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Sex change and reverse inference


One of my favourite things to rant about to a captive audience of undergraduate students during my lectures is reverse inference, especially in the context of how the popular press covers neuroscience research. What is reverse inference, I hear you ask? It’s when results which measure changes in a physiological measure (e.g., brain structure or function) are interpreted as automatically implying a change in cognition or behaviour. This might seem a little…abstract. But some recent reporting on how testosterone (administered for sex change) alters various structural properties of the brain provides a timely demonstration of this common error. Read more…

Talking Headlines: with Dr Suzi Gage


Dr. Suzi Gage is a post-doctoral research associate working as part of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, looking at associations between substance use and mental health. She is also a blogger for the Guardian science network, where she writes about those topics related to her research area and epidemiology more broadly. In 2012 her blog, Sifting the Evidence, won the first UK Science Blog Prize awarded by the Good Thinking Society. Read more…

Researchers head to the classroom to make headlines

RWtH - Logo 2

A new competition has been launched to help school children understand how the latest research becomes headline news.

Rewrite the Headlines, working with schools throughout Scotland, aims to help young people better understand what research is and how it gets translated from specialised areas to the media. It’s being run by the academics and researchers behind Research the Headlines, a blog created by members of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland which discusses research and the media. Read more…

Have scientists invented “super-chocolate”?


A thundering headline from the Daily Mail reads “We could soon be indulging in SUPER-CHOCOLATE: Scientists tweak ingredients at molecular level to help create perfect recipe”. Reading this headline, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a hi-tech laboratory experiment, with a team of scientists labouring over a vat of deliciously superior chocolate, tinkering with individual molecules of chocolate for a perfect taste (I personally am immediately taken back to Gene Wilder’s peerless performance of Willy Wonka). The facts are perhaps less dramatic, but still an important advance to producing better chocolate in industrial quantities. Read more…

Can a C-Section affect babies’ brain development?


A number of media outlets have been reporting evidence that  being born by C-Section can affect brain development. Many of the articles have specifically reported that this mode of delivery ‘slows a newborn’s ability to concentrate’ or even stronger can ‘impede a baby’s ability to concentrate’. But does the research study behind these stories provide concrete evidence for such claims? Read more…

Research the Fringe 2015

Research the Headlines

So it’s August and time for Edinburgh to host the World’s biggest festival of performance arts, otherwise known as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As usual this runs alongside the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival, the International Book Festival, and the Edinburgh International TV Festival. As we did last year we would like to provide suggestions for research-related shows and events for any Research the Headlines readers who may be visiting Edinburgh this month. Read more…

A breakthrough for treating Alzheimer’s?


At the end of July, a number of media headlines were hailing a potential breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The BBC led with a cautious but optimistic “Early signs that drug ‘may delay Alzheimer’s decline’”, through the Telegraph’s “First drug to slow Alzheimer’s Disease unveiled in landmark breakthrough”, to the more personal focus of the Mirror’s “‘Alzheimer’s miracle drug has saved my life’: Trial Brit’s joy as dementia slowed by new cure”. About one in six people over the age of 80 are diagnosed with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common cause (accounting for about two thirds of dementia cases). Any new treatment is therefore potentially very important, and something which those with the disease and their families obviously attach a great deal of significance to. Read more…

Baby sloth being raised by soft toy


The media have been reporting widely on the case of a baby sloth in a London Zoo who is being raised with the help of a soft toy. Interestingly, the media coverage has focused on the use of the toy to aid physical development. What does psychological research suggest is happening here? Read more…

“Google is ‘ruining our memories’, study claims”


For many of us, accessing information on the web is not only a daily occurrence, but perhaps even an hourly one. The easy availability of information possibly means there’s less need to retain some of those things in our own memory. After all, if we forget, it’s a simple case of checking again. But recent media reports suggest the ubiquity of the internet might be causing us to develop ‘digital amnesia’. Read more…

Is there life on Comet 67P?

Comet 67P on 19 September 2014 NavCam mosaic.jpg

Ever since the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission successfully deposited the Philae lander on Comet 67P on November 12th last year most of the stories in the press have concerned the fact that it had lost power a few days later and had gone into hibernation.  Now that Philae has woken up again as the comet approaches the sun, allowing more power to the lander’s solar panels, there are high hopes that it will be able to complete its mission. One part of this mission involves looking for complex organic molecules thought by some to have been involved in the evolution of life on Earth.  However, looking at some of the stories in the press this week, (Guardian, Mirror, Daily Mail, International Business Times) it may appear that this has been confirmed, and even more that life had been discovered on Comet 67P!

Read more…


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