Tag Archives: Daily Express

The Daily Express can’t make the numbers add up !!

18 Feb

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The front page of yesterday’s Daily Express managed to combine glorious unintended irony with some really questionable reporting of statistics. AS you’ll see from the image above the lead story reported an opinion poll where 70% of respondents wanted all immigration to be stopped immediately. It’s quite entertaining that of three people pictured on the front page one was born in India and a second is the daughter of Russian immigrant parents (presumably of the three it is Simon Cowell that the Express are happy to have as a citizen !).

Despite the glorious irony of the pictures, it’s the stats that I find really interesting. The stories headline is very clear that ‘70% say we must ban new migrants’, and yet the very first line of the story says ‘Almost three out of four Britons want immigration to be reduced or stopped completely, a poll shows’ (My BOLD). So, within the space of one line we’ve gone from 70% wanting a complete ban to 70% wanting a reduction !!! If you then look at the actual survey on which the story is based you discover that rather than 70% of respondents wanting an immediate ban on immigration the actual figure was 21%, with a rather 49% wanting immigration to be reduced.

This seems like a lovely example to introduce students be being discerning consumers of the media, after all a contradiction between the headline and the very first line of the story ought to be easy to spot.

(P.S. It’s just been pointed out to me that the mother of Simon Cowell’s son is American, and thus it may be three of the four people pictured on the front page that the Express have an issue with !!!)

More on the benefits (or otherwise) of coffee

13 Jan

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Coffee, or more specifically caffeine, crops up in a lot of places in my teaching. The Daily Mail has a strange obsession with things that cause or prevent cancer, and over the years coffee has been placed in both the ’cause’ and ‘prevent’ categories. Equally, one of my favourite Daily Express headlines ‘Two cups of coffee a day stops Alzheimer” was based solely on a study in mice. It is, however, slightly depressing when this overzealous reporting of caffeine -related stories begins to infect the BBC.

On the 12th Jan 2014 the BBC website reported a story headlines “Caffeine pill ‘could boost memory'”. The story reports a study of 160 participants, whose memory for images, over a 24 hour period, improved when given a 200 milligram caffeine tablet. The study comes from a very reputable source, and I have no reason to doubt the validity of the science involved, but I am intrigued that the BBC’s reporting of the story seem to fall half way between the extremes of the Mail and Express and actually applying some rational thinking. For example, the BBC report includes the line ‘The Johns Hopkins University study involved people who did not regularly eat or drink caffeinated products’, but makes no further comment on why this might be significant. Now, a sample of American participants who don’t drink tea, coffee or cola seems like it might be less that representative.

To give the BBC some credit, they do include ‘a voice of reason’ at the end of the story ( and I really pleased that in this case it was Dr. Ashok Jansari, a colleague from my own department).¬† Ash rightly points out the potential negative effect of caffeine, but what I find slightly odd about this is the apparent need to ‘contract out’ rational thinking, as if it isn’t something we should expect from the journalists reporting the story. After all you only need to type ‘caffeine’ into the search box of the BBC website to find a whole range of stories about the possible negative effects of caffeine including the idea of a ban on highly caffeinated drinks for under 16s.

All in all, this seems like a nice story to get students thinking rational at science (i.e. what’s the ecological validity of the original study) but also about the reporting of science and the idea that by learning some simple skills they can seemingly do the sort of thinking that BBC journalists seem to be avoiding. It’s also worth noting that ‘caffeine pill could boost memory’ is a story that is likely to be very appealing to students facing exams, and anything that gets across the message that cans of Red Bull may not be the answer to good exams results can only be a good thing ūüėČ

Flu jab cuts heart attack deaths ??

3 Sep

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 12.48.53Last week the Daily Express reported a study from Australia suggesting that the winter flu vaccine had a positive effect on heart attack deaths amongst middle aged people, and thus was a very cheap way for the NHS to cut spending on heart related treatment. This story offers a couple of really good opportunities to get students to think rationally.

Just by getting students to read the whole of the Express’s story it becomes rapidly clear that whilst the headline refers to heart attack deaths, the study didn’t actually ever look at people who had died from heart attacks. This sort of exercise seems like a very simple way of getting students to delve a little further into stories, and not to take them at face value.

This story becomes a good deal more interesting if one delves even deeper into the original research (Full details can be found on the excellent NHS Choices site). The point that appealed to me, and seems like it would grab the attention of students is that the original study was financed by GlaxoSmithKline that produces a flu vaccine. Or course, this doesn’t necessarily suggest any impropriety on the part of the paper’s authors but it does impact on how a reader interprets the study.

As currently in the process of writing a new lecture on the UK’s MMR vaccine fiasco, and thus anything that gets students to focus on all the details of a study (including where the funding came from) seems really useful.

 

 

 

 

Watching TV will do your children no harm, or possibly turn them into monsters !!

27 Mar

In a week when the UK has been repeatedly told how vital a ‘free press’ is to the future of the nation (in the wake of the News International ‘Hacking’ scandal) it’s ironic that to UK National Newspapers could report exactly the same science story, with two completely contradictory headlines.¬†“Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study” was published this month in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, and reports the TV and gaming habits of 11,000 UK five year olds.

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The Independent’s take on the study was that three hours of TV per day didn’t do children any harm, a view that was backed up by the BBC’s reporting of the study, that was headlines ‘TV time does not breed badly behaved children’. The strangeness begins to appear when you look at how this study was reported elsewhere in the British press.

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The Daily Express’s story reporting this study was headlined ‘Too much TV turns children into monsters’, and slightly less extreme versions of this appeared in the Daily Mail (More than three hours of TV ‘makes youngsters naughtier by the age of seven¬†and the Daily Telegraph (Television link to behaviour problems in young children’). As ever, there is an excellent summary of the research available from the NHS Choices web site.

From a teaching perspective this saga offers a number of opportunities. The original study is publicly available online, so students could go back and ¬†see for themselves which newspaper most accurately reported the study’s results. More straightforwardly this seems like a great way to illustrate to students that different branches of the media may have different agendas that they want to prompt, and this may well bias their reporting of what would seem an entirely factual story. A the most basic level it would be interesting to get students to read each of the newspaper versions of the story. IT’s interesting that the Daily Mails version of the story (More than three hours of TV ‘makes youngsters naughtier by the age of seven), acknowledges within the first few lines that the effect of TV viewing is very small.

One final point of interest this that some months ago I wrote about Aric Sigman’s widely reported view that any form of ‘screen time’ for children was damaging. Even the most biases reading of this really interesting study would conclude that it provided very little support for Dr Sigman’s views !!!

The ‘Mediterranean Diet’ Super Pill

7 Jan

 

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Seven days into the year, and I’ve spotted a new piece of teaching material. The front page story¬†of today’s Daily Express is headlined ‘Super Pills is the Key to Living Longer’, and reports a small-scale study of the effects of lycopene. The story also appears in today’s Daily Mail under the headline ‘A daily tomato pill to cut heart attacks’.

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The study¬†itself is of passing interest, but what drew my attention was the link being made with ‘The Mediterranean¬†Diet’. The logic of the article is that lycopene is derived from tomatoes, and tomatoes are a major constitutent of the Mediterranean diet. It will be interesting to get students to reflect on this adea of the link between good health and the ‘Mediterranean Diet’. Hopefully students will be able to derive for themselves the possibility that overall ‘lifestyle’ rather than diet alone might be behind the health advatages of those living in Southern Europe. Once this has been established it’s only a small step to ask students to think about the impact of the current economic crisis in Southern Europe, with civil unrest in Greece and unemployment in Spain in excess of 25%.

However good their diet might be one suspects that the current economic woes are likely to have a much greater neagtive effect on health !

Newspaper headlines as an introduction

18 Apr

Getting students to realise that they can think rationally about material that is presented to them can be difficult when the material is from the discipline they are studying. Level 1 students seem to arrive at university pre-programmed to ‘record’ subject-specific information rather than ever ‘question’ it.

I have taken to using newspaper stories as a means of getting students to realise that they are able to question the material that is presented to them. During my first Level 1 lecture of the year I show students a range of newpaper stories and ask them to tell me what might be wrong with them. WIth very little prompting from me students are able to identify problems, even though they might not be able to attach an appropriate ‘label’ to the issue. I’ve set out a few of the examples I use below, but I always encourage students to email me new examples they come across.

I usually start with an obviously daft example to get them in the mood, i.e. this great story from the Daily Mail suggeasting that wine can turn you into a werewolf ! I don’t (usually) have to tell students that werewolves don’t exist, and with little prompting they come up with the idea of single-case studies themselves.

In the summer of 2009 the Daily Express produced a run of stories that provided good material. The front page story on the 5th July was Coffee cures Alzheimers’, and three days later on 8th July the front page story was about a pill that could add 20 years your life-span. A month later, on the 10th August the front page reported eye-drops that will cure blindness

These three stories allow me to start to introduce students to a range of ideas. The first story about coffee and alzheimers is solely work conducted on mice, the second story is frankly just a little odd. It usually provkes a discussion about ‘wouldn’t we have heard about this somewhere else’ and ‘wouldn’t the big cosmetics companies be involved in this’. The final story moves on from just mice as ‘participants’ to rats and then three human participants. The students can usually derive for themselves that the jump from three human participants to ‘WILL cure blindness’ is rather a large one.

At this point at least one student will usually suggest that these stories all seem a bit trivial and not much to do with psychology. However if you ask them to put themselves in the shoes of someone who’s partner is blind, or who’s parents (maybe grandparents) have Alzheimer’s and think about what their reaction would be, they rapidly see the point. This can also lead to a discussion of how enquires about such unproven treatments can tie up NHS GPs time, and allows me to introduce the students to the NHS’s web site addressing such stories.

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