Friday, 26 March 2010

Holiday & Badscience

I took a much needed (due to the severe lack of sunshine in the far north of Scotland) holiday for a couple of weeks. It's amazing how good a few hours in the sunshine can make you feel!

I took 6 books with me, most of which were trashy rubbish. Two days before the holiday I bought a book called Badscience on impulse after drinking a few glasses of wine at lunchtime. Wine clearly improved my book choices, Badscience turned out to be the only decent book out of the 6. I really would recommend this book to EVERYONE especially if you work in media/PR/marketing. It really hammers home how science is misrepresented and 'dumbed down' in the media.

Here is my own short example,

I had a little look for the latest ‘revolutionary’ health story in the local newspaper. It didn’t take long to find an article entitied 'How walnuts may fight prostate cancer'.

I will just share with you this small snippet, taken from the article, ‘Prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30% in mice fed the human equivalent of two handfuls of walnuts every day for two months. Tumours in mice given the nut diet were half as big as those of animals not fed on walnuts. The US researchers believe the findings are directly relevant to humans.’Read more: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1658509#ixzz0jIcnnlEH

I only did maths up to G.C.S.E but I am pretty sure that in no way does 30% = half. Also I am not sure how these findings relate directly to humans.

I wanted to investigate further. Despite me having access to many academic journals through the university intranet I could find no trace of a scientific paper related to this study, nor on study leader Paul Davis’ university website does it mention the study.

I am going to write a small note to the paper shortly.

I really want to make sure that in my career I can help change some of these problems with the way ‘science’ is reported. I have started the blog already (although I haven't said anything on this subject previously). Following the lead from Ben Goldacre, the Badsciences author, I will make sure I contact and explain my problems to the writers/sources of science stories I come across that mislead/confuse or incorrectly report findings.

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