Archive for January, 2011

New way to bury bad news – get a sexy woman to read it…

2011-01-29 1 comment


I came across another scientific study today that once again left me wondering if I had gone into the right area of research back when I was a PhD student.

In an apparent attempt to capture channel-surfing male viewers, stations have hired attractive female anchors, often outfitting them in attire that emphasizes their sexuality.

This strategy may boost the ratings, but in terms of the programs’ purported purpose — informing the public — recent research suggests it has a definite down side. Males may be drawn to those alluring anchors, but they may not remember what they were talking about.

Unfortunately, the full paper is not freely available. However according to the news coverage:

[The investigators] created two versions of their own short newscast, both of which featured the same 24-year-old female anchor.

For the first version, the broadcast journalist “was dressed in a tight-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt that accented her waist-to-hip ratio,” they write. “She also wore bright red lipstick and a necklace.” For the alternate version, she was dressed in “a shapeless and loose-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt,” and wore no lipstick or necklace.

“The anchorwoman was framed in a medium-long shot to reveal her upper body, including her upper thighs, waist and hips,” the researchers note. “The news stories were about local matters, including United Way fundraising, interest rate changes for federal loan programs” and the like.

Watch out, here comes the science bit!

The just under 400 participants were randomly assigned to watch one version or the other. All then filled out questionnaires summarizing their impressions of the reporter. They were also asked four multiple-choice questions about her physical appearance, and 10 multiple-choice questions about the content of the five stories she presented.

The researchers found the men recalled “significantly more information watching the unsexualized anchor deliver news than her sexualized version.”

 In conclusion, and the reporter couldn’t really have put it any better:

It also confirms something women have long suspected: A sexually charged image can flood the male brain, stimulating its visual processing component “to levels that demand close to full cognitive capacity.”

Someone please tell me – where do you get funding for research like this…? 😉

Categories: science

SuperClinics too popular. NHS response? Shut them down!


There is a story in this evening’s London Standard that I had to read twice to check that I had understood it the first time.

Superclinics introduced by the previous government could be phased out because they are proving too expensive for health authorities.

The GP-led health centres are said to be running up bills of up to £300,000 a year each.

This would seem fair enough as it stands – in the current economic climate it would be mad to permit such overspends to continue. However, there’s a twist! 

A spokesman said: “As is the case with many other GP-led health centres in other PCTs, the huge popularity of the centre with local people plus the utilisation of the facility by high numbers of non-registered patients, who were all exercising patient choice, far exceeded the predictions made by the commissioners.”

Okay, so what actually happened is that the ‘commissioners’ completely underestimated the popularity of these superclinics. What’s been so popular about these superclinics? Seven days a week, 8am-8pm opening? Walk-in clinics with no need for a prior appointment? No need to pre-register? Sounds horrendous – can’t see any of that taking off…

And so, we come to the denouement of the piece, which is quite breath-taking:

Duncan Stroud, Associate Director of Communications and Engagement at the trust, said: “The majority of patients who have been using the centres could quite easily have used another service.

“They were mainly patients who hadn’t registered with a GP or hadn’t made an appointment. They basically created a demand which wasn’t there before.”

So, in essence, people wanting GP services in London should take what their Lords & Masters give them, and should in no way expect the NHS to actually change to fit their needs. There are lots of existing services – use them and be grateful!

This demonstrates yet again that the NHS is simply not ‘fit for purpose’ and desperately needs major reform. I won’t, however, hold my breath…

Is actively giving smokers a known carcinogen ethical?


Let’s get this out of the way straight away: I’m not a smoker. With that in mind, you might think that I would welcome the headline article that I spotted on the BBC News website today, “Smoking ’causes damage in minutes’, US experts claim“:

Smoking damages the body in minutes rather than years, according to research in the US.

The report, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, shows that chemicals which cause cancer form rapidly after smoking.

Scientists involved in the small-scale study described the results as a stark warning to people considering smoking.

Anti-smoking charity Ash described the research as “chilling” and as a warning that it is never too early to quit.

The long term impact of smoking, from heart disease to a range of cancers, is well known. This study suggests the damage begins just moments after the first cigarette is smoked.

My first reaction was a rather prolonged Gallic shrug. This is news?! Quite frankly, the concept that inhaling a large amount of tar, nicotine and thousands of other exotic compounds might start doing your body no good straight away is not an unexpected finding.

Secondly, people who smoke these days are pretty much aware of the potential damage that they might be doing to themselves. I doubt that this study will change anyone’s views on this either way and, as a libertarian, I believe that what people do with their own bodies is no-one’s business except their own.

However, the major problem that I have with this story relates to the following section from the study abstract:

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are among the likely major causative agents for lung cancer in smokers. PAH require metabolic activation to exert their carcinogenic effects, and one important pathway proceeds through a three-step sequence resulting in the formation of diol epoxides, which react with DNA to produce adducts that can cause mutations and initiate the carcinogenic process. However, no previous published studies have examined this critical pathway in humans specifically exposed to PAH by inhalation of cigarette smoke … Twelve subjects each smoked a cigarette to which [D10]phenanthrene had been added.

This aspect of the study has already been addressed by Leg-Iron over at his blog; however, it is worth repeating: we have a clinical study, funded by the US National Cancer Institute, where a known carcinogen was actively administered to human study participants.

The full study manuscript is not freely available, so it is not possible to check the methods section for details of how this design got ethical approval. Would be good to know more, since without further explanation I think that this sets a dangerous precedent…