As we move towards the end of the year, like all news sources, we fall back on that classic space filler – the list story. So without further ado, here is the official Behind the Headlines’ Top Five of Top Fives stories of the year.
The top five ‘Good work sir!’ stories of the year
We can often get bogged down in pointing out dodgy sub-group analyses, spurious extrapolations of samples sizes containing just four men and a dog and RCTs pointing out the benefits of chocolate on blood pressure that turned out to be funded by a chocolate-making conglomerate. So it's important not to lose sight of the fact that there are many hard-working researchers, producing invaluable work, framed in the best traditions of evidence-based medicine, that does make the world a better place.
Here’s our top five of the year:
These researchers were in it for the long-haul. Over 100,000 women followed over the course of 30 years showed us that there is no such thing as a healthy level of smoking, however the tobacco companies try to spin their brands.
This impressive study, involving thousands of people across Europe, provided conclusive evidence that the tanning industry (worth billions) is causing hundreds of preventable deaths every year – all in the name of vanity. Maybe something should be done?
A useful piece of research, produced by a large team of experts, which provided compelling evidence of the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in treating depression. CBT is inexpensive, has minimal side-effects, and it works. What’s not to love?
International medical collaboration at its finest. Over 50 geneticists working across the globe, coming together to produce a new “encyclopaedia” detailing how hundreds of different cancer cells respond to anti-cancer agents, with the hope it could lead to personalised cancer treatments.
Unlike some types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAMs), practitioners of evidence-based medicine are more than willing to discuss its flaws and air their dirty washing in public. This intriguing piece of research highlights PR spin, arguably distorting the evidence, which is occurring at all levels – from research teams, to university public relations departments, to mainstream journalists.
The top five ‘Don’t wait up for that call from Stockholm’ stories
All medical research is valuable. It's just that some of it is less valuable than others. And to be honest, we cannot see any of the researchers involved in the following studies picking up the Nobel Prize for Medicine anytime soon.
While this is a well-conducted study, we are unclear what pratical application the information that stressed-out men pefer the larger lady, could have.
A US study made the case that ‘gaydar’ existed. But only in the lab conditions. And for women. And it only worked 65% of the time.
A Swiss study found that people were 14% more likely to die on their birthdays. So we wouldn’t recommend booking your next birthday bash in Zurich.
Californian researchers (who else) found that people exposed to a 60-second advert, containing supposedly 'awe-inspiring' imagery, were slightly more likely to score higher on a niceness survey (but not to donate more money to charity).
Possibly we are jaded – we work in London so our access to awe-inspiring moments is limited.
The top five ‘Call that reporting?’ stories
We look at a lot of health journalism. Some of it excellent, some of it good, some of it downright terrible. Here are our top five examples of the latter:
‘Girls as young as nine are asking for vaginal cosmetic surgery on the NHS – driven by a trend in “pornstar chic”,' Metro has reported. An entirely baseless claim with no evidence to support it.
“Raise cost of parking to force motorists to walk! Nanny watchdog’s plan to get Britain fit” the Daily Mail thundered about NICE guidelines on promoting walking and cycling. Except, NICE only made a suggestion about parking charges and have no legal powers to raise the charges.
“Oral sex is good for women’s health and helps fight depression,” was the Daily Mail’s lurid headline. Except the ‘news’ is based on a 10-year-old study looking at condom use not oral sex.
Using an iPad at night 'could trigger depression', The Daily Telegraph has reported on a study that, er, did not involve iPads, or, er, humans.
"Eating egg yolks is as bad as smoking in speeding up coronary heart disease," the Daily Mail says – possibly, but you are only at any risk in the fairly unlikely event you eat more than 200 egg yolks a year.
The top five ‘science is cool’ stories
Scientists are cool and the science they practice is even cooler. Here are our five coolest stories of the year:
Skin from a can – sweet.
Exciting, proof-of-concept work that may lead to more wide-ranging treatments for vision loss.
Research suggesting humans may have a superhero-like sixth-sense for danger.
Pioneering work in robotics that may eventually transform care for amputees.
Using clever DNA detective work, an Australian researcher claimed that many Chinese medicines contained substances taken from endangered species.
And finally, five burning questions of the year
Does the G-spot exist? – (not sure)
Is 'cuddle chemical' really the new Viagra? – (without Phase 3 trials, nobody has the faintest idea)