These Red Flags and their definitions are from the website Science or Not?  The examples and comments are mine.

Cherry picking: “In cherry-picking, people use legitimate evidence, but not all of the evidence. They select segments of evidence that appear to support their argument and hide or ignore the rest of the evidence which tends to refute it.”

Once again, I’ll be relying on Jon Kabat-Zinn to illustrate this Red Flag. Kabat-Zinn is a well-known Mindfulness advocate.  Examples are from:

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Kindle Version, Revised Edition 2013; Bantam Books, New York.

In this book, Kabat-Zinn refers to a study that apparently showed

“…a lack of closeness to one’s parents during childhood was associated with a risk of cancer. We might speculate that this has something to do with the extreme importance of early experience s of connectedness to later health as an adult.” 4937

The study Kabat-Zinn cites was included in a recent meta-analysis, which concluded: “This review comprises only longitudinal, truly prospective studies (N=70). It was concluded that there is not any psychological factor for which an influence on cancer development has been convincingly demonstrated... (My italics)

(On a side note, I also want to point out Kabat-Zinn’s tendency to use inflated language, as in the “extreme” importance of early experience of connectedness to later health. How does he conclude early childhood experiences are ‘extremely” important to later health? What other things might poor “connectedness” in childhood co-vary with? How about poverty, family disruption, bad neighborhoods, health behaviors, etc.? And how much disconnection is necessary to have this deleterious long term effect? Just some, or only at the extreme ends of the continuum? If only extreme cases, what co-varies in the childhood environment with extreme lack of connection? Unfortunately, Kabat-Zinn addresses none of these questions.)

In another example, Kabat-Zinn writes at length about the benefits of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), citing at one point a study by Teasdale et al, in which:

“people with a prior history of three of more episodes of major depression taking the MBCT program relapsed at half the rate of the control group, which only received routine health care from their doctor…This was a staggering result…” 7322 (Kindle page)

What the Abstract for Teasdale et al study actually says: “For patients with 3 or more previous episodes of depression (77% of the sample), MBCT significantly reduced risk of relapse/recurrence. For patients with only 2 previous episodes, MBCT did not reduce relapse/recurrence.” Later in the paper, the authors note “It is clear that the intervention did not reduce risks of major depression in the normal range.”(p. 621)

Not a refutation – but hardly “staggering”.


Garssen B. Psychological factors and cancer development: evidence after 30 years of research. Clinical Psychology Review 2004 Jul; 24(3):315-38.

John D. Teasdale et al Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2000, Vol. 68, No. 4, 615-623.