Facebook Gives You Cancer
“There is no evidence because it would be hard to prove…”
BadScience hero Ben Goldacre and Jeremy Paxman take on Baroness Greenfield, The Daily Mail (always a good target) and Aric Sigman in this interview from Newsnight. For a bit of background this is all a response to this story from the Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1149207/How-using-Facebook-raise-risk-cancer.html
The Daily Mail reports Sigman is claiming (without any real evidence) that time on the computer takes you away from real people. This makes you isolated and lonely and means you are not producing the right hormones and your genes will act up – potentially leading to cancer, immune problems and impaired mental function. That’s a far reach for a newspaper article to be making, but these kind of shock headlines sell papers, or get more traffic on their website.
In this debate we see the importance of peer-reviewed research before making public claims. We see that correlation does not necessarily imply causality and we see that poor reporting of sensitive issues can lead to gross misunderstandings. If we remember, the Daily Mail was central in the reporting of the MMR vaccine scare.
When you watch this interview and read the article, can you think of responses to these questions?
- Are there any aspects of Greenfield’s claims that may sound plausible?
- What kind of evidence is presented here?
- What kind of evidence would you need to see to be convinced of their arguments?
- How might this be an example of media soundbites taking ideas out of context?