Posts Tagged ‘behind the headlines’


Award winning…

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , ,

Shameless self -promotion of the company I work for, but the Bazian-powered Behind the Headlines has won the BMJ Group Award for “Best Innovation in Medical Communication Systems”. Yay! If you don’t believe me, here’s the evidence (and we all belive in evidence, don’t we?)



Keep calm and carry on: how to read health news

In Evidence-Based Medicine,Health industry on February 6, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , , , ,

My esteemed colleague Alicia White, one of the team running “behind the headlines“, has written a short piece containing advice on how to read health news. It’s quite short, easy to read and, of course, well written. It looks at important issues about the actual scientific study behind each set of the headlines, such as what were the sample sizes, was there a control group, what outcomes did they set out to measure etc, as well as issues about how the article was reported in the newspapers.

The most important rule to remember is: don’t automatically believe the headline. It is there to draw you into buying the paper and reading the story. Would you read an article called, “Coffee pretty unlikely to cause cancer, but you never know”? Probably not.

Do take a look. Plus keep up with the two stories a day covered by behind the headlines; you can find an RSS feed on the side of this page somewhere…


Drink coffee see phantoms, drink tea, pr …

In Evidence-Based Medicine on January 22, 2009 by Danielle Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Drink coffee, see phantoms; drink tea, prevent breast cancer. Hmm–that seems to be current medical wisdom according to newspapers.

I’ve spotted an article in the Telegraph that blares: “Drinking three cups of tea a day can cut the risk of breast cancer in women under 50 by more than a third”. This statement appears to be based on a non-randomised observational study that asked 4,501 ‘healthy’ women how much tea they had consumed over the 5 years before the study interview. 5,082 women with cancer were compared to this control group in terms of tea consumption. And the result of the study? “Tea consumption was not related to breast cancer risk overall” states the abstract, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. Then they did some fancy analysis (sorry: not too numerate and no full text) and looked at women under 50:

…Those consuming three or more cups per day had a 37% reduced breast cancer risk when compared with women reporting no tea consumption (age and study site–adjusted odds ratios, 0.63; 95% confidence intervals, 0.44-0.89; P = 0.01) with a significant test for trend (P = 0.01).

“Further research needed” is their conclusion–one that the Telegraph journalists ignore completely when reporting the study.  Do I smell some bad science here?  Does tea drinking prevent breast cancer, or do tea drinkers eat more fruits and veg, or exercise more, or do other health-preserving activities?  Remember: this study was done in the US, where coffee is king and those who drink tea also make their own yogurt and live in yurts.

Update: Cheers to NHS Choices and Bazian for selecting this study for analysis and comment in Behind the Headlines.  I suppose this means my ‘Howler Detector’ is working!  Read their take on it here.


sloppy scientists, sloppy journalism

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2008 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Last Friday, at least in the UK, there was a big news story about a new study that showed that babies in buggies facing away from their mothers were more stressed than those facing towards their mums, and that those stressed babies would grow up into axe-wielding maniacs. OK, I exaggerate, but only a bit. Really, the completely unsupported claims being made by this research and the way they’ve all been picked up uncritically by the media does make one despair – read the polite but firm critique of the study on the NHS “behind the headlines” pages; they conclude that “… the results have been over-interpreted and may cause parents unnecessary anxiety.” An example of an over-zealous researcher, probably having the best of intentions, actually doing harm.

Talking of sloppy journalism a recent news story in the Times about the tories being taught the basics of the scientific method seemed happily to confuse understanding the basis of evidence-based policy (which from my conversations with people who move in those sorts of circles has a very different idea of what ‘evidence’ is) with understanding scientific principles of (e.g.) stem cell research or nuclear power. It’s all so full of sloppy thinking and a lack of acuity – scientists, the media and politicians all guilty. Oh well, though has it ever actually been any different?

But thank heavens, eh, for us bloggers; restoring some much needed accuracy and impartiality to international discourse…