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Smoking eggs

(article, Culinate staff)

Earlier this month, you might've heard about the smoking egg — er, the claim that eating eggs was nearly as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes. Based on a study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, the conclusion was essentially just a comparison between the arterial health of smokers and egg eaters. But the idea that eggs were as deadly as cigarettes was irresistible, with numerous media outlets simply repeating the story.

Fortunately, the Canadians — the study was done at the University of Western Ontario, after all — decided to actually look at the research. CBC News noted that the study failed to track overall dietary intake of saturated fat, while the Vancouver Sun pointed out that the study relied on the notoriously unreliable technique of self-reporting, in addition to ignoring such possible related factors as alcohol intake.

As the Sun op-ed writer Peter McKnight wrote, health studies often have seemingly conflicting results. It's not just the studies that may be poorly designed; it's our inability to interpret them. Is coffee good for you? Yes, says a recent Harvard study; maybe, but also maybe not, says another recent 14-year observational study.

And it's not just the media who simplify and sensationalize the science; it's the universities, companies, and other organizations that pay for the research in the first place. As McKnight concluded,

bq. The public is, of course, the loser in this. For when people constantly hear dramatic claims made about virtually everything they eat or do . . . they can very easily become inured to the scary headlines, and cease to heed any health warnings. But scientists — and more importantly, science — are also losers. For just as the media lose public trust when they present sensationalized stories, so scientists and science risk a similar fate when scientists or their employers sensationalize the results of research. And a tremendously ironic fate that would be, for science doesn’t need to be sensationalized; it’s sensational enough on its own.