So there’s a “study” making the rounds claiming to have found evidence of a link between consuming “ultra-processed foods” and developing cancer. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that processed stuff like bacon and pastrami leads to cancer,Â but this one expands the range of “processed” to the more scary “ultra-processed” to include the following (handily summarised by the BBC):
Leaving aside what exactly even are “foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats”, it’s an excellent example of the kind of rubbish headlines that lead to the worst outcomes of social media, and of the resulting issue of people being rightly confused about what, or what not, to eat,Â because it’s so beautifully tweetable, but mostly bullshit (scientifically speaking):
Yesterday morning I attended a great panel discussion at Cape Town’s Open Book Festival. The topic was “Science: Separating Fact From Fiction,” and it was billed as a conversation between James Gleick (who kindly signed a copy of his book for me and thinks I have a cool name), Kathryn Schulz, Leonie Joubert and Guy Midgley about ‘whether science is failing us or we are failing science’. It was indeed a conversation between those four people, but they spoke more about belief: how and why we believe the things we do (do you “believe” in the Higgs boson particle?), and what scientists and journalists play – or should play – in “democratizing” science (there was some discomfort with the word democratizing: I think “popularize”, or “make understandable to non-scientists” was the gist).
There was some good banter and a general acknowledgement of the importance of promoting scientific literacy in the public at large, which each of these speaker-writers do in their own way (and of course Ben Goldacre got many a shout-out for being one of the main shouters – LITERALLY – in this game. If you are one of the remaining 5 people who have not read and tweeted about the extract from his new book, Bad Pharma, out TODAY, go do so immediately. And the foreword is here).
Leonie Joubert brought up Tim NoakesÂ andÂ his recent conversionÂ (yes, I think the religious allusion is appropriate)Â as an example of a problem when it comes to the public understanding of science, because it is largely based on a sample of one, and most people do not understand that the plural of anecdote is not data (yes, even science has tired cliches). Of course Noakes would beg to differ, as he did on Twitter in response to someone live tweeting Joubert’s remarks:
In case you missed it, here follow accounts of the fascinating saga that unfolded over the last few days involving nutrition-nazi Gillian McKeith (“PhD”), and Ben Goldacre (actual PhD, and author of Bad Science). (Short of long, @gm accused @bg of telling “lies” about her in his book. Read the chapter in question for yourself here). This is a story of the great value of social media over bad science.
‘After 2 years of pursuing one man through the courts, at a cost to him of Â£200,000 and 2 years work, the British Chiropractic Association yesterday dropped their libel case against science writer Simon Singh. The case was over a piece he wrote on this very page, criticising the BCA for claiming that its members could treat children for colic, ear infections, asthma, prolonged crying, and sleeping and feeding conditions by manipulating their spines.’