Left Handers Club Newsletter – September 2013
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A recent programme on UK BBC Radio 4 has raised this question again so we thought we should deal with AGAIN! The More Or Less programme tries to de-bunk statistics and myths that come up in political debate and everyday life and part of this week’s show was titled “Do left-handed people die early?”.
The BBC have also published a long article on the subject – Do left-handed people really die young? that explains the background to it.
The radio programme starts with presenter Tim Harford asking our friend Professor Chris McManus (author of the excellent book Right Hand, Left Hand), whether the idea is plausible. he says NO, of course not. If there was anything like that it would be the largest single predictor of reduced life expectancy and epidemiologists would certainly have picked it up. It would be like smoking 120 cigarettes a day and doing a number of other dangerous things simultaneously!
So where did this idea come from and how did it ever get any credibility?
It started with a paper in Nature by Diane Halpern and Stanley Coren (333,213 19 May 1988) reporting their study on records of 2,271 US Major League Baseball players. The Baseball Encyclopedia had records from 1876 through to 1975 and they looked at the handedness and age of death of all the players in the records. Based on this they concluded that after the age of 33, the proportion of left-handers who would die in any years was about 2% higher than right handers and overall right-handed lived on average 9 years longer.
This caused storm of interest and protest and to try to support their conclusions they did a further study on death records in two Southern Californian counties and published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine on 4 April 1991. This concluded that right handed women live 4 years and 10 months longer and right-handed men live 10 years and one month longer.
The problem with these studies was they only looked at records for dead people and assumed that there had been a constant level of reported left-handedness going back over many years. In fact, the levels of reported left-handedness have grown significantly since around 1900 after being artificially suppressed during the Victorian era.
This introduced a subtle but critical error into their analysis. If you look at people who were in their 80’s at the time of their studies, OF COURSE there would be a larger percentage of “old” right-handers because at the time they were born only around 3% of the population were allowed to be left-handed rather than the more normal level of around 11%. And because there were far fewer reported left-handers in the older age groups, left-handers on average were younger than right-handers and that skewed the age of death statistics.
To see why, imagine an exaggerated scenario where there were no left handers at all born before 1973 – 40 years ago. If we now look at death records for 2013 and ask who, among the dead, was left-handed we would see that all of them died at or before the age of 40. That would be much lower than the average of age at death of right-handers.
Nothing like this exaggerated scenario ever occurred in reality – but the number of people identifying as left-handed did grow dramatically during the 20th Century, enough to give the Coren and Halpern results without any REAL underlying difference in death rates.
So the idea that left-handers die nine years earlier than right-handers is, and always was, a myth. More recent reviews of the original studies and additional research have shown them to be flawed (see some references here), and in his paper in 1993 reviewing their work, Harris LJ of the Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, reported “I conclude that the case for the ‘decreased survival fitness’ [of lefthanders] hypothesis cannot be sustained.”
So, don’t panic when you hear the headlines – have a look at the reality behind them!
The very popular UK TV programme Have I got News For You started in 1990 and is a news-based quiz with teams partly answering questions and mainly making jokes at the expense of others. The show ends with a quick-fire round “Missing Words” round where the panelists have to guess the blacked-out words in a news headline. As well as national newspaper headlines, they also have headlines from a “guest publication” for additional comic effect.
We have been approached by the programme’s producers Hat Trick to see if they can use our Left Handers Club newsletter as their guest publication in a forthcoming programme. We will surely come in for a bit of teasing on the show but it is also a great way to let a lot more left-handers know about the Left Handers Club so we have said yes.
We thought it might help them as well as being a bit of fun if we could create some headlines for them to use, so let us have your ideas by adding a comment to the post about this on our website. They need to have a left-handed theme, be roughly linked to our newsletter and allow room for the insertion of amusing comments by the panelists. Here are some idea of ours to get you started…
Left Handers – from the famous quote by W C Fields “
“If the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body, and the right side of your brain controls the left side of your body, then left-handed people must be the only ones in their right minds.”
President Obama – When US President Barack Obama met Israeli Prime Minister (and fellow lefthander) Benjamin Netanyahu in March he told him that as a boy living in Indonesia, he was often hit with a ruler as punishment for writing with left handed. “When I was in Indonesia, it was considered bad manners to write with ones left hand.” Obama said. “Even though I would get hit with rulers, I just stuck with it” he explained, according to a press agency report of the conversation.
Left-handers – We often end up with great confusion about which side of the face to plant a social kiss on, leading to embarrassing mix-ups and accidental kisses on the lips. See our article on Lefty Kissing and lots of comments on it here.
So, have a think, look at some of our past newsletters and give us your ideas for some great left-handed headlines by adding a comment to our article on this here. If Hat Trick do accept our suggestions, we will be sure to let you know when the programme is airing.
We have two brand new styles of cartridge pen for school, college or just general use. They are both have the same high-quality iridium nib made specially left-handed to give you a smooth action and good ink flow as you push it across the page and they both have a “soft-touch” finish.
If you have not tried a left-handed cartridge pen before, we can recommend these and if you can’t decide which model or colour is best for you, order any two and get 20% off the price. (normally £9.95 / USD 15.90, order any combination of two or more pens and get a 20% discount to only £7.96 / USD 12.70 each).
There seems to be a never-ending list of new things being added to our original “Is It Me” article about unusual things left-handers do without even realising it. Here are some of the latest:
We had an email recently from Dave telling us that as a left-handers he naturally prioritises the left side of his body in all sorts of daily tasks as he feels it somehow deserves preferential treatment! This got us thinking as well and here are some of the things that Dave and ourselves do “left first”:
I have since tried to do some of these things the other way round and they feel decidedly weird and uncomfortable. Is it just us or do you do the same, and what other things to you do that give preferential treatment to the left side? Add your comments on our article here.
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