areas of the household, including toilets, tops and surfaces, and wherever floor dust is found. Ready to take off your shoes yet?
Kinda scary, right? I’m always going to take my shoes off at home so me and my baby don’t get sick!
The trouble is, the article intentionally sensationalized and misrepresented the results of the research.
I read the research paper. The data and conclusions of the research did not match what the article implied. To paraphrase, the research said, “C.diff can get you sick. 1/3 of all our samples in homes had that bug on them. 40% of shoe bottoms had it, 30% of bathroom surfaces, 30% of floor dust. Wow, that’s a lot… we think… maybe.” And that’s where they left it.
So my takeaway is: don’t lick the bottoms of my shoes, the floor, or my toilet. Thanks for the tip, guys.
If they had compared rates of contamination in the different areas of the house, they might have come to some great conclusions. For example, maybe people that have shoe bugs are more likely to have bugs elsewhere in the house (IE, maybe people track the bugs in on their shoes) . Or maybe not. They’ve got the raw data, why didn’t they crunch the numbers?
They didn’t have a control group. They said that floor dust was contaminated, was tabletop dust contaminated too? Maybe if they had tested silverware, frozen pizzas, and kitchen tables they would have had the same 30% contamination rates. But we’ll never know because they did bad science. I know all about bad science, I did some just last month.
Frickin’ grad students and their research projects.
Frickin’ sensationalist websites and their fear mongering.
You can find the abstract (a short summary) of the research here. You can find the full paper via a library that has access to scholarly journals. I used my San Jose State University library access.