Posts Tagged ‘Bad Science’

Cola lowers sperm count, study doesn’t show

// April 7th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Science at Home, Science Communication, Sex and Reproduction

The headline “Cola lowers sperm count, study shows” popped up on ninemsn recently. Usually I don’t pay much mind to ninemsn, but they had a grizzly story about a Russians who drowned a girl, then served her as meat with a side of potatoes to her friend. They plead guilty and said they had done it because they were drunk and hungry, but they HAD POTATOES! Once they drew me in with that story, I checked out the other headlines and stumbled across the cola article.

And I quote: “If you’re trying to have a baby, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on your partner’s cola intake, as a Danish researchers have found that big cola drinkers can have sperm counts up to 30 percent lower than normal.”

I have issues with the cola article.

The research paper is in the advance issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, and you can read it here. They found that people with a high cola intake had lower sperm count. That doesn’t mean drinking lots of cola CAUSES low sperm count.

Towards the end it reads: “High-quantity consumers of cola or caffeine had an unhealthier lifestyle, which has previously been associated with poorer semen quality”. So is the low sperm count because of the cola or the lifestyle? The researchers considered the diet factor and wrote that it did not explain the correlation, but the report didn’t include any details on how they considered diet so it’s impossible to say if it was accurate.

High cola intake and low sperm count could both be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Other things that could cause them are discussed in the report, which reads: “High caffeine and cola consumption may also be related to in utero exposure to caffeine, working in a sedentary position, being less physical active, or being more stressed, variables that have previously been associated with poorer semen quality. Unfortunately, we did not obtain information about these factors.”

Any of these things or something else entirely could cause both high cola intake and low sperm count. Although drinking lots of cola can be correlated to having a lower sperm count, it damn sure doesn’t mean “cola lowers sperm count, study shows.” The study doesn’t show that at all, to me it doesn’t say anything that we didn’t already know.

Granted, ninemsn did write at the very bottom that the results couldn’t be separated from other lifestyle factors. Still, the article still reads like it’s big scary news. Going at it with an angle like “Ooh, don’t let your husbands drink cola, ladies” is just bad science. Walk the plank.

Spoons Will Kill You

// January 6th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Recent Research, Science at Home, Science Communication, Unethics

The deadly spoon, it makes a knife look tame by comparison. Indeed, only a meat cleaver attached to a hand beater is more dangerous.

Being a lover of spoons (not literally thank you very much. I’m just fond of them, okay? Nothing wrong with that) I am skeptical of this research which suggests that spoon dosing of medication is a major health risk. Yes sir, skeptical I am. This is the first time I’ve disagreed openly with research, so here’s hoping it doesn’t bite me in the ass like my last parrot did.

So I found this story in Science Daily today – “Can Kitchen Spoons Be Dangerous Spoons? Too Little or Too Much Medicine, Depending on Spoon Size” which takes you through to this press release and this swanky picture

Made by this swanky photographer.

With a shoot like this, you know you’re onto some quality research, and oh yes, it’s been picked up by several news sources. To quote the press release (as so many of these news articles did) using kitchen spoons to measure liquid medication tends to lead to significantly over- or underdosing “beneath the point of effectiveness” according to Dr. Wansick.

Here’s the method they used: They took 195 university students, and asked them to measure out a teaspoon of cough medicine into three spoons in order: 1. A teaspoon. 2. A medium sized tablespoon. 3. A large spoon. Then the researchers measured how much liquid they poured. The conclusion: In the medium spoon they underestimated by 8%, in the large spoon they overestimated by 11%. Over time this could add up to an overdose.

Why I think it’s crap
In the paper and especially the press release they say this is an important health risk. Is it? The first line of their report says that “spoon dosing has been identified as 1 of the 3 major causes of dosing errors and pediatric poisonings,” but when you read the report they’re referencing, it says the cause is people giving a child a whole tablespoon worth of medicine rather than a teaspoon (because of the confusing tsp / tbsp shorthand.) It’s not parents taking a tablespoon and try to measure out a teaspoon of medicine in it!

Who in their right mind would do that anyway? Why not just use a teaspoon, particularly if giving it to a child? Is the “I’ll measure it sort-of teaspoonish that’s close enough” thing a common issue in poisonings? Not according to the paper they reference in that first line. How many people use teaspoons to measure medicine nowadays? The report doesn’t say.

All this paper concludes is that people are crap at estimating how much a teaspoon of liquid is when they use a tablespoon to measure it. Big whoop.

What I have a problem is, is how they’ve marketed it with a press release and a photo shoot to say that spoons are dangerous, based on no clear evidence to suggest this is a real health threat as there’s nothing to say PEOPLE ARE EVEN DOING IT let alone getting sick from it!

This crappy example of science communication made me snap my peg leg in half. Now I’m going to eat a bowl of jelly to console myself, and I’ll enjoy every damn spoonful.

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