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Troubled Trifecta: Clearing up recent media misinformation on health/medicine/science

WSJ teen rats drinking

Troubled health/medical/science stories are starting to stack up from recent days, so today we offer you a trifecta.

The Wall Street Journal published a story under this headline, “Adolescents’ Drinking Takes Lasting Toll on Memory,” with a subhead that stated, “Even moderate drinking by adolescents on a regular basis can cause potentially lasting changes to the brain.”

But 177 words and 5 paragraphs deep into this story, it was revealed that the research was in rats.

By then the story had used the term adolescent or adolescence six times without mentioning it was about adolescent rats. The story was even more direct in making statements about human adolescents:

“…(the researcher) is careful to say ‘adolescent’ instead of ‘teen.’ As a society, we think that adolescence is over once someone hits 18, he says. But from a neuroscientist’s perspective, the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25 and can exhibit these negative effects of alcohol consumption until then, he says.”

Mind you, this story appeared under a WSJ banner of Health & Wellness.  It didn’t say Science.  It didn’t say Research News.  It was in a section that promises to deliver “news you can use” on health and wellness.

Who edits such stuff?

One reader left this comment online: “WSJ, you should know better. A ten day study, in rats, does not merit a headline like this.”


Last week, the Metabunk.org website published, “Debunked: 150 Calories of sugar leads to 11-fold increase in the prevalence of diabetes [1.1%].” It begins:

recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is being widely reported, with varying degrees of accuracy. One piece of data in the article in particular seems to suggest that if you consume an extra 150 calories of sugar daily (e.g. one extra can of soda) then you get an 11-fold increase in your risk of type two diabetes.

However this is not correct, the article gives the source of this claim: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584048/ – which says:

“every 150 kcal/person/day increase in sugar availability (about one can of soda/day) was associated with increased diabetes prevalence by 1.1%”

The problem where is that what the BJSM article is describing as an increase in the prevalence of diabetes is actually an increase in the increase in the prevalence of diabetes. The key being that it’s compared to “an identical 150 calories obtained from fat or protein.” which increases the prevalence by 0.1%, and since 1.1% is 11x 0.1%, then that’s an “11-fold increase”.

Or put another way, people who consuming an extra 150 calories of sugar will, on average, have a 10.4% incidence of diabetes, compared to 9.4% for people who consume an extra 150 calories of fat or protein, or 9.3% for people who don’t have that extra 150 calories.

By the time the Metabunking was done, criticism had been directed at stories by the Huffington Post, BBC, Forbes, MedicalDaily.com, Mother Nature Network, and others.


Evil Twin CBSAnd DiscoveryNews.com dismantled a story with this piece, “Woman’s ‘Embryonic Twin’ Not Really an Embryo, Or a Twin.”

Several hundred news organizations or websites had reported some variation of the story, according to a web search, including these headlines:

 

 

Now we return you to our previously-scheduled programming, which is often more of the same.

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