Friday, 23 April 2010

Women in science & the media

On a rather long visit to the hairdressers (yes scientists do visit the hairdressers) I was handed a copy of Red magazine. Now I enjoy a glossy, trashy, gossip filled magazine as much as the next person but Red is a little different, it's a little more 'serious', it isn't based solely around fashion. Currently it is promoting 'Red's Hot Women' which is a competition promoting intelligent women that work hard and have showed great achievements in their field. The article was entitled 'the top 20 under 30' and all the women featured in the magazine are extremely talented and inspirational... I just have one problem, not one of them was a scientist.

Now this is just one example, I am sure there are scientists that were in the shortlist but didn't make it for whatever reason. I am also not saying that women scientists are better than anyone else. I just want to highlight the fact that the world of science and women scientists get practically ZERO mention in women's magazines.

I can speculate the reason for this, people that work on the magazines probably do not have an understanding of what goes on in the career of a scientist and lets face it, science doesn't equal glamour.

But I do believe they are missing out on something here... who better to debunk the latest beauty fad than a level headed scientist? 'Wonder cream claims 0 wrinkles in 30 minutes'. Someone who understands the basics of skin science, formulation and statistics could give a pretty well rounded view of the truth behind claims like these. I don't want to bring doom and gloom to the whole picture, I know these magazines are largely used for escapism and if buying that cream makes you feel good, then it make you feel good and I wouldn't want to deny anyone that pleasure! But if someone could give the truth behind what is being sold, it might enable people make their own minds up a little easier, rather than being clouded by opinions.

They also have many articles on various diseases that effect women and regular articles on breast cancer, in fact lots of them are linked to fundraising for charities that support research in these areas. So why do they never cover where the money goes? They never cover the path to drug discovery, the fact that it takes a bare minimum of 5 years to get any new treatment out and available for public use. I bet the majority of people don't know that the money that they provide goes to fund short contracts in research - meaning that the majority of scientists doing the work never have job security as their contracts only last for 3-18 months.

So, off topic I am going to give my own little dedication to women from science and the good that they have done.

Marie Curie (Named New Scientists Greatest Female Scientist of all Time)

Nobel Prize winner (x2!), Chemist and physicist - Created the theory of radioactivity, many people (men) refused to believe that it was the work of a woman. Through her direction, the first studies into using radiation to treat cancers were carried out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - The first British woman to gain a medical qualification in the UK (Elizabeth Blackwell was the first British woman to gain a medical qualification, but that was in the US)

She went on to build a  medical school for women

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Garrett_Anderson

Sorry to overdo the wikipedia links a little bit.. but this is an excellent article about women in science throughout the centuries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_science


Rosalind Franklin - The somewhat unsung hero

It was her data Watson and Crick reportedly used to formulate their hypothesis of DNA structure.


And there are many many more! Also, I never knew that Beatrix Potter was a mycologist!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Election Fever

Things have been pretty quiet on the scaremongering science news report front, probably because there is plenty of actual news with the announcement of the general election. I think it is a little early to pass judgement on what it would mean for science depending on which party gets into power (partly because I haven't had chance to have a good read through all of the 'promises' yet) so I will save that for another day.

I did however come across this little gem lurking on the Daily Mail website,

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1265857/Dieting-exercise-NOT-help-lose-weight.html

Headline : Dieting without exercise 'will NOT help you lose weight'

Actual meaning: Reducing calorie intake in monkeys reduced their activity levels and thus resulted in no weight loss. SURPRISING? Not really.

My rough translation of what that means for humans, if you eat 3 cheeseburgers a week and run for the bus everyday but want to shift a few pounds, don't eat salad then take the car - keep running for that bus.

It's fairly simple really, if you take more calories in than you burn off then you will get fatter, take fewer calories in and burn more off you will get skinnier*.

I am not sure why so many people struggle with this extremely simple concept, maybe its because people want to justify eating that extra bit of cake.




*Of course there are some exeptions to the rule,  people with thyroid problems for example.

Friday, 2 April 2010

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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