The Press and Journal and the Ginger Gene

Following on from last week, I contacted the newspaper that printed the walnut/prostate cancer story and I was pleased that I got a response quite quickly. The editor pointed me in the direction of this website which he assured me 'would answer my questions'.

http://www.webmd.boots.com/prostate-cancer/news/20100322/walnuts-may-help-fight-prostate-cancer

This report seems a fairly well rounded view of the research which was apparently presented (I still cannot find any details of the original research) pointing out that the research has yet to be subject to peer review. There are quite a few discrepences between the Boots article and the one reported in the newspaper, so I sent a polite reply back to the editor,

Dear SIR

Thank you very much for your reply and pointing me in the direction of the article on the Boots website.

The article on the Boots website makes it clear that this research has not yet been subject to peer review and also that the test was carried out in test animals. It does not indicate that the test results are directly related to humans.
On the subject of, ‘Prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30% in mice...Tumours in mice given the nut diet were half as big as those of animals not fed on walnuts’ the Boots article clearly states that ‘The walnut-fed mice developed prostate cancers that were about 50% smaller than the control mice. Those cancers also grew 30% slower’.
I appreciate that newspapers wish to report on breaking news stories/new findings but I suggest you exercise some caution in how you report this information. It is unfair to mislead people (especially those which may be suffering from prostate cancer) by incorrectly reporting on a scientific study. The headline used ‘Researchers hail walnuts as prostate cancer treatment’ is a fairly big over exaggeration of what the study actually showed.
I don’t wish to come across as a complete pain and I am all in support of encouraging people to eat healthier, however, as I work in the field of scientific research I regularly come across articles in the news that incorrectly interpret study results and so I feel it necessary to highlight the problems it causes.

Many thanks and regards,

Their reply,

Thank you for your further e-mail.


I will forward your comments onto the news agency which supplied the report. It may well be that further information they have elicited indicates the relevance of the findings to humans, or that the Boots report is only a partial record of findings disclosed to the conference at which the research was discussed.

I hope he did pass on my comments to this mystery news agency.

Anyway, moving on to this weeks excitement...

I have enjoyed following the evolution of an article written by a student in the EUSci (University of Edinburgh Science magazine) particularly as I am a lone ginger in my family. The original article is very entertaining however what is more entertaining is the way in which national newspapers picked up on the story and turned it into their own story. Here's a link to the website, http://www.eusci.org/ if you want to read it.

The Daily Mail reported that The 26-year-old came up with the theory, 'genetic mutation + bad weather = red heads'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1256269/Emily-Pritchard-Scotlands-weather-ginger-hair-linked-says-genetics-student.html#ixzz0jwEUeDGa

The Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/genetics/article7053424.ece

and The Sun's expert reporters said, 'LOUSY weather is responsible for Scotland having so many red-heads, a study claims.' (which she clearly didn't)

Read more: http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/news/2884336/Poor-Scottish-weather-is-why-the-nation-has-a-high-number-of-redheads.html#ixzz0jwFEdtDk

Just another example how newspapers and journalists can twist a science story into something it isn't. I know this is a fairly lighthearted ginger story (and everyone loves a ginger story) but this exactly how more serious health/science stories can be misinterpreted and come out of nothing. It shows how something fairly obscure in the world of science can become mainstream and blown into something bigger.

I have had a quiet week research wise as you can probably tell. Everything is at a standstill at the moment (waiting for kits for experiments/cells to grow) and I am not the most patient patient so it is driving me nuts!! I am just glad there has been a good ginger story and plenty of April Fools stories to keep me amused!!

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