Monday, 28 November 2011

Acne, a side effect of being a successful 'high flying' career woman? Not at all.

This is the latest blight to 'successful', 'high powered', 'bossy' women...

According to The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Marie Claire, and Female First:

- 'Acne new problem for successful women'

- 'Acne, curse of the high-flying career woman: Growing stress levels to blame for outbreak of pimples'

- 'Stress causing acne in successful women'

Friday, 25 November 2011

Recognising Public Engagement

Universities in the UK have embraced 'Public Engagement'. There is a Public Engagement Manifesto. My university (University of Aberdeen) have signed it. But who carries this 'vital' work out and are they being recognised for it?

The University of Aberdeen is committed to achieving distinctive excellence across all aspects of its activities including the vital objective of engaging with society. We are building on a considerable track record, where public engagement has become ever more embedded in our core business. Moving forward, our Strategic Plan 2011-2015 reflects our ongoing commitment to support and empower our staff and students to help deliver a diverse, creative and accessible programme of activities with a measurable public impact. Partnership is central to our strategy and our active involvement with the work of the NCCPE extends back to its inception. We therefore endorse the principles of the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research and fully support the NCCPE Manifesto.” Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of Aberdeen

This is great news. One I am pleased with as a PhD student. I want the university I am studying at to be embracing this and I want to (and do) support public engagement events. I think there is a great value in engagement and both for the university, the people at the university and for the public.
I do see one problem though. The vast amount of public engagement activities that happen are reliant on volunteers. The volunteers tend to be a small (ish) pool of people that take part in events and often the pool is of students (both undergraduate and postgraduate).  
Public Engagement is starting to be seen as something employees of the university should be doing within their 'normal work'. Some institutions are including it on their assessment and promotion criteria which is a great start at integrating it into peoples jobs (I am not sure that the University of Aberdeen have introduced this). Including it as promotion criteria makes sure that staff time is dedicated to public engagement and that people are rated, judged and recognised for the work they do.
I see plenty of support for people that want to get involved with public engagement and have an idea at the University of Aberdeen. However, I feel the recognition for people that take part in these activities; especially those that are students and on short term contracts (post doc etc) is lacking. This creates a culture where those interested in public engagement and feel strongly about it do it. But do it in their own time because they want to. There is no extra incentives other than 'building your C.V.'. As the university are placing an expectation on people to take part in these activities, should there be bigger incentives, recognition and awards or should people not taking part and not 'doing their bit'  be penalised?
UCL seems to be doing a good job at both embracing and recognising people (both staff and students) who take part in these activities through the Provost awards - However, is the introduction and use of awards such as these (although they may be great incentives to get people involved in public engagement activities) a way for the universities to get work that they deem as 'vital' done but not pay people for it?

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Cervical Cancer Jab and the 'Waking Coma'

I read an extremely sad news story this evening about a girl who is trapped in a 'waking coma'. Sleeping for 23 hours a day she has been unable to open her eyes for several weeks. Her condition is according to the news reports undiagnosed, but her symptoms have been linked to ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her story has been covered on The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun and many other major news websites after the local newspaper covered the story.

Unfortunately, I feel that this story has only hit the big newspapers as her symptoms coincided with her receiving the cervical cancer vaccine and the headlines and articles all suggest that the cancer vaccine is the cause of the girls condition. These are some of the headlines:

Daily Mail:  Girl, 13, left in 'waking coma' and sleeps for 23 hours a day after severe reaction to cervical cancer jabs

Telegraph: Cervical cancer jab left girl, 13, in 'waking coma'
The Sun:  Cervical cancer jab puts girl, 13, in 'waking coma'

The link between the jab and her condition has not been proven.

Obviously it is important to get to the bottom of this story,  and find out what is the cause of the symptoms, but I am disappointed to see this story being sold as an anti vaccine scare story.

News organisations may say they have a responsibility to report on stories that may suggest a danger from a product/vaccine however, is a very isolated case and overshadows the benefits of the vaccine (and other vaccines).

How can possible side effects be reported whilst making it clear that the links are not yet proven? Can they? Has the media still not learnt its lesson from previous misreporting of unsupported vaccine side-effects?

For the facts on the cervical cancer vaccine visit the NHS website:

I would encourage everyone to submit a complaint about these articles to the PCC here - as I feel they are in breach of clause 1 (accuracy) of the code of practice -

As Stephen Adams was identified as the author of the Telegraph acticle I contacted him:

I am writing to you in response to the article posted on The Telegraphs website titled - Cervical cancer jab left girl, 13, in 'waking coma'.
I am unsure why you have chosen to produce a story linking the jab to the girls condition when a link has not yet been proven. The article clearly comes across in a way that suggests the link is there and I think that is misleading. I have written more on my blog here
I have also submitted a complaint about the article to the PCC.
I would like to ask you why you felt the need to write the article in this way? Do you not see the need to be cautious in the representation of vaccine side effect stories after the problems with the MMR vaccine?

This Stephen's response:

The article clearly states that it is the parents' belief that the jab has produced an adverse reaction in their daughter.
It does not claim this is the doctors' judgement, or claim there is a proven link.
The article makes clear the very great benefit this vaccine should have in the future in reducing the burden of cervical cancer, and the fact that it has demonstrated a strong safety profile so far in trials and in practice.
That, however, should not stop papers from reporting suspected adverse reactions. And that is all we have done - reported the parents' fears of a suspected adverse reaction. It does not, as you write, suggest there is a link.
I believe papers should be free to report claims of such reactions, in a fair and balanced way. As a medical sciences student you undoubtedly know that vaccines can and do produce adverse reactions in a small proportion of people.
I don't have an axe to grind about vaccines, and am certainly not one of the minority who objects to them.
For your information I have written other reports on HPV vaccines, see for example here and here
Anti-vaccine campaigners might take the view that these are to 'pro-vaccine'.
You might, however, be interested to read some of the comments from parents on the bottom of the first of the two.
I am acutely aware of the need not to scaremonger about vaccinations in the wake of MMR; I think you will find most journalists are.

I haven't got much time to write my reaction - here is what I believe is the 'original' article in the local newspaper - This article really suggests that it is the parents feeling that there is a link to the jab more than the article in the Telegraph does. A lot of the stats and statments in this article also appear in the Telegraph article.

I understand that Stephen probably did not write the headline for the article in the Telegraph and I feel that it is the most misleading part, however, he doesn't see a problem with the article at all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wine, gives you cancer but makes you thin

Once again, reporters pick up on stories related to booze. There are two wine stories in the news at the moment. Both found on the Telegraph website (and others)

Booze, from
 Story 1, Red wine holds key to better health for obese patients

Headline suggests drinking wine = good for health. The headline is misleading, but the study write up is pretty good. No 'scientists' in this article, only EXPERTS. Whoever they are...

This article is written about a small study on humans (11 male obese patients). The patients were given the treatment for 30 days (so very short term). Treatment was an injection (not a glass of) resveratrol (compound found in grapes at low levels - according to The Telegraph you would have to drink 13 bottles a night to acheive a dose similar to that in the study - not sure where this figure comes from). Results were compared to placebo treatment (the participants were given a placebo injection for 30 days at the start of the trial). The paper found that, ' 30 days of resveratrol supplementation induces metabolic changes in obese humans, mimicking the effects of calorie restriction.'

The Daily Mail go with the headline -  Red wine ingredient protects against heart disease and diabetes

but fail to mention the amount of actual wine you would have to drink in order to match the levels used in the study (shame on you) and also throw in the rather bold claim, 'resveratrol, the wonder substance which found in the skin of red grapes, is also thought to increase life expectancy'.  I am not sure what backs that claim up...

Research paper freely available to read here -

Story 2, One glass of wine a day increases risk of breast cancer: research

Another story from the Telegraph, unsure why ':RESEARCH' is used in the headline. The study did not look at wine, it studied alcohol consumption.

Information from the study paper -  very large study (105 986 American Nurses) monitored between 1980 and 2008. The population of the nurses,93.7% white, 2% black, 0.7% Asian, and 3.6% other or unknown race/ethnicity.  Information was collected by survey - one consideration is, how truthful were the nurses about their alcohol consumption? Were those reporting low, 'moderate' amounts of alcohol really consuming low amounts? It seems alcohol consumption was averaged over years where there was missing data for participants. They did include 'dummy variables' for missing data. Obesity seems to have been completely omitted from the variables in the study, which is a problem because weight gain and loss is a risk factor in breast cancer.

Results (quoted from paper) 'Increasing alcohol consumption was associated with increased breast cancer risk that was statistically significant at levels as low as 5.0 to 9.9 g per day, equivalent to 3 to 6 drinks per week (relative risk, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.06-1.24; 333 cases/100 000 person-years).' The first line in the Telegraph reports, 'women who drink just four small glasses of wine a week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15 per cent'. I am unsure where The Telegraph have got this statistic from.

Also from The Telegraph, 'Women who drank up to four units a day were 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not drink at all, it was found'. Unless I am missing something, (and please correct me) the Telegraph seem to have created their own statistics for this study.

Daily Mail reports - Two glasses of wine a day could increase breast cancer risk by 50 per cent

Made up statistic in use on the headline. Article seems to be copied from The Telegraph, just rea-arranged in a different order.

Research paper available here -

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