Hype and headlines: looking beyond the abstract

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2009

immigration hate-hype in a UK tabloid newspaperWe try our best here at Futurismic to look beyond the sensational aspects of the news and dig into the real implications. Over at his place, Charlie Stross dissects the latest alcohol and cancer risk stories as covered in the mainstream media, and points out why it’s important to do so:

Alas, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute keeps the actual text behind a paywall; which makes it hard for me to check this takedown by Junkfood Science. However, I feel the need to quote two chunks of that post (which you really ought to read):

… there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women. The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]

In other words, women drinking as many as two drinks a day were associated with lower actual incidences of all cancers compared with the nondrinkers.

In other words, the abstract of the paper was radically at odds with the substance of the study’s findings.

In other words, good news doesn’t sell newspapers… nor say what certain groups may want us to hear.

One can’t help but wonder how much of this is to do with the way the state funds scientific research; Ceaser hears what is pleasing unto Ceaser, AMIRITE? I’m guessing a lab or body that consistently finds results opposite to the ones desired isn’t going to get so many gigs offered to it further down the line… which isn’t to accuse scientists of lying so much as to accuse the bureaucracy that surrounds science of making concessions to external forces. [image by secretlondon123]

But then I wonder if I’m slipping into the conspiracist paranoia of my youth again. Who can we trust to tell us truth? Does the new multiplicity of news sources with different ideological filters make this problem smaller or larger?

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2 Responses to “Hype and headlines: looking beyond the abstract”

  1. meika says:

    And compare these two recent press releases from a science press release site on fructose and weight gain and human health.
    (Fructose is processed like alcohol and turned into fat by the body before being used as energy, currently favoured as a sweetener, usually from corn syrup, by big food corporations.)

    Missing link between fructose, insulin resistance found

    I’d call that some real science. The second is pseudo-science in search of a headline put out by an industry body feeling the heat for some crap executives and their decisions who should probably personally pay all the health bills of all fat North Americans. Especially the ones creating the industry rearguard action at http://www.SweetSurprise.com listed (on this second press release):

    Pure fructose frequently confused with high fructose corn syrup

    It’s cigarettes and asbestos all over again.

    It’s complete obfuscation.

    Take just one point.
    High fructose corn syrup contains approximately equal ratios of fructose and glucose. Table sugar also contains equal ratios of fructose and glucose. High fructose corn syrup and sugar are equally sweet and both contain four calories per gram.

    Apparently this supports their hope (I wouldn’t call it an argument) that pure fructose and corn-syrup (mostly fructose) aren’t the same thing in the body because table/cane sugar has some fructose in it. This is very disingenuous. Courses for marketing should have a 1000% tax put on them.

    Glucose is ready to burn by the body and is not necessarily turned into fat first like alcohol and fructose are.

    Sucrose, which is what table/cane sugar is compose of, is a molecule of glucose bound to a molecule of fructose. This fact is ‘elided’ i.e. spun over with BS by that press release.

    Sucrose (table/cane sugar) is half turned into fat before being used as energy by the body.

    Apparently that makes “pure fructose” and “corn syrup” completely different things.

    I might be badly paid but I am not a moron.

    On top of that, and this behavioral food fact has been known by the food corporations for decades and explains why corporations moved over to fructose from sucrose as an added benefit to lower cost: is that fructose gives that “I can’t just one” feeling, it aids craving, and thus lifts consumption and so turn-over.

    No doubt the first press release listing above helps goes to explain this behavioral food fact, but http://www.SweetSurprise.com will never mention that connection.

  2. Khannea says:

    We had a few solid paradigm shifts in the last decades, that would have been hard to believe in the early 1990s

    1- cigarettes are bad and the state reserves the right to make smoking more of a hassle, including making people leave buildings and smoke on the sidewalk and rain like pathetic imbeciles.

    2- oil is running out and we need alternatives fast or society as we have it today will collapse into a USSR-style disaster.

    3- CO2 is a likely cause of climate change and chaotic weather, localized warming and localized chilling, droughts and chaotic rainfail. High CO2 levels in the atmosphere is dangerous.

    4- Market liberalization may lead to plutocrats causing significant societal and economic upheaval.

    5- Political mismanagement, ignorance, arrogance and incompetence can have acute macro-economic implications, within the span of several years, as severe as the 1930s crisis.

    6- The internet is essential for the worlds economy and will expand even further.

    7- Mobile phones can be made to fit in the palm of your hand and can have more functionality than an entire 1980s office. And telecom companies give them AWAY for free.

    8- US politics can easily be taken over by a small cabal of political opportunists who use it to conduct a plausibly criminal, fascist, right wing extremist, anti-rationalist, faux-theocrat, opportunist, corporate oligarchic, viking style plunder, mercenary based agenda. For two terms. In plain view.

    Now think about it. How big have these paradiggm shifts been? I think they are huge, and would have dumbfounded educated people in 1992. Most people would have thought such a fast shift impossible, if not plot devices for bad SF scripts.

    I assert that these revelations work in sweeping and overwhelming paradigm shifts, as a result of momentum building through the intertubes. Pressure now has a chance to accumulate and cause actual landslide shifts. People suddenly get it, faster than ever before.

    I’d love seeing society experiment with this hypothesis. I think the best way to test it will be internet, mobile communication, wiki, crowdsourcing (etc etc etc) being available, by voice command and wearable display, for everyone – at a very low cost-of-use, all over the globe. This will have interesting effects and I think really fast realization shocks ….

    – ZOMFG this shit is bad !