Thursday, 16 June 2011

Reporting on Research

One of the joys of taking the train up to London is the opportunity it gives you to catch up with the day's news in the discarded newspapers. These days I usually catch up with the world via websites, and it makes a nice change to reacquaint myself with newspapers.

Given the nature of my trip to London I was tuned in to issues of research. So I was particularly intrigued by the research stories that the papers picked up on:
  • Olive Oil 'Cuts Risk of Stroke by 41%'. The Daily Mail reported this finding from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux. They 'observed' 7,625 people over 65, who self-classified their use of olive oil as 'none', 'moderate' or 'intensive'. After 5 years 148 of them had suffered a stroke. 2.6% of non-users had a stroke, 2% of moderate, and 1.5% of intensive. This all sounds very dodgy (the other lifestyle factors were not listed), and I'm not really sure what, if any, conclusions should be drawn from it. One to refer to Ben Goldacre, I think. However, it's postively Nobel Prize winning stuff compared with:
  • An analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered in the Asterix books. Yes, you read it right. Reported in the Daily Telegraph - shame on you! - researchers at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf set themselves the task of analysing 'the epidemiology and risk factors of traumatic brain injury in the Asterix illustrated books.' With an apparently straight face, they report that about half lost consciousness, and 188 had hypoglossal paresis, or an outstretched tongue. However, even this seems serious and sensible compared with:
  • 'Secret to a Perfect Cuppa.' This was reported in the Mail, Telegraph and Metro. Scientists - broadly defined, and hopefully not research council funded - at the University of Northumbria had produced a formula for creating the optimum cup of tea. Hot water first, brewing time 2 mins, temp 60 degrees, since you ask.

Hmm. I would tell you about a second item in Metro on research into a Harry Potter-style 'invisibility cloak', which was reminiscent of the Third Policeman ('...made up of cells so small they are not visible to the human eye...'), but even I can only take so much. What must the average reader make of researchers? I imagine news of funding cuts garners little sympathy with these stories as the public face of university research.

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