HYH at Science Spectacular!

Last week the HYH team did something a little bit different to usual. We joined up with a plethora of the best scientists and communicators from the University of Manchester (among many other fantastic institutions) at Science Spectacular, part of the Manchester Science Festival.

Joining Jason, Donna, Kirsty and myself was new recruit Maddy who jumped right in at the deep end without breaking a sweat! We had a fantastic time chatting about recent science stories in the news and just generally how we hear about scientific discoveries. We also had some great discussions about how science gets from the lab to the headline and, importantly, how you can use our infographic to cut through the hype and get an idea of the research behind the headlines. We even managed to make some great contacts for groups that we can visit in the future!

HYH Sci Spec

All in all a hugely enjoyable day (and fun for me to be back in Manchester for the first time in a while). Watch this space for our next sessions and some other exciting updates from the Have You Heard? Team!

Have You Heard? goes on the radio!

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We’re always looking for new ways to get out into communities here at Have You Heard? but that is sometimes easier said than done. However, every now and then we get a fantastic opportunity.

On March 19th Mike and Kirsty from the HYH team were invited to chat with Roz Brown on her show ‘Out For Lunch With Silver Seniors’ live on Wythenshawe FM. We had an absolute ball of a time and learnt a huge amount from Roz.

Thanks so much to Roz for having us on and sending us this recording!

Here is that recording for anyone who missed it…

A Dhal Won’t Stop Dementia

Curry dementia

Today the Daily Express leads with this headline: Eat CURRY to beat Alzheimer’s: THIS spice boosts memory and may stop onset of dementia.

Now it’s safe to say I am sceptical of this. Curcumin, found in turmeric (hence the link to the curry) is a real trigger-point with many scientists as, despite countless suggestions in the headlines that it can be a miracle cure for almost anything that ails you (Alzheimer’s, cancer and lupus all in 2018…), there is currently no evidence of any effect in humans (see this useful blog for a summary). “But why not at least try it? What’s the harm?”. Well unfortunately curcumin has the unenviable history of actually killing someone due to unregulated use. So I’m on the back foot with this already but it’s important to look through this article nonetheless, let’s break it down using the HYH toolkit.

  1. The title is indeed outrageous. People living with dementia were not tested at all and there is no way they can make these claims. Additionally, no-one was given any curry. They were given a pill containing curcumin which is a substance that is in an ingredient that is in curry. Making this link is false.
  2. Reading further things look up. The research has been published (but there is no link) in a reputable journal and it does appear to be open-access. Thumbs up.
  3. The study is well-designed. The trial (done in humans ) included randomisation and blinding and the discussion section of the paper includes a healthy segment on the (many) limitations of the study.
  4. There is a quote from an impartial source which provides an excellent voice of reason – pointing out that these are early-stage results and that no-one should be taking curcumin just yet.
  5. There is definitely an issue with correlation-causation. The paper essentially makes the statement. Indians eat curry. Indians are less likely to develop dementia. Therefore curry stops dementia. This is backed up by some weak studies with poor statistics and is a dangerous point to make.

As usual this is actually a fairly well-written article with a naff headline. Another classic hallmark is some excited quotes of how great the study is – by the lead author. One example is this “Studies indicate a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s in Indian people who consume curcumin in curry.” – which is misleading as I point out in number 5 above.

Overall we can make the usual (but boring) conclusion – interesting study, more research needed. I’m going to give this a 4/10 (7/10 without the headline).

Pilot success!

It’s been at exciting time at for HYH recently. Following countless planning meetings, emails, and rehearsals we finally ran our first session!

The HYH team went to SciBar at the Albert Club in Didsbury to run a pilot session on science and the media – specifically on what tools we can use to clear the haze between the sensationalist headline and the (much more boring) science behind it.

Now we know what you’re thinking – we’re just preaching to the choir! Whilst that is admittedly true we were hoping to use the folk at SciBar as ‘guinea pigs’ for a test run and get some ideas on what we should change for the future. We sure learnt a lot!

The session went really well! We learnt about how people decide whether to trust a news article sometimes this is down to the source but sometimes it’s just a matter of whether the subject may affect your family. We also learnt about what sources can be classed as ‘reliable’ and heard first-hand how, as a scientist, your research can be misrepresented by the media. Finally we played a game attempting to match the news headline to the scientific paper title – it’s harder than you think!

Importantly, we got the chance to introduce our HYH Toolkit – 4 quick steps to get a better idea if you can trust what you are reading or if you should be a bit wary.  Check it out here.

Overall we had a great time at SciBar and we are looking forward to getting our next session in. If you are interested in hosting a HYH session, please get in touch. Watch this space!!