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Can eating Tofu prevent heart disease?

Heart disease (Cardiovascular Diseases) have been the main reason of death over the past six decades. While in 1961 more than 50% of deaths in the UK were due to heart disease, this rate fell to 32% in 2009. However, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the UK and globally (17.6 million deaths globally attributed to heart disease in 2016). This number is expected to grow to 23.6 million in 2030 (WHO, 2010) which means that although a lot of research has been done in this area, heart disease is still beyond our full understanding and a lot of research needs to be done in this area.

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Can a common parasite cause behavioural changes in humans?

Over the years the parasite Toxoplasma gondii has made the headlines on several occasions. It is considered one of the most successful parasites as it infects a wide range of birds and mammals, including humans, causing the disease Toxoplasmosis. It is estimated to infect approximately 30% of the world’s population, with some countries estimating up to 80% of infected population. It achieves part of its life cycle in the intestinal cells of cats, and when it infects other hosts, T. gondii can reside in their bodies for their life time where it can infect many other tissues, including the Central Nervous System and its major organ, the brain.

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School closures and coronavirus spread

This post was written by Emily McDougal and Sinead Rhodes.

The decision to close schools throughout the UK was a controversial issue with some arguing that it came too late, and others that it would put too much pressure on parents. By 18th March 2020, 107 countries had implemented such closures in response to the global pandemic.

A recent study considered the potential impact that closing schools has had upon the spread of Covid-19. Unsurprisingly it gained media attention, with coverage of the paper across many of the largest media channels. Here we explain the study and then look at reporting of the research by BBC News, The Guardian and Sky news to highlight the importance of transparent and clear reporting of research.

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Research Developments and COVID-19 in the UK

We are facing an unprecedented situation across the world with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is becoming very real for us in the U.K. In the last few days we have seen a significant rise in those ill with COVID-19 symptoms and deaths that are becoming substantial in number. Given the pattern of spread of the virus in Italy and other nearby European countries and the recent ‘lock-down’ of the UK it is easy to see why people are feeling panicked.

Let’s focus on something positive. Behind the scenes, in Universities across the UK, researchers specialising in infectious diseases are working around the clock not only to understand the virus by deciphering its genetic code, but to produce and test vaccines, and also how best to deliver treatments. Surprisingly there is relatively little media coverage of this work in light of the fact that every media outlet is almost solely covering COVID-19. Brexit and Scottish Independence seem almost forgotten. There is piece upon piece on the mass daily life disruption, movement of people, stock-piling and economic cost of COVID-19. These are all central worries to our daily lives of course, but it would be good to see more coverage of the science.

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Looking back at Research the Headlines in 2019

2019 was another challenging year for evidence-based media reporting of research. Research the Headlines was set up in 2013 to examine how research is portrayed in the media, and to give the public helpful advice and tools when trying to get to the heart of a news story.

During 2019 we again hosted a ‘brain blog’ series, showcasing the work of students who have been “researching the headlines” as part of their undergraduate studies. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. They wrote informative posts about alcohol and dementia risk and intellectual engagement and ageing. Through different activities, we also help others develop the skills needed to become more critical consumers of both research and media reporting; for example, via our How to “Research the Headlines” series and our “Rewrite the Headlines”workshops and competition for primary school children.

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Omega-3 supplements and ADHD

This post was written by Emily McDougal and Sinead Rhodes

Parents are often keen to hear about ways to support their child’s health and development. In recent years, media coverage regarding possible causes or risk factors for childhood disorders has increased. We have previously written about media coverage of risk factors for children’s development, such as our previous Autism and vitamin D in pregnancy blog post.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood disorder, and around 1% of children are diagnosed with ADHD in the UK. People with ADHD might have difficulty paying attention, may fidget, move or talk excessively, act without thinking, or make careless mistakes. We have previously written about media coverage of ADHD, such as those relating to the profile and brain differences. ADHD is commonly treated with medication, such as Ritalin or Adderall, which aims to improve concentration and reduce hyperactivity.

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Use of a common pesticide that impairs bird migration

Ever since Rachel Carson published the Silent Spring in 1962, we have known that songbirds are in great danger from pollution and human activities. Recent research has made the causes and the consequences of pesticide pollution even more evident.

A journal article published this month in Science clearly shows that the use of a common pesticide, called a ‘neonicotinoid’, is likely causing bird population declines because it is hindering bird migration. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used type of agricultural pesticide worldwide. In this study, the authors combined an experimental approach of feeding sparrows a neonicotinoid with a telemetry approach – a method of tracking individual movements in natural habitats – to follow the birds’ migratory movements. The research used the white-crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, which is a typical seed-eating songbird of northern latitudes. The exposure conditions that were used in the experiments were well within the dosage that a bird could realistically consume by eating even a few seeds that had been treated with a neonicotinoid.

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Brain blog showcase 2019: Alcohol: A Leading Health Risk or Protective Factor against Dementia?

All this week we’ve been showcasing the work of students who have been “researching the headlines” as part of their undergraduate studies. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. If you’re interested in using this approach in your own teaching, you can contact Alan Gow for more information and materials.

For our final “brain blog”, we have…

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Brain blog showcase 2019: Use it or lose it: Can intellectual engagement offset cognitive decline in older age?

All this week we’re showcasing the work of students who have been “researching the headlines” as part of their undergraduate studies. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. If you’re interested in using this approach in your own teaching, you can contact Alan Gow for more information and materials.

Next up in the “brain blog” showcase, we have…

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Brain blog showcase 2019: Students “research the headlines”

At Research the Headlines we explore how research is discussed in the media. We try to add additional details to existing coverage, or help our readers get a clearer understanding of how new research might make its way from “lab to headline”. Through different activities, we also help others develop the skills needed to become more critical consumers of both research and media reporting; for example, via our How to “Research the Headlines” series and our “Rewrite the Headlines”workshops and competition for primary school children.

Many of our contributors also use the ideas behind Research the Headlines in their teaching. In one of his undergraduate courses, Alan Gow (Heriot-Watt University) has his students find a recent media article related to lifestyle factors and brain health. Their task is to describe the original research that report is based on in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage. A key aim of these “brain blogs” is to explain the important concepts and take home messages, and to highlight issues in interpretation either in the media report or the underlying research.

Over the course of this week we’re showcasing the work of three students, all recent graduates in Psychology at Heriot-Watt. The blogs are presented as submitted by the students; they’ve not been edited. We hope you enjoy reading their work, and learning a bit more about the topics too! If you’re interested in using this approach in your own teaching, you can contact Alan Gow for more information and materials.

Starting the “brain blog” showcase, we have…

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