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Sometimes the Science is Irrelevant : Dissecting the so-called “perfect woman” article

Every so often, an article comes along that purports to be based in quantitative research, where we in RtH don’t particularly care whether the research is represented well or not.  A good example is the recent Daily Mail piece on “the perfect woman“, which collates quantitative measures of various aspects of the female body in an attempt to find what features are “the most attractive”.

At this point, I would normally attempt to find the research quoted, describe it to you and then review the journalist’s attempts to convey the same information. I’m not going to do that here, for a host of reasons.

Firstly, the article is a grab bag of various research papers/press statements, none of which are linked to or cited appropriately.  There is no discussion of how features are determined to be “attractive”. After all, attractiveness is a property that varies greatly between cultures, and most studies use participants falling into the WEIRD category (White Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic). Also, the article relies on explanations harking back to cave-people, which should immediately raise alarm bells, as these “just-so” explanations using early humans often have little to no basis in established fact.

Finally, even if the science contained is sound, the article’s ultimate aim is negative. The use of this research to objectify women, deconstructing them into their component body parts and identifying “the best”, goes against decades of efforts to prevent body dysmorphic and eating disorders in women and girls. The Mail article does try to offer balanced body statements, such as suggesting that underweight body types are “less attractive”, but I find it difficult to believe such statements would be helpful to women struggling with body image issues.

<sarcasm> I look forward to the accompanying article deconstructing male attractiveness <\sarcasm>

Babies sleeping in separate rooms

For parents of newborns grappling with limited sleep, a headline such as ‘babies who sleep in separate rooms from their parents…..get more shut eye’ is bound to raise an eyebrow. The latest findings, at first glance, seem to challenge official guidelines that babies should sleep in the same room as their parents until at least 6 months. Indeed the reporting specifically claims the findings challenge the guidelines. On closer inspection though, the headline and the article is riddled with misinterpretations of the study findings. So what does the study actually reveal?

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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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