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How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 9


Through our How to “Research the Headlines” series, we’ve provided some simple suggestions to assist with your critical consumption of research reported in the media. Most of the time, we’ve focused on specific things to look out for when reading any particular media article. Given that many of us get our news online, it is of course easier than ever to access multiple reports about the same topic. If more than one media outlet has covered a story, how might the consistency of reporting, or indeed inconsistency, help us to better appraise that research? Read more…

Acrylamide on Toast – Carcinogen or Chemophobia?


All too often, public perception rather than actual scientific data sway policy over the use of certain chemicals. Aspartame, Bisphenol A and fructose have all taken a pasting in the last decade, and it now looks like acrylamide, a by-product of cooking starchy foods, is set to join this unhappy brethren. So with claims of carcinogenicity and a lawsuit on the way, is acrylamide a genuine problem or just another example of chemophobia?

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Does charging your phone overnight make you fat?


I doubt it.

The Independent reports that “Charging your phone in your bedroom could make you put on weight”. It goes on to state that “artificial light from phone screens, street lights, laptops or television stops the body generating a hormone that combats obesity”.  This is not a new story – similar headlines were making the rounds earlier this year (see NHS Choices for that coverage). Read more…

Stand up for health!


Nobody would argue against the invitation of standing up for health, if only that was it. Instead the title of a scientific paper published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine went a bit further: Stand up for health—avoiding sedentary behaviour might lengthen your telomeres: secondary outcomes from a physical activity RCT in older people. Such a title can only invite bad science reporting. Telomeres are a favourite target for media hype as they provide many attractive characteristics to stimulate a writer’s imagination. Read more…

Do children born too close together face autism risk?


There has been a fair bit of media attention (e.g. Telegraph and Daily Mail) on a study that has suggested that children born very close in time to their siblings face a increased risk of developing autism. In all of the media articles on this study, it has been reported that children conceived within 2 months of each other were 150% more at risk than children whose births were spaced further apart.  But what does this actually mean? Read more…

Is it true that Muslims in Britain are not ‘integrated’ and how can we measure this?


In recent months, a number of commentators have restated concerns over the ‘integration’ of Britain’s Muslims. In particular it is claimed that Muslims in Britain have less favourable views of – and therefore attachment to – Britain, and that Muslims seek to cluster together in self-segregating communities. Both of these tendencies, it is alleged, place Britain’s Muslims at risk of becoming ‘radicalised’, and perhaps even encourage political violence at home and abroad.

For example, The Telegraph, tells us that Too many of Britain’s Muslims are failing to integrate. We need to find out why. The Daily Express argues that the state has encouraged Muslims to live apart and that in place of integration it has promoted division and separatism. The Guardian, meanwhile, shares the view that there has not been sufficient emphasis on Muslim integration. Both Daily Mail and The Times have repeated this view too, complaining that Instead of greater integration, the state has promoted separatism by emphasising differences and calling for greater integration and opportunity, respectively. Does the evidence support these concerns? To answer this we need to agree on what we mean by ‘integration’.

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How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 8


Here at Research the Headlines, we frequently write about the findings of a single study that have gripped the media. This attention comes about because the findings differ from what the general public commonly think or because they refute a large body of previous research. Often the findings have been the subject of a lot of media focus because they have implications for the health of the general public. It is therefore particularly important to know how to appraise such media coverage.

Read more…

Is Islamic State Medieval?


Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve read in dozens of headlines and opinion pieces across western media that those who profess allegiance to Islamic State (or ISIL), and the actions they have been carrying out in its name, not least the beheading of American and British journalists, are ‘medieval’, and that we are witnessing some sort of return to the Middle Ages in the Near East. Read more…

Ebola outbreak: is this the beginning, middle or the end?


The name ‘Ebola’ strikes fear at its mere mention; not just in areas where outbreaks are known to occur, but across the globe. Ebola is a lethal viral pathogen causing hemorrhagic fever, where case fatality rates average 78%. West Africa is currently experiencing the largest ever outbreak of the disease, as it moves its way through Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, amd Nigeria. Last week Senegal reported its first case. As of 1st September 2014, the number of cases was reported to stand at around 3000, with 1500 deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently estimated that case numbers might rise as high as 20,000. But what do we really know about this Ebola strain, its transmission and how the outbreak is likely to play out over the coming months? Read more…


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