Short animations about how clicky health-claim headlines are often misleading

In these two excellent short animations, data science professor Jeffrey Leek of the Simply Statistics blog and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and his university colleague, postdoctoral research Lucy McGowan, explain how "in medicine, there’s often a disconnect between news headlines and the scientific research they cover."

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"Clickbait"-esque titles work for academic papers too

A psycholinguist reports that some of the factors that make headlines more clicky also apply to the titles of academic journal papers. Researcher Gwilym Lockwood of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics analyzed the titles of 2,000 papers published in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology" and their Altmetric Attention Score that measures social sharing, mentions in the news, and other metrics of attention. From Phys.org:

(The titles of the 2,000 papers were) coded for positive framing (e.g. using "smoking causes cancer", rather than "the link between smoking and cancer") and phrasing arousal (e.g. referring to "gambling" rather than "mathematical decision making").

It turned out that articles with positive framing and phrasing arousal in their titles received higher Altmetric scores, meaning that they were shared more widely online. In contrast, having wordplay in the titles actually lead to lower Altmetric Attention Scores, while having a question in the title made no difference. This is independent of the length of the title or how interesting the topic was.

"This suggests that the same factors that affect how widely non-scholarly content is shared extend to academia, which has implications for how academics can make their work more likely to have more impact," Lockwood writes in her own paper.

Do you think she applied what she learned to her paper's title, "Academic clickbait: articles with positively-framed titles, interesting phrasing, and no wordplay get more attention online"? Read the rest

The second-best headline of all time

With "Obama's pot dealer beaten to death for farting in gay lover's face", I think The Daily Mail may reasonably claim to have created the second-best newspaper headline in human history. Read the rest

Coffee: An antidepressant and religion preventative?

A recently published study found a correlation between higher rates of coffee drinking in women and decreased risk of depression. Naturally, that finding made headlines. But blogger Scicurious has a really nice analysis of the paper that picked up a significant flaw in the way the data is being interpreted. There was a correlation between drinking more coffee and a lowered risk of depression. But that wasn't the only correlation the researchers found—just the only correlation they made a big deal of in their conclusions.

On her blog, Scicurious lists the other correlations and explains why it's hard to draw any solid conclusion from this data set:

1) Smoking. The interaction between depression risk, smoking, and coffee consumption was “marginally” significant (p=0.06), but they dismiss it as being due to chance because it was “unexpected”. Um. Wait. Nicotine is a STIMULANT. It is known to have antidepressant like effects in animal models (though the withdrawal is no fun). This is not unexpected.

2) Drinking: heavy coffee drinkers drink more. But note that they don’t say that drinking coffee puts you at risk for drinking alcohol.

3) Obesity: heavy coffee drinkers are, on average, thinner, but not more physically active. They do not conclude that coffee drinking prevents obesity.

4) Church going: heavy coffee drinkers are less likely to go to church. Less likely to go to church, less likely to develop depression…heck, forget depression, maybe coffee prevents religion now! Now THAT would be a heck of a finding.

Here’s the thing.

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