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Link: Medicalising female sexuality

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There was a nice piece in the Guardian recently talking about the ongoing project to medicalise, medicate and control female sexuality. A short and easy read that touches on the main problems, though more depth would be nice:
Invasion of the marauding nymphomaniacs

Written by daijones

June 2, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Link: critiquing media mis-reporting

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Nice piece here delivering a smack down to the Daily Mail, over an article that mis-represented research as suggesting racism is inevitable:

There’s a thank you letter from the authors of the original research here:

Written by daijones

July 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

More shoddy science reporting from the BBC

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An exciting headline on the BBC News website recently:

Alzheimer’s: Diet ‘can stop brain shrinking’

Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness and anything that can help prevent or delay its onset, or lessen it’s severity, is to be welcomed. The headline, and in part the article that follows, suggest that diet can reduce brain shrinkage in later life and so act protectively against Alzheimer’s.┬áThere are a couple of problems here though, that should be quickly apparent if you read the article with a sceptical eye. The first is in the suggestion that the article has anything to do with Alzheimer’s: the research wasn’t conducted on Alzheimer’s sufferers, and participants weren’t followed longitudinally to see if there was a differential incidence of Alzheimer’s developing. So, the research can’t actually tell us anything about Alzheimer’s. To be fair to the article, this is mentioned. In the penultimate paragraph.

A bigger problem, potentially, is with the interpretation of the research itself. The article takes an unambiguous position that a diet high in vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids caused a reduction in brain shrinkage with age. However, the research didn’t find this. Rather, it found a correlation between blood nutrients and brain volume: as a quasi-experiment, even if the test used a difference statistic then the result is essentially correlational. And correlation doesn’t prove causation. There are a number of possible reasons for the results found, given the pre-existing evidence that education and intellectual effort increases brain complexity and volume. Off the top of my head, it may be that people who are well educated tend to have higher brain volumes, and also tend to eat healthier diets. Or people from higher socio-economic groups tend to be both more highly educated, and are more likely to follow (and be able to afford) a healthy diet.

To eliminate these possibilities, you’d hope that the original research controlled for factors including education and socio-economic status. It’s behind a paywall so I can’t check, but if they did then the BBC didn’t think to mention it. The other result reported, that there was a difference in performance on cognitive tasks in a sample of people without clinical deficits, suggests that there’s some relationship between diet and cognitive performance, but without knowing the educational history of the participants it’s impossible to decide whether diet causes differences in performance, as the article suggests; or whether it’s again a matter of better educated people tending to have better diets. The latter is certainly a strong possibility, and you’d hope that the health editor who wrote the article would discuss this.

Written by daijones

January 1, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Focus on a Media Storm

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In this article from the health section of the BBC News site, a study is reported that shows that the brains of women with low libido – “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder” in the parlance of the drug companies pushing the concept for commercial purposes – show different patterns of activation when exposed to erotic imagery than the brains of women with “normal” libido. The conclusion pushed by the writer, despite some dissenting voices at the bottom of the article, is that HSDD is a “real” condition with a physical cause. This is a pretty common feature of poor reporting – a psychological “condition” is invented, some brain scans are done, and the presence of a difference between groups is used to both confirm the existence of the condition, and to explain its cause in brain operation. There’s been a bit of a media storm reporting this study, the Daily Telegraph for example going with the headline “Women with low libidos ‘have different brains'”.

Whenever you get this kind of (over) reaction to a piece of research or news, it’s worth looking to see what the Daily Mash website makes of it. More seriously though, there has been a gratifying slew of blog posts pointing out problems with the study itself, its conclusions, and the media’s reporting of it.

A good starting point on problems with the study is given at Neuroskeptic, but other issues are raised in the following posts.

There’s a very good piece on the problems of the conclusions drawn from the study on Bad Science. In this post, Ben Goldacre draws on an article on public responses to neuroscience. This article is well worth reading, to better understand the public’s reaction to psychological claims but also to better understand the limitations of neuroscientific claims in psychology generally. While on the Bad Science post, it’s worth looking at the links at the end on the medicalisation of psychological categories: this is a worrying trend in modern society, driven particularly by vested interests such as drug companies.

My favourite post about the study comes from Dr Petra’s blog, which talks about issues with the media reporting of the study itself, but more importantly draws conclusions about the quality of science journalism. These conclusions are quite pessimistic, but fairly so, and are worth bearing in mind whenever you read media reports about psychology.

Written by daijones

November 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Psychologists in the media

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A good piece from the Guardian’s Lay Scientist blog on the ethics (or lack thereof) of psychologists who appear in the media passing comments on celebrities they’ve never met:

Written by daijones

November 18, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Media, Pop psychology, Quick Link

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Quack psychology in the media

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Nice article about “psychologists” talking shit to the media:

Written by daijones

November 9, 2010 at 1:16 am

Posted in Media, Quick Link

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Yet again the media uses brain science to denigrate women

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I love the Daily Mash, but it’s undoubtedly funnier when you know the story they’re satirising. Sadly, when I first saw this article I didn’t know the background, so couldn’t get full benefit…

Happily for me, Dr Petra Boynton has commented on the original research, focussing on the media’s reporting of it. This post is typically informative and illuminating, but also makes the Daily Mash post more fun:

Dr Petra’s post includes links to other blogs criticising methodological aspects of the study being reported on.

This kind of research is typical of the modern trend towards seeking brain based explanations, as if they were sufficient, and the media is happy to lap this up. But even if the study were methodologically sound, what would it tell us? The implication is that differences in brain state cause differences in libido, but then what causes the differences in brain state? From my point of view, the brain state is a reflection of the psychological condition, rather than the cause of it. The Daily Mash perhaps puts it best:

But Dr Logan’s wife, Emma, said: “My study suggests very strongly that it’s not me it’s you, you fat, bald, stinky little shit.

“If I don’t like sex, then what the fuck are all those tea lights doing in the bathroom?”

Written by daijones

October 29, 2010 at 12:23 am

Posted in Biological determinism, Media, Quick Link

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