The media’s smoke screen for screening!

The media’s smoke screen for screening!

The brilliant charity Sense About Science has provided me with yet another opportunity to promote the amazing work it does. As part of their effort to debunk science myths and misconceptions, Sense about Science, produces ‘Making sense of’ guides which tackle a variety of misunderstood scientific areas. The areas covered range from statistics to genetic modification. Recently, Sense about Science released a new edition of ‘Making Sense of Screening’ on the emotive area of screening. The guide aims to draw out the common misconceptions around screening and discuss both its pros and cons.

 MSO_Screening_2015 (2)

Public expectations of screening are very unrealistic. But who is to blame for this? In part, the portrayal of screening in the media and in public discussion. High profile cases covered in the media, often involving celebrities or emotive case studies, allows the issue to be sensationalised and the debate skewed. This has led to calls for more regular screening, for more of the general population to increase earlier stage detection. But what’s lost from the debate is the discussion of potential harms as well as the benefits.

Many people are shocked to hear that not all of the population will benefit from screening. No screening test is 100% accurate, which means the use of screening to detect tumours, in say breast cancer, will result in some people being overdiagnosed and receiving unnecessary treatment. Similarly if you get screened and celebrate the news of an all clear, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop that disease later in life and rarely, there are false negative results – where the disease marker is not detected.



Screening is an important tool that can indicate if you are at high risk of developing a disease and tells professionals what might need to be done. It can play essential role within our healthcare system. However public misconceptions have resulted in the demand on screening becoming excessive. Making Sense of Screening aims to bring clarity to the issue and centre the debate around the scientific evidence of harms and benefits. This guide is extremely important and a huge leap in the right direction towards recalibrating public perceptions of healthcare.


Rosie Brian

Scientist in training

A little coffee helps your heart a latte

A little coffee helps your heart a latte

As a well-established coffee lover and a student who endeavoured a 7 week project into the chemistry behind coffee, it’s only natural for me to be intrigued by the news that coffee is good for your heart (which I personally would like to celebrate…that is of course if it’s true.) Coffee throughout the years has been seen as good, like declogging arteries as seen here and bad due to the effects on metabolism and long term energy levels. After all, the caffeine in coffee is considered a drug and high intake of any kind of drug is bad for you. The segments I am focussing on are found on the BBC, telegraph and ITV websites despite the piece of news being scattered all over the internet. The articles explain drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help avoid the clogging of arteries therefore reducing the effects of heart disease and strokes. In previous posts I have highlighted the responsibility the media has when explaining science surrounding food and drink, I therefore wanted to explore the supposed perks of coffee in more detail.


The video clip on BBCs news page suggests 3-5 cups of joe a day may avoid clogged arteries. The segment is thought-provoking as it also highlights that in the past coffee has been linked to high blood pressure and cholesterol, accepting the controversial nature of the results presented. Most of the articles I explored including the telegraph, BBC and ITV discuss that the results are based on a South Korean population who experience a different diet and lifestyle. This drawback was originally highlighted by the British Heart Foundation who suggest further research needs to be conducted. All articles however fail to acknowledge that factors such as diet, smoking, family history and many other variables were taken into account by the study. Coffee was also suggested to protect against Alzheimer’s, depression and certain cancers however no support is provided. The BBC article then focuses on caffeine stating it is also seen in tea, coke, energy drinks and chocolate continuing to discuss the recommended daily levels of caffeine. However caffeine has not been isolated as the compound that causes the results seen within the study. There may be another compound within the coffee causing health benefits. The BBC therefore made a sensible assumption, however it may not be accurate.

Barista prepares espresso in his coffeeshop; close-up

After a heavy afternoon of google scholar and some aid from the daily telegraph article the scientific paper was found! Upon reading the paper I immediately saw a large sample size of 25,138 individuals used within the study. Originally the study had a larger sample of people however they removed any individuals from the study that had previously suffered cardiovascular disease, showing how the scientists refined their study. The article focusses on coronary artery calcium (CAC) which is heavily considered the main indicator of cardiovascular disease in Korea. I, myself, do not know how accurate the method is therefore it may have been representative to use more than one method to measure CAC. Varying levels of coffee consumption were compared to no coffee consumption. Moderate consumption levels were shown to reduce the prevalence of CAC which is a marker used to predict future heart disease. The paper also highlights that this topic is one of controversy and uses a review of 36 different studies to support what they have found while mentioning that other papers disagree.

Overall, the media have had a great shot at filtering out the key and important facts from the paper (all puns completely intended!) The only real point I contest is the unrepresentative sample size pointed out by the British heart foundation as the study assessed many other lifestyle factors which may have effected coronary artery calcium. I can see why the media included the quote from the British Heart Foundation however I feel it is unfounded and the study works to disprove the point. So despite all the controversy, this particular study and the media reports do a strong job to suggest coffee may reduce the effect of heart disease. All you coffee lovers can now sleep soundly knowing your health is in check…well, that is if you haven’t had one too many cups!

Rosie Brian

Scientist in Training