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Potatoes Kill Cancer With Electrons from Fukushima? Suspicious Indeed.
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Potatoes Kill Cancer With Electrons from Fukushima? Suspicious Indeed.

There are no shortage of headlines in the news that make me want to dig deeper and find out the truth. Below I’ve highlighted a few of the past month’s notable offenders as examples of how the headlines that the popular press shares with the public don’t always match up with what the scientific press actually reports. Or, as in most cases, how the report is twisted in such a way to make for a good “story”.

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The Study: High antioxidant potatoes: Acute in vivo antioxidant source and hypotensive agent in humans after supplementation to hypotenisve subjects

The Twist: Who said potatoes aren’t good for you? The FDA approves that potatoes are 100 percent fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and are good sources of potassium, fiber and vitamin C. (http://www.uspotatoes.com/downloads/USPB_Nutrition_Messages.pdf) In the past, and in this study, it all depends on the type of potato, how you cook it, and what else you add to it.

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The Gist: IBM has been able to take images of electrons in orbit: “Ladies and gents, behold the first image of an electron’s path.”

The Study: Recent advances in submolecular resolution with scanning probe microscopy

The Twist: If you look at the pictures you might notice that you don’t see an electron. Instead you see a cloud of where electrons “were”. We still haven’t “seen” and electron. In fact, the paper makes more reasonable claims: “Atoms and bonds within individual molecules have been clearly resolved…”

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The Gist: I’ll sum it up with this line: “the amount of terribly dangerous cesium-137 released by the plant is equal to 168 nuclear bombings.” They go on to quote measurements of becquerels which are “an esoteric unit of measurement, but you can ignore it.” (Author’s note: if someone is trying to explain something to you and tells you to “ignore” something- that should be a red flag to you!)

The “Study”: Fukushima caesium leaks ‘equal 168 Hiroshimas’

The Twist: Let’s take a look at that pesky becquerel. According to International Bureau of Weights and Measures a becquerel is the SI unit of activity, or “unit counts per second”. So, it is a time dependent unit. It makes sense in an abstract way that while maybe the amount of radioactivity given off from Fukushima is high- more than a nuclear bomb even- that’s really not the point. While many people got sick or died from radiation from nuclear weapons, many more died from the blast. Which brings me back to the time dependency. A bomb would release its radiation in an instant (or a relatively short period of time). The power plants have been leaking for weeks if not months! A Japanese government official points out in the news article “It is not rational to make a simple comparison only based on the amount of isotopes released.”

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The Gist: The caffeine in coffee can decrease the actions of cancer cells.

The Study: Protection from UV-induced skin carcinogenesis by genetic inhibition of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase

The Twist: Coffee, nor caffeine was used in this study. To be fair, caffeine has been linked to lower incidences of cancer epidemiologically, but there hasn’t been proof, or an understood mechanism. Instead, this paper tried to understand by what mechanism caffeine COULD reduce cancer by genetically suppressing a DNA stress kinase. “This study SUGGESTS that inhibition of replication checkpoint function can suppress skin carcinogenesis and supports ATR inhibition as the relevant mechanism for the protective effect of caffeinated beverage intake in human epidemiologic studies.” (Emphasis mine.)

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Nick Fahrenkopf is a Ph.D. candidate studying nanobiosciences- applying physics and engineering concepts and techniques to biological and medical problems. Outside of his research he enjoys curling, and resists the urge to dig too far into the science behind it. Always skeptical, he enjoys debunking email chains and digging deeper into popular science articles and blog posts. Follow his most random thoughts on science on Twitter.

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Need to catch up with other recent Sensational Science headlines?

How to Spot Sensational Headlines (Hint: They’re Everywhere)

Memory Expansion and the Purpose of Happiness

Why It’s a Great Time to Be in Science

The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine?

Army Origami to Space Infections

Scientists Make Computers with Gold and DNA

Researchers Link Processed Foods to Lower IQ in Kids

Science Proves Keeping a Diary Makes You Smarter

Facebook Stalking can Actually Kill You

Alcohol More Harmful than Heroin

Mexican Beer Dermatitis: Booze Plus Lime can Cause Nasty Rash

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Spotted any sensational science headlines recently?

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. C.Das

    wrote on September 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I get the eToc for Bioscience Technology JUST to read their sensational headlines. Here are some:
    "Dads less likely to die of heart problems"
    "Quitting [smoking] cold turkey could jumpstart depression"
    "Remote Controlled Flies Point to What Memories are Made of "

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