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Curing Cancer with Salt?


Cancer is a highly emotive subject and horribly prevalent disease, so miracle cures are often the subject of considerable media coverage. The Daily Mail in particular is well-known for articles detailing the latest “cure”, or indeed reporting the newest cancer causing scare, with eagled-eyed bloggers cataloguing lists of cures and carcinogens (note the number of substances that the Mail believes both cause and prevent cancer). So with the latest headline “Salt injection ‘kills cancer cells’” published by the Daily Mail and others, is it really that simple?

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Research the Fringe…

Some of our readers (those not in the UK or who live under rocks) may not be aware that in August, the City of Edinburgh hosts the World’s largest arts festival, commonly known as the Edinburgh Fringe.  As a number of the contributors to Research the Headlines are based in Edinburgh (and one is actually performing) we thought we would provide some listings of events that may be of interest to our readers.   These might be research related, or include aspects of skeptical/rationalist thought, or just be very entertaining.  Either way, we hope this will be helpful for any readers of the blog who are in Edinburgh for the festivals.  If we’ve missed anything out that you would like to highlight then please let us know in the comments.

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“2 minutes exercise will stop you ageing”


Headlines reporting medical breakthroughs or general health-related stories are often particularly attention grabbing. A justification could be that by their nature, such stories are about things that might potentially save or shorten your life. When those headlines are combined with being splashed across the front page of a major newspaper, it’s certainly worth taking note. This week, The Daily Express led with “2 minutes exercise will stop you ageing” (or “Two minutes exercise a week can beat ageing” for the online version). Just two minutes of exercise per week? That’s something even I could probably manage!

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How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 6


Part 6: How to Assess the Risk?

Some of the most common forms of media story that catch our eyes at Research the Headlines are those that report studies of risk, particularly in terms of lifestyle choices that have been shown to increase the likelihood of developing disease.  Unfortunately this is also where the media can often get it wrong in a way that causes unnecessary concern to many people.  In the chapter entitled “Bad Stats” of his excellent book Bad Science, Dr Ben Goldacre states:

Newspapers like big numbers and eye-catching headlines. They need miracle cures and hidden scares, and small percentage shifts in risk will never be enough for them to sell readers to advertisers…

In this latest part of our How to “Research the Headlines” guide we look at how risks are often reported in the media and why these can be misleading.

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Yes, there will be three Supermoons this summer. No, this is not cause for alarm


I write this post as something of a pre-emptive strike.  The slightly ominous sounding “Supermoon” is a common occurrence in our night sky, and NASA has confirmed that we will have three consecutive Supermoons this summer, in July, August and September.  There is often a lot of bunkum on the web about the dangerous effects of Supermoons.  However, they’re absolutely nothing to worry about, and I’ll tell you why.

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How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 5


Part 5: Are associations/causal links handled correctly?

Identifying associations between different variables is essential in research. Researchers often report associations using a statistic called a correlation. The more closely two variables are associated, the larger the correlation. Correlations therefore potentially tell us how two things change in tandem. This is because things that have a causal link (e.g. smoking tobacco cigarettes causes lung cancer) produce correlations (smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer than non-smokers). Read more…

Fertility problems and their relationship to child mental health


A recently published study that has reported a link between fertility problems and children’s mental health issues has attracted significant media attention. The story has been covered by the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Scotsman, the Times, and countless health websites e.g. Nursing Times. Reporting of the study ranged from excellent such as the Guardian coverage to what could be considered not so good! So what’s this study all about? Read more…

Do Orangutans Undergo Menopause?


It was recently reported that scientists observed menopause in a 49-year-old female orangutan, calling into question the assumption that humans are the only apes to undergo a natural end to female fertility. Gina, a wild-caught orangutan who has lived at the Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey for the past 46 years, where she has given birth to 7 offspring, was being examined by vets in preparation for breeding when they discovered the physiological signs of menopause. Read more…

How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 4


Welcome to part four of our How to “Research the Headlines” guide.  By now, you should be familiar with some of our tips on how to address media reporting of research: make sure you read the whole article, not just potentially misleading headlines, and look out for quotes from and guidance from not only the authors of the research, but also some independent experts.  Our next piece of advice regards the provenance of the research — does the news item provide links to the original study and those who carried it out?

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Siblings of children with autism: are they at higher risk of also developing autism?


Here at Research the Headlines we have written regularly about the use of inaccurate sensationalist headlines to attract the readers attention regardless of its validity. Well a headline has come out in the press that is so sensationalist I am left wondering if the author has made a huge misinterpretation or were indeed striving to be sensationalist! Read more…


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