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Most science coverage in daily newspapers is wrong.

Oh, I have no doubt the science is (generally) right. Most studies demonstrate what they demonstrate, it just doesn’t make for exciting reading. For example, this study showing that coffee lowers your risk of dementia. The study shows no more than that the people who drink less coffee (and my current two cups a day puts me in the “less coffee” category) overlap with people who have a greater instance of Alzheimer’s. There’s no indication that either of these things causes the other one, or which. In other words, it’s a starting point at best.

But that’s not interesting. No one wants to read a story that basically says “well, there seem to be a lot more people in both of tese groups than in only one of them.” Something like Alzheimer’s disease is complicated, the sum of a myriad of genetic and environmental factors that interact in unpredictable ways. Studies, by design, isolate one behavior and look at it. There’s no proof of correlation there, or even proof it’s not a coincidence.

In fact, some news reports of studies showing an obvious correlation get that obvious correlation backwards. This was probably written about in the papers because it has breasts in it, just as this one has sex in it, as does this one. That second one even brings the good news that the Independent‘s readers should have more, and those rotten kids should have less (which it turns out they do).

There’s nothing wrong with science coming to the masses. But before acting on anything you read, take a moment to consider what it actually says.


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