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Talking Headlines with Akira O’Connor: how déjà vu research came to dominate the media

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Dr Akira O’Connor is a lecturer at the School of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews. Akira uses different approaches, including functional imaging, to understand the neuronal basis of forming memories. In one particular project he studied how the brain perceives déjà vu and his work in this area has recently been the focus of media attention (e.g Medical Daily, News.com.au and Digital Trends). An interesting aspect of the story is that his scientific results were presented at a research conference rather than following the usual route of a press release associated with a publication.

We asked Akira how his work made the headlines. Read more…

Growing out of ADHD?

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), characterised by pervasive inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, is one of the most common childhood psychological disorders affecting around 3-5% of all children. Over the last week there have been headlines suggesting that ‘kids may outgrow ADHD‘ and ‘by age 18, most kids ADHD is gone‘ based on a UK research study. Let’s look at the evidence for this and examine this claim in the context of the broader literature. Read more…

Doomed – Should we be worried that NASA is sending a mission to investigate a potentially hazardous asteroid?

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NASA have recently announced a mission to send a probe to the asteroid Bennu (RQ36) which has an orbit that intersects with the Earth’s every 6 years. The fact that Bennu is considered as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” has led to quite a few overexcited articles playing up the idea that this rock could destroy life on Earth. So what are the chances and should we really be worried?

Read more…

The microbiome, the gift that keeps on giving…

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In recent years, stories about the microbiome have become pervasive. The microbiome is defined as all of the microorganisms in any environment, however many people usually think of a microbiome as all of the microorganisms that share the human body – be they bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi and protists. Studies have linked the microbiome to a range of conditions from autism to obesity and diabetes and beyond. Seldom does a week go by without a story in the news of a new scientific paper reporting how the microbiome is the underlying cause of a particular condition. There is a need to have a healthy degree of scepticism over the plethora of microbiome studies out there and a couple of years back, Prof Bill Hanage of Harvard Medical School wrote an excellent Comment in the journal Nature related to this. Moreover, the explosion of interesting microbiome studies in the literature has certainly encouraged a resurgence of interest in microbial ecology, a discipline that was seen as stuffy and outdated for many years until the microbiome came along. However, we need to remember that every centimetre of planet Earth is a microbial ecosystem be it a crumb of soil, the Sahara Desert or the human skin or gut – everywhere has a microbial ecology! Read more…

Could thumb sucking and nail biting prevent allergies in later life?

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This blog post was written by Dr Harish Nair.

Parents have long fretted about their children sucking thumbs and biting nails, worried that this would cause infections in young children. The “hygiene hypothesis” proposed in 1989 has been used often to explain (unconvincingly) the role of infections in early childhood for preventing allergies including asthma and hayfever. Therefore, the story in the Independent, and the Telegraph that children who suck their thumbs and bite their nails suffer fewer allergies is not really novel. This story is based on a paper published in the journal Paediatrics earlier this month. The study was conducted in Dunedin (New Zealand) based on 1037 participants from a birth cohort recruited in 1972 – 1973, and followed up at various stages until age 38 years. Read more…

Explore our archive this summer

Research the Headlines

While we take a brief summer break at Research the Headlines, remember there’s a large archive of posts for you to explore. Using the category list on the right of our homepage, you can select articles on the subjects that interest you…from Astronomy to Robotics! Or why not dip into our Talking Headlines series in which we talk to researchers and journalists about their experiences of good and bad media reporting of research findings?

Or maybe you’d like to get some top tips for how you might better evaluate the latest headlines yourself. Fear not, our How to “Research the Headlines” series gives ten simple things for you to consider to help you get closer to the research behind the headlines.

We’re about halfway through our little break, so regular service will resume next month.

Probiotics and autism

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Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are frequently exposed to ‘potential cures’ for their child’s disorder in the media. In the last week, several media outlets have focused on probiotics suggesting it can ‘reverse’  or ‘cure’ autism symptoms. Autism is a life-long developmental disability, characterised by persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests evident from early childhood. The symptoms significantly limit and impair everyday functioning, so it is no wonder that parents will be alerted to potential evidence that suggests a possible cure or reversal of symptoms.  What evidence does this recent study provide though, and how did the media handle coverage of the study findings? Read more…

“Fountain of youth” drug won’t be available any time soon

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Last week, the Daily Mail heralded a major breakthrough in reversing the ageing process: “‘Fountain of youth’ pill could be available in just two years: Blend of 30 vitamins and minerals may reverse ageing of the brain”. That is quite the headline. It is explicit in its assertion: we are two years away from having access to a pill that will combat the ageing process. Let’s take a closer look then! Read more…

Factors linked to adolescent suicide

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This article was co-authored by Sinead Rhodes and guest writer Susan Rasmussen

The month of May is exam time for pupils and students up and down the country, so it is no surprise that there will be media coverage of research that examines issues like exam stress around this time. In the last week we have seen quite extensive media coverage suggesting a link between exam stress and suicide in teenagers. What was the research about, and how did the media handle this very sensitive issue? Read more…

Weekly curry unlikely to delay dementia

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While we’re all familiar with the old “apple a day” adage, the Daily Mail recently asked us to consider “Could a curry a week PREVENT dementia?”. While it’s not the first time that spicy food has been promoted as having a possible role in protecting our thinking skills as we age, the headlines and the actual research were not entirely in agreement. The Telegraph offered a slightly more measured headline “Eating curry may help fight off dementia, new study suggests” adding those caveats of “may” and “study suggests” to keep us guessing, while The Spectator left no room for doubt, declaring “Sorry, a weekly curry won’t prevent dementia”. Given that these headlines were all drawn from the same research study, it wouldn’t be surprising if people were left unsure what to think (and eat). Read more…

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