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6 May, 2008

Long lasts

Thanks to Ben Goldacre, I'm more than a little sceptical about the reporting of hard-science research by the mass-media, to the point where I read a headline and automatically dismiss the parascience* story as, well, a story, misunderstood or tweaked by a non-specialist journalist for sensationalist effect.  I'd like to think that's an overreaction, and one merely needs to take care, preferably using press articles as a means of discovering interesting research papers then drawing one's own conclusions from them.

This brief article in the Guardian does look like pseudoscience: long-legged women and men with long arms may be less prone to Alzheimer's. That's an attractive suggestion, as I could certainly be described as 'gangly' and fear dementia more than death; H. could consider it reassuring, too. But is it true?

Quite possibly. Ian Sample (who holds a PhD in biomedical materials – I checked) seems to have interpreted the source paper's abstract reasonably (I can't get to the full text, and doubt I'd understand it), and the research does indeed relate limb length to risk of dementia: the former is considered an indicator of early life environment (nutrition at formative ages).

Excellent! <Waves considerable arms in the air.>

*: From Charles Darwin's Blog:

What now appears is – if I may coin a phrase – parascience. It does not deal with the raw work of our noble trade, but its applied results in society and the environment. It leaves the impression that science comes from a Magic Results Machine.

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