Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

Index of Dreadful science reporting in the media

Toothbrushing and cardiovascular disease

Today's health story of toothbrushing and cardiovascular disease shows an association, not causation. Health journalists: please try to learn about the difference. Continue reading→

Breast cancer screening part 2

I blogged yesterday about how a story about the latest research in breast cancer screening had hit the news, even though the research had not yet been published. I noticed later in the day that there were huge numbers of tweets about the study on Twitter, almost all of which seemed to say that it had now been "proven" that breast cancer screening did more good than harm. It's disappointing to see so many people uncritically believing what they hear in the media.

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Breast cancer screening

When I listened to the news on the radio this morning, the lead story was about a "major new study" that had found that breast cancer screening does more good than harm.

It's an important question. There are certainly women who are alive today who would not have been alive today if their cancers had not been detected via breast screening. Screening save lives, and that's undeniably a good thing.

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Facebook does not give you syphilis

There is a beautiful aria in Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville" called "La calunnia è un venticello". Watch it on YouTube here if you don't know it. It tells of how easy it is to start a rumour very gently and for the rumour then to take on a life of its own and get totally out of control.

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Does Tamiflu prevent complications of flu?

There was a very strange story surrounding yesterday's publication of a systematic review of the role of drugs such as Tamiflu in treating flu. This made the lead story on yesterday's Channel 4 News. The story involved the Cochrane Collaboration, the British Medical Journal, and Roche (makers of Tamiflu), and I have to say I don't think any of them has emerged from the story with much credit.

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Bugs in showerheads

A schoolboy error in one of the health news stories from the BBC today provides further evidence for a theory I've recently been developing.

The headline reads Taking showers 'can make you ill'. Once you read more, however, you realise that the research on which it's based provides no evidence whatever that taking showers can make you ill. All it shows is that various unpleasant bugs, such as Mycobacterium avium, can lurk in shower heads. Given that most people shower every day and seldom develop mycobacterial infections, I suspect that any risk from such infected shower heads must be pretty low. For the journalist to write a headline like that is an egregious example of extrapolating beyond your data.

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Oral cancer statistics

Today's news on the latest oral cancer statistics contains some schoolboy errors in presenting statistical results, and are a great example of how not to present statistics in the popular media.

Let's take the title of the article to start with:  "Drink blamed for oral cancer rise". Well, it's true that oral cancer is more common now than it was in previous decades. It's also true that we drink more now than in previous decades. And it's true that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral cancer. So it seems logical to assume that drink must be responsible, doesn't it?

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