Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Houses that look like Hitler, pet-killing poltergeists and saucepans that cause the menopause

There have been some eye-catching headlines in the papers over the last week.

Yesterday the Metro came up with:

Someone took a photo of the house and posted it on Twitter. Jimmy Carr saw it and passed it on to his followers. Some papers then ran the photo, making it yet another 'news story' originating from Twitter. But the Mail added the all important question:

Do you know a house which looks like someone famous? Phone the Daily Mail tnewsdesk [sic] on...

The Sun, meanwhile, didn't need to ask a question in this headline because it was sure that this happened:

Somehow, there have been seven articles (so far...) in the nationals about this nonsense, each one including a video which claims to be evidence of the 'poltergeist' moving a chair. It's not.

The Sun ran a story under the 'Staff Reporter' byline on 28 March and then a follow-up by Gary O'Shea the next day. Today, O'Shea reported that Derek Acorah had 'banished' the poltergeist, who was called Jim.

The Mail has, as usual, been quick to, ahem, 'borrow' these stories from the Sun and run their own not-very-sceptical versions of them. The Mirror and Telegraph have also covered it.

And finally, there was this headline:

It could, of course, only be from the Daily Mail. The article by David Derbyshire begins:

Gender-bending chemicals found in non-stick pans and food packaging are linked to early menopause, scientists say.

And then, mid-way through:

Dr Sarah Knox, who led the research...stressed that the study had not shown that higher PFCs actually cause earlier menopause.


NHS Behind the Headlines give their verdict:

The Mail’s focus on saucepans may give the impression that saucepans or other household objects were analysed in this study. However, the study actually assessed levels of PFCs in people in the US whose drinking water may have been contaminated with high levels of the chemicals...

These findings do not prove that PFCs cause early menopause, and they need to be interpreted with caution. The study has several limitations, and further, high-quality research is required to assess whether PFCs affect human female hormones.


The findings of this large cross-sectional analysis should be interpreted with caution. It is not possible for this kind of study to prove that PFCs cause earlier menopause. As the authors point out, it is possible that the findings are due to “reverse causation” and that PFC concentrations were higher in postmenopausal women because they are no longer losing blood through menstruation. This possibility is supported by the fact that women who had had hysterectomy had higher-than-average levels of PFCs compared with those who had not (although as the authors say, this might still be cause for concern).

In addition, the information about the menopause came from survey data carried out by a separate company. The data was not independently confirmed.

The researchers only looked at whether women had gone through menopause, and they categorised these women into one of three different age brackets they belonged to at the time of the survey. As such, the study cannot tell us how old the women were when they reached menopause and whether those who had early menopause (i.e. before the age of 40 or 45) were associated with higher PFC levels.


  1. I'm tempted to send the Mail a picture of a porta-loo and tell them it looks like a Littlejohn column...does that count?

  2. I thought that the tabloids had been warned for using phrases like "gender-bender". It's almost like they don't listen to what the PCC says.

  3. Does [sic] here indicate the typo or the fact they call it a "news" desk?


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