The heading of this communication means:

Questions to which the answer is no

This applies to pretty much every newspaper or news headline which is a question. Suggesting something real by using a question is a weasel way out of getting sued for libel or defamation. The news organisations can use the “just asking questions” defence. Here are some potential favourites:

Did Aliens Build This Structure?

Does MMR cause autism?

Is The PM a paedophile?

and so on. You can see how this works. Headlines like this plant an idea in people’s brains and then, as you may or may not know, bad ideas get reinforced more and more as they are explained as wrong [see religion].

Here’s one I saw from the BBC:

If you want a question then it should really be:

Are Superfoods Real?

The answer to this question is NO. There are foods that are better for you than plenty of others but there aren’t really any foods that work wonders on your body. The rule with food is to eat a balanced diet and to then exercise regularly and maintain a HEALTHY weight.

So, the article goes into statistics. They performed a study on 94 volunteers, split them into three groups and fed them either butter, olive oil and coconut oil. These were not blinded in any way so the people knew which oil they were eating. Also, it’s quite a small number of people to be involved and so any findings would need much further study.

The measurements of LDL and HDL afterwards seemed to indicate that the coconut oil did have some positive benefits. This is interesting but not conclusive. There was no correction for type of person, exercise or general diet and health factors. To make this science more rigorous a study needs to be completed with many many more participants controlled for many other factors.

This study is a good start, but it needs much more work before anything conclusive can be suggested. Really, this article is an advert for the TV show in which these results are “exposed”. As it says at the bottom of this article:

The new series of Trust Me I’m a Doctor continues on BBC2 at 20:30 GMT on Wednesday 10 January and will be available on iPlayer afterwards.

So, I fixed the headline for the BBC:


ADDENDUM [added 5 minutes after publishing]:

Radio 4 is RIGHT NOW now running a segment on this food. They have a professor in from Cambridge. They are leading with the “celebrities are eating this stuff, should we”. I would argue that celebrities are the right people to tell us what to be eating, unless they are a registered dietitian. The scientist is now saying they were surprised that the coconut oil seemed to increase HDL “three times as much”. It was 15% compared to 5% and while that is three times as much it’s actually only going from 1.05 to 1.15 and so that is an increase of 9.5% which would be more appropriate as a measure rather than 3 times which is 300%.

Conflating absolute increases with relative increases is dangerous. It’s why we have health scares. As an example let’s suppose something goes from affecting 5 people in a thousand to 10 people in a thousand. The headlines would say that the risk doubled as it went from 5 to 10. The actual answer is that the risk has increased by 2%. It went from 0.005 to 0.01. Doing the sums the wrong way gives you bigger numbers which look scarier or better depending on what effect you want to achieve.

The end of the interview has the presenter saying this is early days and so we shouldn’t really change our eating habits yet, we should follow the official guidelines. WHICH IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT RUNNING THIS AS A NEWS STORY ENCOURAGES.