Dodgy claims


One thing that always interested me was how the media interprets the latest science research. Almost every week there will be an article in the media on the inanimate objects that either cause or prevents cancer. I’ve summarised some of the ridiculous things that either cause or prevent cancer.

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Figure 1: List of things that either cause or prevent cancer according to the media

From the list, you can see that apparently Facebook can cause cancer so please everyone deactivate your account if you want to live! Also, if you look at the last row, you’ll see that alcohol apparently cause as well as prevents cancer. Perhaps it’s like a neutralisation reaction (i.e. when acid reacts with an alkali), which you may have learnt during secondary school?

The ridiculous examples that I stated in the table illustrates the reason we need to start unpicking dodgy claim. So let’s begin with one of the most ridiculous news story ever published. The Daily Mail ran with the headline, “Good news Victoria Beckham! Stilettos give women shapelier legs than flats.” All I can say is that this is an utter and shambolic failure even in Daily Fail terms. To be fair Telegraph and Daily Express also got this wrong. So what did the researchers found? I’ve actually hunted down the actual research paper. The researchers postulated that people with shorter anatomical heels have larger calf muscles as the muscles will be able to generate greater forces. This phenomenon can be illustrated with a seesaw. As you sit closer to the pivot (the bit that supports the seesaw), you need to push harder with your legs to lift your partner on the other side of the seesaw. The same thing is happening here.You may be wondering how on earth did the reporters mixed up the anatomical heel stated in the paper with the heels of stilettos. I literally have no clue! I reckon the reporters these days don’t even bother to read the press release (which still isn’t accurate but that’s another story!) and just copy from one another.

Sometimes the news articles will be in conflict with each other even though they are covering the same topic. For instance, The Daily Mail ran with the headline, “No men OR women needed: Scientists create sperm and eggs from stem cells.” whilst the Guardian had the headline, “Stem cell study leads to breakthrough in understanding infertility.” At first it might seem these two newspapers were covering different stories but in fact they were covering the same story of a research carried out by a group of scientists from Stanford University. The article from the Daily Mail article discusses how this new findings will eliminate the requirement of parents for conceiving and the moral backlash that will soon ensue. Moreover, it also states a couple of interesting claims. One of them is research will allow gay couples to have children genetically to their own and the other one is how the new discovery could lead to creating drugs, which may delay menopause. This so called magical drug is claimed to be “5 years away,” a phrase often reiterated in the media. However, the reporter will be disappointed to know that none of these claims were mentioned in the research paper. So what did the researchers actually find? The scientists found that a gene called DAZL is involved in primordial germ-cell formation and two other genes (DAZ and BOULE) are involved in a type of cell division, known as meiosis, and gamete development. Thus, the claims made in the media were merely speculations as the authors of the paper did not state how these genes are involved in infertility.

I will end my Daily Mail bashing with this last example. In their headline Daily Mail stated,  “Ears and noses to be grown in lab from stem cells for human transplants thanks to revolutionary technique.” In the body of the article, the reporter stated that by using this novel technique, scientists would be able to grow ears and noses by using stem cells from fat tissues. This claim was a bit premature as in the study, published in Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine, the scientists from the University College London (UCL) weren’t aiming to create ears and noses from mesenchymal stem cells derived from adipose tissues. Instead, the researchers created a bionanoscaffold called POSS-PCU and demonstrated that human mesenchymal stem cells derived from adipose tissues can homed towards the POSS-PCU. In addition, they showed that these cells can be induced to differentiate when attached to the bionanoscaffold structure.

I hope I was able to show why we need to question things and why we shouldn’t believe everything we read in the media.

Further reading:
Cause cancer links:

Prevents cancer links:

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2 comments

  1. Have you ever seen: http://dailymailoncology.tumblr.com

    Of course, the antidote to all this is: http://www.nhs.uk/news/Pages/NewsIndex.aspx

    1. Thanks for the links Dr. Cann. I haven’t seen the first one before. Here is a similar website that I found earlier http://www.anorak.co.uk/288298/scare-stories/the-daily-mails-list-of-things-that-give-you-cancer-from-a-to-z.html/

      The Behind the News Headline (the second link) is quite useful for students doing analytical projects.

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