April 17, 2017

Slow on the uptake

Q: Did you see gin can increase your metabolism?

A: Um…

Q: Here, in the Herald, new research from Latvia!

A:  Not really convincing.

Q: Why? Is it in mice?

A: Up to a point.

Q: <reads> Yes, it’s in mice: “In fact, the mice who were fed regular doses of the spirit saw a 17 percent increase in their metabolic rate”.  That’s a lot, isn’t it?

A: Indeed. One might almost say an incredible amount.

Q:  Ok, were these some special sort of mutant mouse with a weird metabolism?

A: The story doesn’t seem to say.

Q: Of course it doesn’t, but can’t you find the original research paper? The story says it’s in Food & Nature. Doesn’t University of Auckland subscribe to it?

A: No.

Q: That’s usually a bad sign, isn’t it?

A: Especially in this case. The journal doesn’t exist, the university doesn’t exist, and Professor Thisa Lye is, apparently a lie.

Q:  😕?

A: The story is two weeks old. It was an April Fool’s hoax. Thanks to Elle Hunt I was saved potentially quite a bit of time looking for the journal. She tweeted a link from Latvian Public Broadcasting, who have tracked the story down.

Q: So the Herald got it from the Daily Mail who got it from Yahoo who got it from Prima. And none of them checked that the research existed? I mean, ok, checking science isn’t what journalists are trained to do, but checking that sources actually exist? With Google?

A:  On the positive side, no mice were harmed in conducting the research.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »