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“2 minutes exercise will stop you ageing”

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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?

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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…

Counting the ‘cost’ of autism

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The media have paid significant attention to a study that was published recently which looked at the financial cost of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the U.S. and the U.K. Most of the media have lead with headlines referring to the high annual cost of ASD to the U.K. economy (£32 billion) and have compared this to the lower cost of cancer, heart conditions and strokes combined. So is this comparison fair? Read more…

How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 3

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So now we come to our third tip to help you to “Research the Headlines“.

Part 3: Are independent experts featured in the article?

Here at Research the Headlines, we often discuss how research findings may have been presented in a biased way by the media. This relationship goes both ways and, of course, researchers may play up or down particular findings for various reasons. As well as this, research findings may not always be placed in a broader context by the particular researcher who conducted the study or by the media. So an important issue we have consistently raised in Research the Headlines is whether independent experts featured in the article to help address this balance?

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