Thursday, 5 April 2012

It's probably your mum's fault

Posted by Lynne Forrest 

I’ve just written a paper that I would like to get published in a high profile journal. Now I need to draft the cover letter explaining why they should publish. The rejection rate is high so I need to emphasise how brilliant and relevant my research is and the important implications my findings have for policy and practice.

The temptation is to exaggerate a bit. And it sometimes appears that the research with the most outlandish claims gets the most attention.

I have a general interest in epidemiology and health inequalities . Interesting new studies are flagged up every day on my twitter feed and in the mainstream media. I often read from a professional perspective, but it's hard not to also read these articles as me - wife, mother, Lynne. Although the usual culprits of alcohol, obesity and smoking all feature as things we should avoid if we want to live a long and healthy life, there appears to be a new risk factor in town. If you believe recent research then it seems that almost everything, from stupidity to earning potential, can be blamed on your mum.

Philip Larkin: This be the verse

Last week the Observer reported a study claiming that feeding babies on demand increases a child’s IQ. The implication is that if you were a regimented mother you may have reduced your child’s intellectual potential.

Yesterday I read that happy children are likely to earn more in the future, with a throwaway line at the end of the article suggesting how important it was that parents create an ‘emotionally healthy home environment’. 

However, my favourite finding from last week was non-mum-related. It was the study which concluded that eating chocolate makes you slim.

As someone who knows a bit about it, I am bamboozled by the endless amounts of contradictory research and advice that are presented in the media. So, I imagine that most other people are too. Although these are often epidemiological studies that examine trends at a population-level, it seems easy for everyone to forget this and to interpret the findings at an individual level. Just because people who eat more chocolate, overall, tend to be a little slimmer, doesn't mean that that bar of Dairy Milk I just scoffed is going to make me drop a jean size tomorrow. For me the result is an awful lot of parental guilt. And I should know better.

Perhaps some of the wilder conclusions have more to do with press releases and journalists then what the researchers themselves actually concluded. But still, shouldn't researchers have to take some responsibility for their work?

So now I am thinking that I need to be a bit more careful about overplaying the implications of my research. However much I want to ‘sell’ my paper to that high profile journal. 

From a mum’s point of view, it’s probably best to just accept that everything is my fault. At least I can eat as much chocolate as I like (that study is true, isn’t it?)

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