Well actually, I made that up. But what if I were to cite a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article to back up my headline? Would that make it true? Apparently that is what many journalists believe.
Recently, the Harvard School of Public Health published the results of a study on Red Meat Consumption and Mortality. And a number of respected newspapers published sensationalized, attention grabbing headlines like these:
From the LA Times:
And the Chicago Sun Times:
And lastly, the BBC:
This is a complete failure of basic scientific literacy! Didn’t everyone get the memo that correlation doesn’t equal causation? Apparently these journalists did not.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the study is bogus. I am simply saying that writing a headline like the ones above is irresponsible.
How to Read and Understand Research Reports
I’m guessing only a subset of my readers are interested in reading and understanding scientific reports related to diet, health, and fitness. However, if you are interested but don’t know how to get started, you are in luck. I have written a multi-part article called Scientific Research 101. It covers the basics of the scientific method, the structure of a research report, and where to find journal abstracts and articles online.
And if you need a refresher in correlation vs. causation, you can read this post on the Dangers of Eating Bread.