Daily Mail & Self-Awareness

April 21, 2009 at 9:01 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , , , , )

The Fail love to poke fun at wacky boffins, their obviously daffy ideas and their silly, irrelevant research. They also love to extrapolate from animal or lab bench studies in order to prove that wine cures cancer or that chocolate is a health food.

Their lack of self-awareness, joined-up thinking or anything resembling a sense of irony has led them to another triumph. Over the last two days, they’ve managed to print a story headlined “Put 49 fish on a plane and send it into a nosedive: How one scientist chose to study HUMAN weightlessness” (hahaha, those silly sods using fish to study human weightlessness – how bizarre and ridiculous these boffins are) and another story headlined “How blueberries can help battle the bulge” that tells of scientists feeding blueberries to a particular type of rat – one which is prone to obesity. The first line of the article is this: “Eating blueberries could help you lose weight, scientists revealed yesterday”, which rather seems to imply that blueberries can help all humans, rather than obese rats, lose weight. I’m not sure why the Fail think it is so odd to use fish to study human weightlessness but, at the same time, fine to assume that research in obesity-prone rats will apply to humans in general.

The blueberry article also ended with some musings on antioxidants:

Blueberries are rich in vitamins C and E, as well as other antioxidants such as anthocyanins and phenolics. They help protect the body against degenerative diseases.

Another study recently found that blueberries contained a chemical called pterostilbene which could help prevent colon cancer.

If it really were as straightforward as the Fail make it sound (“antioxidants… help protect the body against degenerative diseases”), then perhaps this Cochrane review would have had different conclusions: PDF. (For what it’s worth, the authors found that “antioxidant supplements had no significant effect on mortality in a random-effects meta-analysis [...] but significantly increased mortality in a fixed-effect model”.)

Fish on a plane; blueberry hill. [BTW, the blueberry story uses that dread word "superfood". There. Is. No. Such. Thing.]

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6 Comments

  1. dvnutrix said,

    One of the problems with large-scale post-dissemination field trials (which is effectively what ‘take pills/supplements/non-typical amounts of this food, make this tweak to your diet, is) is that you can not fully anticipate the impact of what you are proposing.

    Taubes, inter alia, is strongly critical of the impact that the low-fat, high carb diet that demonised all fat may have had on the general population that adopted it.

    I don’t know what to make of the recent thought-provoking EPIC report that (bizarre or counter-intuitive as it seems) there is an association (not necessarily correlation or causation) between fruit and vegetable consumption and colorectal cancer in smokers:

    The association between fruit and vegetable consumption and CRC risk was inverse in never and former smokers, but positive in current smokers. This modifying effect was found for fruit and vegetables combined and for vegetables alone (P for interaction < 0.01 for both). CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that a high consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of CRC, especially of colon cancer. This effect may depend on smoking status.

    It is axiomatic that an anti-oxidant must also be capable of a pro-oxidant effect in some circumstances – this may be one of them.

    (To state the obvious for risk reduction in this example, the better solution would be to give up smoking rather than reduce fruit and vegetable consumption.)

    Which is why, via a detour, even seemingly obvious and harmless implications that we should all be eating super-sized blueberries, might turn out not to be quite as simple as that.

  2. jdc325 said,

    “It is axiomatic that an anti-oxidant must also be capable of a pro-oxidant effect in some circumstances – this may be one of them.”
    Yes, having heard about the trial of beta carotene that was stopped early due to there being more deaths in those taking the supplement I wasn’t completely shocked by the EPIC report when I saw it linked from the HW miniblog but still found it surprising to an extent. IIRC, the thinking was (ahem, roughly) that certain cigarette ingredients/end products caused excentric cleavage of beta carotene molecules in the lungs.

  3. jdc325 said,

    Ahem. Excentric cleavage was referred to in that paper, but not as the mechanism for causing an increase in lung cancer:

    The mechanism by which ß-carotene increased lung cancer risk in heavy smokers and asbestos workers is not clear. It has been suggested that the relatively high partial oxygen pressure in the lung combined with reactive oxygen species derived from tobacco smoke or induced by asbestos is conducive for ß-carotene auto-oxidation and that the oxidative metabolites can act as propagators of free-radical formation in smokers’ lungs

    Paper.

    I may have confused the above with this:
    “These data indicate that the free radical rich atmosphere in the lungs of cigarette smoke exposed–ferret leads to conditions that modify ß-carotene metabolism to form an abundance of excentric cleavage metabolites that are structurally similar to retinoids.” Paper.

  4. Neuroskeptic said,

    I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if every crap health story in the newspapers was replaced by an equal amount of column space simply filled with “STOP SMOKING. EXERCIZE MORE.” repeated as necessary.

    no amount of blueberries are going to help you if you don’t do that.

  5. jdc325 said,

    I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if every crap health story in the newspapers was replaced by an equal amount of column space simply filled with “STOP SMOKING. EXERCIZE MORE.” repeated as necessary.

    Ha – I can’t even begin to imagine it. Newspapers would probably die out if they couldn’t rely on crap health stories.

    Re: “no amount of blueberries are going to help you if you don’t do that.” Of course, that is exactly what no-one seems to want to hear. Which is why they continue to buy crap papers featuring crap health stories. Red wine curing (or at least preventing) x, y, or z being a particular favourite.

  6. yogi said,

    good

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