Archive for category Biology

Human-animal hybrids grown in secret? Well, no…

(HT @ukenagashi)

Fresh from their sister paper’s hard-hitting report into scientific ethics (which then ignored scientific ethics completely in favour of plugging The Planet of Apes prequel (direct link)), the Mail on Sunday today claims “150 human animal hybrids grown in UK labs: Embryos have been produced secretively for the past three years“.

Indeed, admixed embryo research was so secretive that it only got a few thousand column inches from tiny obscure outlets like The Times, the BBC and, err, The Mail.

That said, the stupidest thing in the article is not The Mail‘s coverage, which overall isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be*, though there’s no attempt at explaining the issues beyond just quoting a spokesperson from each side, and it doesn’t make clear that a lot of the experiments in question – implanting a human nucleus into an empty animal cell – don’t make “hybrids” (more strictly, chimeras or admixed embryos) at all; they just make what is for all intents and purposes a human egg cell (taking eggs out of humans naturally is slightly dangerous, so it’s hard to justify putting women at risk for a science experiment when you can just make egg substitutes in the lab).

No, that prize goes to Lord Alton, who first showed the figures to The Mail. He says:

‘Ethically it can never be justifiable – it discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque.

‘At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail.

And those cancer scientists asking for money to invent drugs that cure cancer! Pah! Terrible! It’s emotional blackmail, that’s what it is.

Still, if you’re going to ban scientists from using “curing disease” as a justification then I guess it is pretty hard to justify.

‘Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones.

‘On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too.’

I’m not sure where he got that awfully precise figure of 80 from. But yes, all currently approved stem cell treatments have from adult stem cells… because adult stem research has been going strong for over 30 years while embryonic stem cell research is far more recent and has had a troubled history (especially in America); the first embryonic stem cell treatments are just starting to be tested. If in 5 or 10 years there are still no working embryonic stem cell treatments, then it will be time to look at whether embryo research is the best route to take. Right now, though, it’s much too early to say whether this fails scientifically.

* I have very low standards of “terrible” these days, it seems.

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How to inflate figures and scandalise people

A number of papers this week (Daily Express*, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Wales on Sunday) have all carried the same story, claiming that, in the words of the Daily Mail, “NHS officials pay £32 for gluten-free bread that costs £2.25 in the shops”.

Though it’s not impossible that a big organisation like the NHS has inefficient bread-buying schemes, it seems a bit unlikely that something as widely prescribed as gluten-free bread is being bought for more than 10 times its shelf price. So where did the figures come from?

Well, it looks like the story comes from this Welsh government data about prescriptions. Sure enough, if you look it says that the 27 prescriptions of a particular type of bread, Lifestyle Gluten-Free High-Fibre Brown, cost £32.27 each.** But doctors aren’t prescribing one loaf of bread at a time.

The important column is the one marked “quantity”, which tells you how many grams of bread were prescribed. For Lifestyle Gluten-Free High-Fibre Brown, doctors prescribed a total of 123,600 grams. Divided between the 27 people, that’s 4,577 grams each, or about 11 loaves of bread per person. So that £32.27 figure is the cost of buying 11 loaves of bread, not 1, and as the Welsh government points out, it works out at around £2.82 per loaf.  This is still slightly more than the cheapest online cost of the bread, so I assume there is still room to bring prescription costs down, but NHS Wales is certainly not spending more than £30 on a loaf of bread.

* Turns out James Delingpole writes for The Express too. Huh.

** If you want to check for yourself, it’s in section G-O under the name “Lifestyle_G/f H/fbre Bread Brown”.

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The Sun lies about disability benefits, what a shock

GOT hay fever? Why not throw a sickie?

Even better, take the rest of your working life off.

Well, this is going to go well.

New figures show that under Labour the state was happy to pay your way, no questions asked.

Those claiming Disability Living Allowance soared from 2.1million in 2000 to 3.1million last year. The annual cost is now £12billion.

So, 3.1 million have “taken the rest of their working lives off” on Disability Living Allowance, and the state is “paying their way”? Well, no.

Disability Living Allowance is a supplementary payment, given to people with disabilities, which helps cover their care and mobility costs – in The Sun‘s case, they seem to be talking solely about the part of the DLA that covers care, since that’s where the 3.1 million figure comes from. There are different levels of DLA, depending on how severe the disability is, but even in the most severe case – someone who requires 24 hour care – the recipient would only get £73.60 a week, or about £3,800 a year, and on average, people only receive about £46.30 a week, or £2,400 a year (and 500,000 of that 3.1 million get nothing at all). No-one has “taken the rest of their working lives off” to live on £2,400 a year.

Incidentally, that part about the annual cost being £12 billion does seem to be including the cost of mobility allowance as well – the cost of the care part of the DLA is only £6.4 billion a year. It sounds like a lot, but like I say, it only actually works out at about £46 per person per week – not very much at all when you think about the cost of a private carer, or the earnings lost by a friend or family member who takes time off work to provide care.

Clearly The Sun must realise this – they complain that “Many of those handed up to £73.60 a week are laid low with ailments such as “alcohol abuse” or allergies“, clearly hoping that we won’t realise that £73.60 is not all that much money. There maybe people on DLA because of alcohol abuse or allergies, but in that case, it will be because their condition is so serious that they need part-or-full-time care. To qualify for even the lowest rate, you need to be either physically unable to cook for yourself or require care for part of the day. That’s more than just “someone who cannot get out of bed because their hangover is so bad“.

The Sun also says that “The vast majority of claimants have never been medically assessed“, which also isn’t true. Most people aren’t assessed by the Department of Work and Pensions, true, but in order to qualify for DLA, you need to have been diagnosed by your doctor. Everyone who is on DLA was assessed by their doctor.

Now at last the Government plans to order regular assessments to weed out the workshy.

It should make the economy look healthier by a few billion pounds a year.

That’s something not to be sneezed at.

Unpaid carers are worth about £87 billion to the economy per year, by reducing the strain on the NHS. Making it even harder for them is hardly going to make the economy any healthier.

Edit: The Express’s coverage is more or less the same, but with TPA quotes and the added bonus that they express incredulity that people with back pain might have trouble moving around. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?

(The Sun discards its “Sun Says” columns each day. I’ve preserved this one beneath the fold)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Greek Island Labs and the Express – lazy churnalism or something deeper?

A little while back, I wrote a blog post about a nonsense story in the Express promoting an arthritis cream, Joint Mud, made by a company called Greek Island Labs.

A number of things struck me as odd about the story:

  1. It quoted a doctor called Mark Binette, praising the efficiency of the product. Mark Binette also happens to work for Greek Island Labs, and was the creator of the cream – hardly the most independent guy you could quote!
  2. The article claimed there had been incredible advance sales of the product, and went into great detail about how much the product cost and where it could be bought.
  3. It also claimed that famous people had used the product – in this case, Premier League footballers.
  4. Best of all, a number of comments appeared praising this product as soon as it went online, and the accounts that created those comments were newly created that day.

Well, today The Express has another story about a Greek Island Labs product, Adonia Hair Remover, under the lovely balanced headline “Rush to buy Adonia Hair Reducer cream that cuts down on shaving“. Here’s a few quotes from the article – maybe you can see a connection:

  1. An independent American physician, Dr Mark Binette, said: “It’s safe, natural and works on even the most challenging cases.”
  2. It sold out overnight when it launched in America last month, and will be available in London, at Harrods, from next month. It costs £29.99 for 1oz and more than 10,000 people have already put their names on a waiting list.
  3. Its sales in America were boosted last month after American Pie actress Shannon Elizabeth, 37, was spotted buying some.
  4. Picked this up when I was in the states last month. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks but it’s working well for me so far… • Posted by: JessMarwick at 12:45 AM

Digging into the Express archives, I also found this article from 2009 about another Greek Island Labs product, Adonia LegTone, which supposedly removes cellulite. Although this is at least marked as a review instead of a piece of news, it’s just as glowing as the other articles.  Again, they quote Binette (at least this time, it’s clearer that he works for Greek Island Labs – they don’t have the nerve to claim he’s “independent”). Again they gush about how many preorders it’s had and how much it will cost. Again they quote scientists who point out that the claims it makes are rubbish… then ignore them. Again, there’s a very positive comment from someone who’s never commented before or since on the Express website, which the moderators haven’t removed despite it clearly being spam.

Three articles, all rather similar, all praising a Greek Island Labs product. Have GIL simply realised that the Express is a soft touch for churning press releases into news, or is there a deeper connection here?

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Mobile phones and cancer. Again

(H/T @DickMandrake)

This will be all over the papers today, so here’s a quick run down of what’s actually happened.

Last year the World Health Organisation released its Interphone report (PDF) into the link between brain cancer and mobile phones. For the most part, they found “no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma [types of brain cancer] was observed with use of mobile phones”. However, for very heavy users (the top 10% of the population), there was a statistically significant increase in the odds of developing a form of brain cancer known as glioma but “but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation” – there is too much uncertainty in the data to know whether heavy mobile phone use caused cancer or whether something else was to blame. On the one hand, they found there appeared to be a connection between which side of the brain the tumour developed in and which hand users held the phone in – a sign that phones might cause cancer – but on the other hand, while extreme users experienced a big increase in brain tumours, people who used their phones even slightly less saw no change in brain cancer – a sign that mobile phones might not cause cancer.

Fast forward a year, and the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has issued a press release (PDF) about an upcoming report which, based on the Interphone study and some other papers, will classify the electromagnetic (EM) fields from mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” meaning there is “limited evidence” that they may cause cancer. In other words, it’s the exact same conclusion as the Interphone report, but this time the report is focusing on the negative – heavy doses may cause cancer – rather than the positive – light doses probably don’t cause cancer.

That in itself is very reasonable – even if mobile phones carry a very slight cancer risk, the IARC still need to know what that risk is. The problem comes when the media, reporting this in the usual shades of black and white, ignore all this nuance in favour of scares:

The Mail screams “Mobile phones CAN increase risk of cancer: Doctors reveal shock results of major study into effect on the brain“, magically turning “possibly causes cancer” into “CAN cause cancer”. It’s not really a shock result either, since it came out a year ago. The Mail also brings up the recent Council of Europe draft report that suggested banning mobiles from around schools, ignoring the fact it was pseudoscientific rubbish based on research from quacks.

The Express goes for the similar “Shock cancer warning over mobile phone use“, claiming “MOBILE phones have been officially linked to cancer for the very first time by a team of world experts”. Again, the report is a year old, it’s not a shock! They also manage to get in some ridiculous guilt-by-association:

But they classified mobile phones in the same danger category as the pesticide DDT and petrol engine exhaust, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Petrol exhaust and DDT are pretty dangerous, but that’s not necessarily because they cause cancer! Nor does being in the same group as these mean it carries the same risk of cancer, either. It just means that we have the same level of evidence for a cancer risk, which isn’t the same thing. For example, DDT is now banned worldwide, with most developed countries banning it in the 70s. This means that people aren’t being exposed to it any more (a good thing, of course!), so we can’t study its effects and work out exactly how dangerous it is.

The Guardian meanwhile goes for a tenuous connection to the risks of mobile phone base stations and wi-fi, even though the exposure to EM from these is much lower than from holding a phone to your ear – and we know even then it’s only the heaviest exposures that may cause cancer.

The Telegraph also makes the ridiculous DDT comparison, but at least they quote the great Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, who sensibly sums up the evidence:

“The risk of brain cancer is similar in people who use mobile phones compared to those who don’t, and rates of this cancer have not gone up in recent years despite a dramatic rise in phone use during the 1980s.

“However, not enough is known to totally rule out a risk, and there has been very little research on the long-term effects of using phones.”

(They also quote a professor of Medical Physics and Director of the Mobile Operators Association, but to be honest, they seem to have gone into damage control mode before there’s been any damage to control. Pro-tip, guys – if you ever end a paragraph about the health risks of something by saying “The social and technological benefits also need to be emphasised“, then you sound like a cyberpunk bad guy, even if you truly mean it.)

Anyway, for a little perspective, there’s a great interview with Ed Yong about the news here. Read it!

Edit: There are also great pieces out there on this from Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence, Cancer Research UK, Tom Chivers, Only That In You, Scientific American and Bad Astronomer. Good old blogosphere!

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Another cancer cure that’s not a cure

The Daily Express today has a piece titled “The 20p ‘sunshine pill’ helps cancer patients live longer“. That’s a bold, unambiguous claim. Taking this pill will improve cancer survival rates, right?

A British oncologist will next week tell a conference that many of his skin cancer patients have unusually low ­levels of vitamin D.

He now gives them supplements and says they often survive for longer than expected.

Although he has not yet done a clinical trial to back up his theory, he believes that vitamin D pills at just 20p a day could eventually prove as ­effective as cancer treatments that cost thousands of pounds per patient.

Oh. So it might help cancer patients live longer one day, according to a doctor who hasn’t tested his theory yet.

There is some reasonably good evidence, summarised at Wikipedia, that low levels of vitamin D (a chemical produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight which controls bone growth and the life cycle of cells) are linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer and faster cancer growth, but the cause and effect aren’t clear – are low vitamin D levels causing cancer, or is cancer causing low vitamin D levels? – and, as Cancer Research UK says:

We strongly advise cancer patients to talk to their doctor if they are concerned, before considering taking supplements – especially since there’s evidence that some vitamin supplements can have unintended consequences.   Moreover, vitamin D from supplements doesn’t appear to be regulated in the body as tightly as vitamin D from the sun – and there’s still a lot of uncertainty over what the ‘best’ dose is.

And we certainly don’t recommend that patients go overboard on the beach or sunbeds to top up their vitamin D. We know that we all need a bit of sunshine in our lives.  But we also know that excessive UV exposure (from the sun or sunbeds) and  sunburn are major risk factors for melanoma.

That’s some very good advice, which makes it all the more galling that the Daily Express is encouraging cancer patients to start taking vitamin D pills without visiting their doctor.

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The Daily Mail, churnalism, and orgasms

Journalism is hard, guys! All that “interviewing” and “researching” and “fact checking” takes time and effort. It’s much easier if you can just nick someone’s article, rearrange the words and stick a misleading headline on it!

This week’s New Scientist has an article called “Sex on the brain: Orgasms unlock altered consciousness” by Kayt Sukel. It’s pretty interesting – it’s about a couple of studies where women masturbated or had sex inside an fMRI machine (a type of MRI which shows which parts of the brain are active at any time), which imaged the activity in their brains to try to work out what happens in at orgasm. Interestingly, the two studies found completely opposite results. One group, led by Barry Komisaruk, found that one area of the brain – known as the prefrontal cortex or PFC – became extremely active at orgasm. Another group, led by Janniko Georgiadis, found a drop in PFC activity, and in particular, they found that the part of the PFC known as the orbitofrontal cortex or OFC shut down completely.

The article discusses a couple of possible reasons for this – Georgiadis suggests that since the PFC shuts down because the brain “loses control” at orgasm and enters an altered state of conciousness, while Komisaruk suggests that the PFC lights up because brain is investing heavily in controlling fantasy and pleasure. Since their experiments were slightly different, it’s of course possible that they’re both right – in Georgiadis’s experiments, the women had their partner with them in the fMRI machine, while in Komisaruk’s experiments, the women masturbated, and it’s possible that the two lead to very different patterns of brain activity (if the PFC plays a role in fantasy and imagination, it makes sense that it would be more active during masturbation).

At the end of the article, Komisaruk suggests that perhaps “anorgasmia” (the inability to have orgasms) might be treatable by having women “teach” their brains to have the right patterns of activity (one person New Scientist quotes, Kenneth Casey, compares this idea to the placebo effect – using the power of the mind to change the effect things have on the body), but since these are very early days, it’s certainly not a solid proposal. We don’t know which way round cause and effect are in this case anyway; perhaps changing the activity of the PFC causes orgasms, or perhaps orgasms change the behaviour of the PFC, and as Georgiadis notes:

I’m not sure if this altered state is necessary to achieve more pleasure or is just some side effect

Anyway, all very interesting, but quite vague, being more theoretical than practical at the moment. Unless you’re the Daily Mail, that is!

Secrets of the female orgasm revealed: Scientists discover new hope for women who can’t climax

Yes, for the Mail, these aren’t tentative – and confusing – first steps towards understanding the mental pathways that lead to orgasm, this is NEW HOPE FOR WOMEN WHO CAN’T CLIMAX. And also an excuse to show a model in her underwear miming either an orgasm or a sideways migrane. But mostly the NEW HOPE thing.

Interestingly, the Daily Mail ignores Komisaruk’s work completely – although he gets quoted at the bottom of the article, nowhere does the Mail mention his contradictory findings, presumably because that would mean that things are a tiny bit complicated and science can never be complicated!* This makes it a lot easier to pass the musings about a “cure for anorgasmia” as cold hard scientific fact, of course… but they’re not, they are just musings.

For some reason though – presumably because it’s the picture New Scientist used – they use a picture from Komisaruk’s experiment showing Sukel‘s brain, even though it shows exactly the opposite to what the Mail claims (the area in the image labeled “A” is the prefrontal cortext, and instead of being shut down it’s lit up like a Christmas tree). Not only is Daily Mail Reporter misrepresenting New Scientist‘s article, it’s doing a terrible job of it.

It’s not quite as terrible as “New theory could be “greatest discovery since chemotherapy”” or “Ten easy ways to beat cancer“, but it’s still a classic example of the press taking preliminary findings and twisting them into into “NEW HOPE” where hope may not (yet) be warranted.

* It’s also possible that the Daily Mail didn’t want to mention the possibility that people (even *gasp* women) might masturbate, but perhaps that theory’s a bit too Daily Mail Island (NSFW).

Komisaruk

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Hangovers, statistics and a dodgy hookup

It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book. You go to a party, get completely hammered, and wake up in bed with a dodgy PR firm.

Today’s ill-advised hookup is a threesome between The Express, The Mirror and a non-alcoholic drinks company called Sweet Lady Beverages, who claim that “the average Briton will spend five years of their life with a hangover“.

Before we look at the article itself, a quick sanity check. Life expectancy in the UK is roughly 80 years, and it’s unlikely people are going to experience hangovers before the age of about 15 or so. So, at maximum, that gives the average Brit about 65 drinking years. If the Express‘s statistics are true, we spend 8% of our adult lives hung over – we would spend more time hungover than we would eating. It’s amazing anyone gets anything done.

The article goes on to say that:

[Britons] will suffer the ill effects for a whole day – usually a Sunday – at least once a week between the ages of 21 and 38.

Bear in mind that this an average. According to Sweet Lady Beverages, the average person is hung over every week until the age of 40, and those hangovers last all day. That sounds a tiny bit excessive. After all, one – much more scientific – study found that having even just one hangover per month over an extended period is linked to a major increase (around 2.36 times) in heart attack risk.* And yet somehow, we’re not dropping like flies.

As far as I can tell – there’s no information about this survey available on the web outside these two articles – Sweet Lady Beverages simply asked visitors to its site to answer some questions about hangovers. There’s no published methodology; in other words, they don’t say what questions were asked or what precautions they made to make sure they had a fair sample.

For instance, they could have asked

It would certainly explain the odd results they got.

The Sweet Lady Beverage company is quoted by the Express as saying

The message we can take from this is simple – by reducing our alcohol intake we can reduce the amount of time feeling wretched.

Oddly on-message for a company selling alcohol-free drinks, wouldn’t you say?

* I can’t find many good scientific studies of hangovers. A lot of them are rather hamstrung by the fact that surveys usually take place in university, and therefore involve university students – not very representative of the drinking habits of the wider population! Nevertheless, this paper suggests that only 15% of the population have more than hangover per month.

Edit: The Daily Mail has now picked up the story too.

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Definitely not an advert

Let’s suppose you were putting together the most stereotypical Daily Mail health story (that wasn’t about cancer). What would you include?

Well, obviously first of all, you need your patients. They should be someone Mail readers can sympathise with – white, straight, middle-class, happy and utterly conventional.

When Charlotte Davies met her future husband there was an instant attraction […]

The university administrator met [accountant] Dean three years ago in a bar in Colchester, Essex, and the pair quickly became inseparable.

Secondly, we need a disease. That can either be something rare and terrible – a unique form of cancer, for instance, or a disease like meningitis that often affects the young – or it can be something everyday, like sore joints or high blood pressure… or eczema.

Unfortunately for her, there was also an instant reaction – on her skin. Within weeks of meeting her soulmate, her eyelids erupted with eczema and her eyes had swelled to the size of golf balls.

Third, doctors have to be baffled. If your patient just stumbled to the GP and got a diagnosis, that’s no good. They have to have to been bounced from hospital to hospital until some maverick doctor (who may be played by Hugh Laurie) works out what the true problem was. Better yet, medical science should fail all together, and “alternative medicine” has to provide the “answers”.

Doctors struggled to explain the sudden reaction and it was a homeopath who eventually diagnosed the cause…

Fourth, you need a hook. Something that makes this case of eczema different from the millions of others out there.

as love.

Sigh. Yes.

‘He told me that it was common for eczema to be effected by emotions, but typically due to stress, trauma or unhappiness. This was the first time they had ever heard of someone being allergic to love’, she said.

‘I felt like my body was putting Dean to the test, because even though my heart told me he was The One, it was as if my body wanted to see if he really was a good as he seemed.

‘If he loved me after my eyes had turned into a bright red tomatoes literally within days of meeting him, then I’d know his love was true.’

Aww.

Fifth, you need a moral. Something to appeal to the Daily Mail‘s sensibilities. One common one is the story of the mother who goes against medical advice to abort a foetus, and is then lucky enough to bring it to term safely – women who aren’t so lucky don’t seem to make the papers in quite the same way, of course. In this case, the moral is…

She said: ‘In December we got married and the eczema started to get a lot better. Perhaps my hormones calmed down and I just felt more relaxed once we were married, but it certainly seems to have cured me.’

The headline goes even further: “Allergic to love: Meeting my soulmate brought me out in itchy eczema… until he proposed”.* You heard it here first – living in sin causes eczema!

Oh, and sixth, you need to blatantly plug a product, of course!

Charlotte tried a concoction of steroids, creams, and alternative medicines, to no avail. Eventually she chanced upon Skin Shop’s Dry Eye Gel, a product she describes as ‘miraculous’ at treating the symptoms. […]

Dry Eye Gel costs £8.99 for 30ml and is available from [ADDRESS REDACTED]

Incidentally, the Dry Eye Gel website promotes their product “As seen in the Daily Mail“, while every photo in the article – including the couples wedding pictures – are credited to “Eastnews Press Agency”, a PR photography company which claims on its site thatWe know exactly the style of images National and Regional newspapers demand. With this knowledge we can give you and your clients the best opportunity to gain maximum press exposure. We can offer everything from straight forward picture coverage to an all-in-one package. This would include a full “news write through” of press releases and picture distribution service direct to National and Regional Press.

Come to think of it, it sure was convenient for everyone involved that a woman decided to tell a national newspaper about her relatively minor skin condition, wasn’t it?

(Thanks to Tabloid Watch for pointing out the Dry Eye Gel website)

* There’s a joke about loveless marriage in there somewhere, but I’m not cruel enough to make it.

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The Daily Mail guide to being a crappy person

Sometimes I wonder if the papers are specifically trying to legitimise being a rubbish romantic partner by misinterpreting scientific studies. Last month we had  The Telegraph suggesting that fathers should leave parenting to the mother, today we’ve got The Daily Mail telling us that “Behind every successful man is a woman keeping out of the way” (no, I don’t know who’s supposed to be behind successful women, gay men or single men either).

Luckily, for once, the study this is based on is freely available online: Outsourcing Effort to Close Others by Gráinne Fitzsimons and Eli Finkel.

The researchers carried out three experiments, only one of which is actually relevant. Women were asked to think about how their partners supported them in achieving either their health goals or their career goals, answered a questionnaire about their fitness regime, then were then asked how committed they were to their partner. They found that women who thought about how their partner helped them with their fitness planned, on average, to spend less time on exercise, especially if the women were close to their partners.*

It’s modestly interesting, but it doesn’t suggest that “behind every successful man is a woman keeping out of the way” for a number of reasons.

First of all, it didn’t measure whether being supported actually made people less motivated. Thinking in depth about a partner’s support may make you less motivated, but the actual support doesn’t.

Secondly, this is only in the extreme short term. Women were asked to think about how their partner supports them, and then straight away asked what their fitness plans were. If this was a long term effect, all women who were close to their partners should have had low goals, not just the ones mulling over how they were supported.

Third, this data is only about women. It says nothing about men! There was another experiment involving men, but that didn’t measure how close the partners were or how much support they got.

Fourth, it doesn’t measure success, it just measures how big the goals people are willing to set for themselves are. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether they achieved these goals or not. The researchers suggest this might be caused by “outsourcing effort” – people relying on a partner to provide some of the motivation instead of having to do it all themselves.

Fifth, they found this “outsourcing” effect was overwhelmed by the other benefits of providing support – for example, “he watches the baby so I can get to the gym”.

Finally, the report itself quotes other studies which found that:

individuals who have romantic partners who are strongly supportive of their individual goal pursuits (e.g., in academics and fitness) feel more confident about their ability to achieve those goals and are ultimately more likely to achieve them than do individuals who have romantic partners who are less supportive (Brunstein, Dangelmayer, & Schultheiss, 1996; Feeney, 2004)

Partners who see the individual as already possessing his or her ideal characteristics, and who behave in ways that affirm those characteristics, tend to promote or facilitate the individual’s growth toward those ideal self goals (Drigotas, Rusbult, Wieselquist, & Whitton, 1999; Rusbult et al., 2010).

Thus, in addition to making individuals feel more positively about their relationships and more valuable and loved by their partners, supportive partners also help individuals achieve their goals (Brunstein et al., 1996)

In other words, the bulk of the science out there, including this study, shows the “shocking” truth that receiving support and motivation from ones partner (and indeed other close friends and family members) helps people achieve their goals. In short, the exact opposite of what The Mail suggests!

* The study is annoyingly short on numbers; though they do say the results were statistically significant, I don’t know to what level or how strong the correlation was.  According to ScienceDaily, there were only 90 women involved, all of whom were selected anonymously online. Given how many factors were involved (there were three groups of women, and each was then divided up into smaller groups depending on how close they were to their partners), I’m not convinced you could get especially good data here, but I can’t find the numbers so I can’t be sure.

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