By far the greatest source of mobile anxiety surrounds the health effects of using them. It is curious that many people who are emotionally and practically dependent on mobile phones are simultaneously suspicious that they might be irradiating their brains.

Recent

Motherhood in Western Europe

Insights from Western European Mothers

The changing face of motherhood — Western Europe

The accompanying reports combine a review of existing literature with an analysis of original quantitative data derived from a poll of 9,582 mothers from 12 countries in Western Europe, making it one of the largest studies of this kind ever conducted

Child Obesity and Health

An analysis of the latest available data from the Health Survey for England (HSE)

Child Obesity and Health — download the full report in pdf format

In this ‘National Childhood Obesity Week’, the SIRC report, Children, obesity and heath: Recent trends, holds up a true mirror, accurately reflecting the trend towards slimmer, healthier children. more

The Future of Freemasonry

An examination of the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century

Freemasonry

This report is, as far as we know, an account of the first ever study that has been commissioned by Freemasons from a non-Masonic body. None of the SIRC members involved in the project are Freemasons, a fact that evoked surprise and welcome in equal measure from the Lodge members we met. more

The Changing Face of Motherhood

Insights from three generations of mothers

Motherhood

The report seeks to answer some specific questions about the changing face of motherhood and determine the extent to which modern ‘solutions’ to motherhood are more or less beneficial than the solutions of the past. more

Zebra finches – cute little birds with orange/red beaks that too often sadly end up in the cages of their human 'fanciers' or, it seems, Glasgow laboratories – are featuring prominently in the diet and nutrition news. Last month they were the basis for a rather silly story suggesting that eating carrots can make men more attractive to women. See (Carrots are top for the food of love; Boffin claims root vegetable is aphrodisiac. In the study conducted by Dr Jonathan Blount, male finches fed on a diet that included carotenoid pigments became more attractive to females.

The reason for this, of course, was quite obvious. The orange/red beak of the male finch acts as a primary means of display in courtship rituals – and the deeper the colour the better, even if artificially boosted by carrots. But human males, fortunately or unfortunately, tend not have orange/red beaks. The suggestion, then, by Dr Blount that eating carrots might lead to similar improvements in an unfeathered bloke's pulling power sounds a bit feeble.

Undeterred, however, other researchers in Glasgow's finch laboratory are back with a new study reported in a number of newspapers and most prominently in BBC Online's Junk food link to ageing. In the study the finches fed on a poor diet in the first too weeks of their lives had, perhaps unsurprisingly, shorter lives than their better fed cousins. The diet, however, was not quite the avian equivalent of Pot Noodle and Hawaiian Pizza. It was simply regular birdseed in unlimited quantities, but of low quality and lacking in essential proteins and vitamins.

So what has this got to do with evil junk food? Very little, it seems. But we have to read half way though the BBC's article before we discover that. All that the first paragraph tells us is "An early diet of junk food makes it harder to fight off the effects of ageing, scientists have found" And that is all most casual readers will remember. One of the authors of the study, Professor Neil Metcalfe, was quoted as saying in paragraph "I think it's not yet clear whether the same things happen in humans", adding lamely "but it's possible." He also conceded, way down the article in paragraph 16, that 'human junk food' could be high in protein – something that was deliberately lacking in the finches' diet. The fact that studies of this kind – completely lacking in evidence that has any potential for informing us about human diet – can receive such uncritical coverage in both the print media and online science and health news is depressing. I suppose the headline "Nutritionally depleted diet leads to lowered levels of anti-oxidants in Taeniopygia guttata" might not be particularly catchy. But we expect more of sub-editors at BBC Online than a simple 'sexing up' of an otherwise dull and quite irrelevant story.