Facebook causes cancer

17 Apr

Whilst much of the Daily Mail’s obsession with categorising things into what does and does not cause cancer is only really useful to get a laugh in lectures, their story on a relationship between Facebook and cancer can be useful as a teaching example. The story reports a paper by Dr Aric Sigman in The Biologist’ that outlines in some detail the relationship been Facebook and increased risk of cancer.

This story is useful for teaching in a number of ways:

1) Getting students to read the original source – Unlike many newspaper stories, the issue with this story is not immediately apparent, and thus students need to get to grips with the original material.

2) Getting students to follow an academic argument – Sigman presents data in his paper suggesting a negative correlation between social interactions and internet use, and goes on to make a link between internet use and loneliness.

3) On-line database searching. – In his critique of Sigman’s work Ben Goldacre demonstrates how relatively simple online searches can yield a range of studies that contradict Sigman’s conclusions including one particularly damning example of a follow-up paper to one cited by Sigman that contradicts his conclusions.

This one simple story can thus be used to introduce students to some quite complex concepts, but if they can go away with the idea that ‘Just because it’s in a journal it may not be right’ then it’s worthwhile teaching

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