Tag Archives: misleading reporting

Scientist Clarifies ‘Sexy’ News Story from the Telegraph

To wrap up SCIE 300, I have found a recent sensationalized news story, which involves blogging and commenting online!

Water Sampling Probe used during the GOS. Photo: J. Craig Venter Institute

To analyze the DNA of microbes in the oceans, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute ventured on the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Expedition. In fact, one data collection voyage involved navigating the oceans for over two years! The expeditions have produced an immense data set of DNA sequences.

In search of unusual genes, researchers found new DNA sequences in the GOS data set that were not present in known organisms or viruses. Currently, the tree of life has three major branches or divisions: bacteria, eukarya, and archaea. These sequences formed groups that branched outside of known divisions in the tree of life.  Researchers proposed that the new groups, or lineages, emerged from four possibilities. The two most likely explanations are that the lineages are from unknown viruses or a fourth major branch on the tree of life. Dr. Jonathan Eisen, from U.C. Davis and one of the paper’s authors, believes the former is more probable.

Interestingly, Dr. Eisen and his colleagues decided to forgo a formal university press release for their paper. Instead, Dr. Eisen wrote his own ‘press release’ on his blog, The Tree of Life. He feared that the results of the paper would become overstated in the press, through communication, or even in his own blog post.

Newsy.com video coverage of the research:

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The research was able to make waves in the media and the Telegraph in the UK published an article online with the sexy headline, “Scientist finds a whole new ‘domain’ of life”. Richard Alleyne, the author of the news article, may not have written the headline, but the body of the article did contain inaccuracies. For example, Alleyne had written that the technique used to analyze the DNA was named by the researchers themselves, which was not the case. This was actually the first time the technique was used on a large scale basis.

Dr. Eisen was quick to respond to the misleading headline and inaccuracies within the news article. In the article’s comments section, he noted three of the main errors and provided corrections. Dr. Eisen clarified that a new domain of life is only one of the possible explanations for the findings and not a conclusive result. There have not been any corrections made to the news article yet, but I am curious to see how this will play out!

o The Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Expedition is a venture by scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute to analyze the DNA of microbes across the oceans. In fact, one data collection voyage involved navigating the oceans for over two years! The expeditions have produced an immense dataset of DNA sequences.

What to trust in making decisions; Cognitive thinking or Sientific methods?

We have all evolved to associate one thing to the other. We associate by thinking; finding and looking for meaningful patterns in our surroundings. Another reliable way to associate one thing to the other is by the use of scientific methods. The problem over  here is what to trust in  making a decision, our cognitive thinking or the scientific method?

In recent years, there has been a seeming connection between autism and MMR-vaccines. The parents of the children diagnosed of Autism, are trying to look for a causal link between this complex developmental disability and vaccines that the children had received.

In 1998, a British surgeon, Andrew Wakefield, published a paper claiming that the MMR-vaccine had a causal link to Autism. He proposed that the measles virus traveled to the children’s intestines causing intestinal damage. This damage then allowed brain damaging proteins to enter their blood stream. Dr.Wakefield used stories of 8 children who had developed symptoms of autism within a month of receiving the vaccines.

Here is the article from Wall street Journal that i came across Junk Science Isn\’t a Victimless Crime.

These findings fueled the debate over vaccine safety and lead many people to a general distrust in vaccines.

This type of study has been replicated many times around the world and each time no causal  link has been found. The following two articles from New Scientist proves that MMR-vaccine has no causal link to Autism; Autism rises Despite MMR Ban in Japan and MMR and Autism not linked, finds giant study.

I do not think Dr. Wakefield’s paper was statistically right. He based his conclusion on a very small sample size (about 12 children). He should have used  a way larger sample size as in the other two studies disproving the existence of a causal link (more than 30,000 or half a million children).

Overall, What do we believe; Is there a causal link between MMR-vaccine and Autism? In spite of knowing that the research linking MMR-vaccine to Autism has some discrepancies, we still feel that there is a link. Do not forget we have the ability to overcome our feelings in a situation and replace them with a logical and scientific reasoning that would serve us better and help us advance in life.

If further interested, here is part 1 of 10 of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s interview on his MMR study by Dr. Mercola.

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Popular Press Leaps to Conclusions

As reported in the Daily Mail, a cup of Bovril may be an important ingredient in a new diet that can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Photo - Flickr: Dave Knapik

Last October the Daily Mail printed an article with the headline: “Strict diet two days a week  cuts risk of breast cancer by 40 per cent’”. The article cites a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, called: “The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women.” Reading these two titles, it’s hard to tell exactly how they’re related. Surely, if the researchers had discovered that the two day a week diet reduced the risk of breast cancer they would have mentioned it in their article’s title.

In fact, the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, was about WEIGHT LOSS, not breast cancer. It was a six-month study, that put 100 overweight young women on one of two diets and looked at how those two diets affected weight loss. The only mention of breast cancer in the study was that over the course of the six months the levels of two breast cancer related hormones were measured. The Daily Mail was quick to pick up on this measurement and used it to write their article.

The Daily Mail took a big leap when they claimed that the two day a week diet could reduce the risk of breast cancer, given the study never looked at breast cancer risk. However, to be fair, they did admit this in the 19th paragraph where they wrote:

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This study is not about breast cancer, it’s a study showing how different diet patterns affect weight loss and it’s misleading to draw any conclusions about breast cancer from this research.’

After 18 paragraphs explaining how this diet could reduce risk of breast cancer, this small disclaimer is too little, too late.

The Daily Mail didn’t get away with their misleading publication. The Cancer Research UK blog responded with the post: ““Breast cancer diet” story based on research that wasn’t about breast cancer.” Here they explain why this study does not support the claims made in the Daily Mail.

A week later, Ben Goldacre, of the series “Bad Science” in the Guardian UK, responded with his piece: “The Daily Mail cancer story that torpedoes itself in paragraph 19.” Goldacre focuses his on the fact that 19th paragraph disclaimers aren’t enough to make up for a misleading headline and article. Citing studies on how people read, Goldacre says that most people don’t read entire articles. Most of the Daily Mail’s readers probably never made it to the 19th paragraph.

This shows the importance of looking into news stories. Fortunately, the responses to the Daily Mail article quickly put the truth out there, and anyone who Googled the claim would quickly come across the reality of the research.