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Research the Fringe 2017

Dear readers, as it’s August again we would like to welcome you to another roundup of research related shows on at the various festivals hosted in Edinburgh this month. These include the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, its more prestigious elder, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the Edinburgh International TV Festival. As we have done in previous years (2014, 2015) we would like to provide suggestions for research-related shows and events for any Research the Headlines readers who may be visiting Edinburgh this month. Read more…

May the Farce Be With You: The Dark Side of “predatory” academic publishing

The process of peer-review is one of the pillars of modern scientific research. In its ideal form, researchers submit articles to a journal, which selects expert reviewers to read the manuscript, assess its quality, and either reject the article or ask for corrections before it is published. This process (along with careful editorial control) ensures that when research is published, its content is accurate, honest and of value to the scientific community.

Even in our modern age of preprint servers, where new research can be downloaded for free, peer-review remains the gold standard, and journals remain the gatekeepers of the peer-review process. Sadly, not all journals hold their article to the same high standard. Read more…

Hyping evidence harms trust in research

When we talk about research in the media, it’s often assumed we’re focussing primarily on the way journalists or the media might misrepresent solidly conducted and robust research. While that does happen, and we’ve talked about that in various posts at Research the Headlines, it’s important to remember the translation of new research from “lab to headline” is a process that involves a number of people. Inaccuracies can creep in at different stages and those can ultimately affect the way people interpret that evidence, or indeed trust the whole process. That’s just one of the topics considered in a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences released last month. Read more…

Coming of age for the bacteria-eaters?

The most abundant biological entity on the planet is the bacteriophage (literally bacteria-eater) – and yet there have been long debates over whether they are really ‘alive’ – see here. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria and are sometimes simply called ‘phage’. They attach to their bacterial host, inject their DNA and ‘take over’ the host, making the bacterial cell in to a bacteriophage factory. Once the progeny bacteriophage are assembled, they burst out of the bacterium, killing it and releasing the phage to go on and infect more bacteria. Read more…

Active travel is always healthier than the car

Compared to the belching fumes and loud noises we are bombarded with when walking beside a busy street, the environment within a car seems quite peaceful. This sense of security leads many people to believe that being in the car protects them from air pollution and particulates. Parents might think this is especially the case for small children, with their lower stature and delicate developing bodies. But is it better for your kids’ health if they walk or cycle, even if exposed to urban air pollution, or take the car? Read more…

Suramin: the sleeping sickness drug tested in autism

There has been considerable media interest in a study that examined the impact of an African sleeping sickness drug, suramin, on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some media reports take a very hopeful view of the drug and its ability to treat children with autism with headlines evident such as ‘New autism drug shows promising results’ and ‘Century-old drug, suramin may provide hope for autistic kids’.  Headlines such as these merit a closer look at the research behind them and what this means for those with autism.

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Talking Headlines with Andy Cassell

Andrew Cassell is the former TV correspondent covering Scotland for the BBC’s One, Six and Ten O’Clock news bulletins. He started on a local newspaper and in a 30 year journalistic career he has worked for STV, local radio in England and Northern Ireland and the BBC’s World Service.  He also presented Radio Scotland’s flagship news and current affairs programme Good Morning Scotland.

I recently met Andy at a media training session for scientists. I have learnt a lot about the process that goes from science publication in specialized journals to headlines in the media. So I thought to ask Andy whether, for once, he would be prepared to be on the other side of the microphone.

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Technology vs albatross: focusing on satellite imagery loses the big picture

Access to high-resolution satellite imagery has allowed scientists to count virtually an entire species of albatross from space, as shown by a paper published this week by New Zealand and British scientists. However, the technological advances seemed to dazzle the media so much that the conservation message was lost.

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Did dinosaurs originate in Scotland? Probably not.

Written by Young Academy of Scotland member Steve Brusatte

Last month, a Guardian headline proclaimed: ‘Radical shakeup of dinosaur family tree points to unexpected Scottish origins’.

The article referred to a sensational new study of dinosaur genealogy by Cambridge University PhD student Matthew Baron and his colleagues, which was published as the cover article in the March 22, 2017 issue of Nature. The crux of that peer-reviewed study was a new family tree of dinosaurs, which broke with 130 years of consensus among palaeontologists by placing the meat-eating theropods (T. rex and kin) in a group with the beaked, plant-eating ornithischians (Triceratops and its cousins), rather than with the long-necked sauropods (the Brontosaurus group).

The new genealogy has sparked intense debate among dinosaur researchers, and generated news coverage across the globe. Some of these headlines were more hyperbolic than others, but most referenced the main conclusion of the study: that the dinosaur family tree may need to be redrawn.

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Mind the Gap

By Neil McLennan, alumni member of the Young Academy of Scotland

Within Scottish education just now, “MIND THE GAP” is on the minds of everyone – practitioners, policy makers, researchers and the press. It seems the gap will be closed, no matter what. It is the key focus of Scottish education policy currently, and preys on the minds of those involved with supporting young people’s education in this country.

Last week The National (“Figures show progress on closing attainment gap” Wednesday 12 April 2017) carried a headline which would have piqued the interest and delighted many of those involved in the exercise of closing, or at least narrowing, the attainment gap.

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