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Lies, damned lies and statistics (about press releases)

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According to the famous saying, there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Earlier this month, we had some of the latter, though interestingly the statistics concerned the extent to which researchers exaggerate their findings in press releases, and how that exaggeration filters through to media reports. The Independent’s headline suggested “Bad science reporting blamed on exaggerations in university press releases”, so just what have us researchers been up to?

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Did Humans Start Drinking Alcohol Ten Million Years Ago?

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As we all lapse into boozy Christmas comas on the couch in front of the TV, some of us might be woozily remembering headlines that proudly stated “Humans have been drinking alcohol for ten million years“.

Is it true that humans have really been on the sauce for ten thousand millenia? And how can we know? It might seem like that bottle of Cinzano at the back of the drinks cupboard is pretty old, but not that ancient.

These headlines are based on research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Before we go deconstructing these stories, let’s get our facts right on a few things first. Read more…

Full 23andMe report back in the UK; is that controversial?

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Last week, it was announced that the 23andMe genetic test is “now available to UK customers”. The news was reported with the headlines focusing on the idea that the UK might be too relaxed and less careful than the US on controlling direct-to-consumer genomic companies: DNA-screening test 23andMe launches in UK after US ban, Controversial DNA test comes to UK, Google-Backed Home DNA Screening Banned In America Comes To The UK. Read more…

Co-sleeping with infants and the NICE guidelines update

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provide guidelines on a vast range of aspects of health care issues. This week NICE updated their 2006 guidelines on postnatal care (Guideline CG37) which included recommendations on co-sleeping (defined by NICE as parents or carers sleeping on a bed or sofa or chair with an infant) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) up until infants are one year old. The updated guidelines report “an association between co-sleeping and SIDS” but also states that “the evidence does not allow us to say that co‑sleeping causes SIDS”. So what does this mean and how did the media handle this potentially complex message? Read more…

What makes great teaching?

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Guest Post by Neil McLennan.

Following newspaper headlines, I have previously written on two themes regarding education research. Firstly, the need to promote good research and evaluation to the teaching profession so that micro research might be used in a local context to explore what learning works and the most effective pedagogy in context. Secondly, I have written about the false dichotomy that often accompanies the release of education research where we see methods either triumphed or the baby thrown out with the bathwater in some unhelpful news headlines. Read more…

Single or romantically involved…don’t blame the “happy gene”

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As we approach the end of November we might start thinking about the best and the worst of 2014. This week, a study was mentioned “as a strong candidate for worst genetic study to make the headlines in 2014” by Professor Tim Frayling, a geneticist at the University of Exeter.

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Read all about it: from “bench” to newsstand

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Did you read the one last week about more complex jobs being associated with cognitive ability in old age? Well, that was one of mine! While it’s generally not our style at Research the Headlines to provide a commentary on our own research, or the reporting of that, I thought it might be interesting to use that recent media coverage to illustrate what goes on behind the scenes to go from the research to the headline. Read more…

ADHD and air pollution in pregnancy

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Here at Research the Headlines, we have frequently written about environmental factors that may be linked with developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We have done so because the media frequently reports on such studies. So is there really evidence for a link between ADHD and mothers being exposed to air pollution during their pregnancies as current media headlines would suggest? Read more…

How to “Research the Headlines”

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Over the last few months, many of our Research the Headlines contributors have produced some “top tips” to help you to “Research the Headlines”. We’ve compiled the full How to “Research the Headlines” series below, so please do continue to read, share and feedback.

At Research the Headlines, our aim is to examine “the way in which research is discussed and portrayed in the media”. So, whether you have some background in research or none at all, we hope the short tips are interesting, and that they might help you to get closer to the latest research reported in the media.

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Milk… Is it worthy of the tag line “what more can a body ask for?”

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The human health benefits (or disbenefits) of milk and dairy products continue to grab the headlines. Recently the media reported on a study in the British Medical Journal relating milk intake (liquid and products) to the risk of bone fractures and mortality in men and women. So is this the final evidence that means school milk will never darken our doors again? Well the answer to that would appear to be no, and on the whole the press coverage of the original study was fair and balanced. The reports point to one of the main conclusions that drinking (a lot) of milk may have some health risks with the headlines ranging from Milk might not be as good for us as we thought to Three glasses of milk a day can lead to early death. In reality the most accurate of the headlines reporting this study was High milk diet ‘may not cut risk of bone fractures’. Read more…

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