Scientists: Caffeine Works Better Than Sunscreen, Or Something, We Didn’t Actually Read This Thing

 
By 18 August 2011
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Everyday there’s some new study that comes out of some old university that claims, approximately, that “Coffee is _____ for your _____!” (Feel free to fill in these blanks as Mad Libs in the comments field below. Get nasty.) Well, we’re sick of it; we’ve been writing this website for 2 years, and the steady stream of pseudo-groundbreaking bullshit coming out of research institutions around the world is all just contradictory and stupid.

So we skimmed. We skimmed this stupid maybe-science article about caffeine and sunscreen, because whatever. We only wanna hear about sunscreen if it involves a beach full of hunks.

What, you got beef? Talk to this guy.

 
  • Brendon says:

    Ugh, forgot to close my link. Please edit with a “>” if possible.

    Reply
  • Brendon says:

    As someone who works in science at the UW, I’d like to say thanks to Peter for the support. The like Peter shared (the comic) is all too accurate, and is a common symptom of trying to publish science-y things outside of scientific journals. It’s all too common that reporters come to interviews with their story already written, just going there to listen for the quotes they want. There is a reason that scientists publish in journals, not magazines.

    Now for opinion, the link provided is BS. For example, see the third paragraph: “Previous studies, some of which involved feeding caffeinated water to mice, have shown that coffee drinking is associated with a decreased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, but how and why was unknown.” The journalist casually associates experiments performed with “caffeinated water” to “coffee drinking.” Such associations are risky, and quality reporting pays attention to prevent such slips.

    In academia, there’s a general rule of thumb: if you want to learn about something, go to the source. Literature reviews are great when you’re trying to get familiar with a topic, but if you care about a particular study, you read the original paper that reported it. If you want to do something about poor scientific reporting, don’t propagate the problem; encourage readers to go to the source: The article is open access and comparatively ad-free. Of note is the final part of the abstract: ” 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.” Notable: nothing is said about efficacy of caffeine in preventing skin cancer (as is the case with UV-reducing sunscreens); rather, this is a study of a Mechanism, and an effect caffeine may have on that Mechanism.

    My parting words: report on the source; don’t report on reporting.

    Reply
  • Sorry, that last line seemed harsher than I intended. I love the irreverent reporting style of sprudge, and i think you guys are some of the best coffee news out there. I am also protective about scientific research in coffee, because we’ve had so little of it over the years. I predict that we’re entering a new era of coffee and science, and you guys are going to cover it. And it’s gonna be cool. Don’t let those other, lesser journalists mess up your game.

    PG

    Reply
  • Yeah, I get it. But you guys report on science reporting, which is in a generally terrible state. Someone will do research that connects coffee to increased LDL levels, and a reporter will write a story: “COFFEE CAUSES HEART DISEASE!!”

    People have a gigantic misconception about how science works. It’s messy, it’s hard, and it’s often counterintuitive. It sometimes seems contradictory. But the scientific method works, and is responsible for all the major discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries. This method relies on forming a hypothesis, gathering evidence to support the hypothesis, publishing the work, and allowing peers to review and criticize the work. After lots and lots of hypotheses and evidence cycles, experts can start to draw conclusions about reality. One study (a single collection of evidence) proves a very small thing. It is the preponderance of years of evidence and study that actually helps us understand how the world works.

    Good journalists understand this, and their reporting reflects an interest in the process and an understanding that studies are interesting and prove what they prove, but their importance should always be in the larger context of ALL the research. Bad journalists, in search of a snappy headline, often exaggerate the importance of certain aspects of the science, and wind up creating misunderstandings.

    Here’s a webcomic that illustrates the effect:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1623

    Now then, the reporting on THIS particular study seems to be pretty good! It doesn’t say that caffeine is good for your skin; it says that caffeine interferes with a protein called ATR, and this interference allows UV-damaged cells to die, preventing them from becoming cancerous. Testing this hypothesis, they found that rats treated with caffeine developed certain melanomas more slowly than a control group. It’s all right there in the article you linked. Interesting!!

    Now, it’s entirely possible that another chemical found in coffee might have the effect of INCREASING susceptibility to melanoma. That would make sense, actually: coffee is really really complex. That would surprise nobody who actually read and understood the scientist’s work: they were talking about one effect of one chemical, not about the effect of coffee drinking as a whole.

    Someone who misunderstands science might get frustrated: “But you said coffee PREVENTED cancer!!!” and blame science. But science never said that, a journalist who doesn’t read the paper (ahem) and jumps to conclusions might have said that.

    Get my drift? Don’t attack science because you misunderstand it. You guys are better than that. I dig that you’re a tabloid and everything, but if you’re going to report on science, you could at least do your readers the service of trying.

    Peter G

    Reply
  • Llewellyn Sinclair says:

    our problem is, peter, that next week a study will come out that says “hey wait caffeine is TERRIBLE for your skin, in fact, will give you skin cancer” – these kinds of studies seem to exist in an endless feedback loop, with conclusions disproven by other conclusions, then bolstered by even more conclusions, all of it reported on as Fact At The Moment, all of it churned out of the soup sails of academia. you try writing about it every day for 2 years, see if you don’t get kind of cynical.

    Reply
  • C’MON SPRUDGE!!!

    Science and research on coffee aren’t the problem; the only thing wrong with the way science is reported isn’t the SCIENCE, it’s the REPORTING. And, Sprudge just joined that glorious ignorant tradition.

    This is a good study, by doctors at such institutions as the University of Washington, Harvard, and Rutgers. The paper has been peer-reviewed and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is good science. Science is sometimes difficult to understand, but that doesn’t make it bogus. What is bogus is the attitude of “I don’t care, I didn’t read it, It’s hard to understand anyway, therefore it is stupid.”

    Seems like someone needs a little attitude adjustment. The beach full of hunks should help, hopefully one of the hunks will be a scientist! Then we can all talk science on the reals. Kay? kay.

    Reply
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