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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’. Read more…

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.

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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…

Will Studying the Higgs Boson Really Destroy the Universe?


I used to enjoy reading articles in the press regarding the thoughts and ideas of Professor Stephen Hawking, an incomparable physicist and cosmologist, and an uncompromising science communicator. Any man who can reach such dizzying theoretical heights and still write a challenging but accessible book like A Brief History of Time ranks high in my estimation.

However, I fear that his reputation is falling victim to his own PR machine. The latest news item regards comments he makes in the preface of a new book, Starmus, that scientists studying the Higgs Boson could “destroy the Universe”. While it makes for some juicy headlines, and it will no doubt help sell copies of this book which accompanies a festival celebrating our exploration of space, the media coverage is a little concerning.

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Brain Training on Trial: Passing Judgement


The global industry for products designed to monitor or improve brain health is currently estimated to be worth over $1 billion. That is expected to increase six-fold by 2020 (source:, “an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of neuroscience”). “Brain training” products, packages of games or puzzles that have generally been developed and marketed to improve the brain’s function, make up a large proportion of this industry. But does brain training train your brain? Read more…

Suicide diagnostic kit or media hype?


Wouldn’t it be beneficial to be able to identify individuals at risk of suicide with a blood test? This idea has been widely covered in the media following the publication of a genetic study in The American Journal of Psychiatry at the end of July. The study reported the identification of genetic markers on a particular gene (called SKA2) that appeared to be associated with suicidal behaviour. Read more…

How to “Research the Headlines”: Part 7


In a highly connected world, information is being produced continuously and made available in unprecedented quantities. As researchers, we see information being produced in primary sources – papers in rapidly growing numbers of journals (to the point that even experts in narrowly defined areas may sometimes find it hard to keep up with all that is being said); secondary sources – commentary in traditional and new media (which comes with its own peculiarities, such as that social media can very quickly become ‘echo chambers’); and eventually in policy and strategy documents that aggregate or interpret such sources.

In such a world, the media plays a powerful role in focusing our attention on specific issues and more generally in organizing this information. What is said and how it is presented has tremendous power in shaping discourse. With such power comes the question of whether it is being used fairly. Read more…

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?

Read more…


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