Posted on 01 Apr 2015 17:39
By Eric Troy
Something as easy as including a daily serving of peanuts as part of a high-fat meal could protect you from cardiovascular disease, according to a study lead by Xiaran Liu, a graduate student in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State. “Previous studies have shown that individuals who consume peanuts more than two times a week have a lower risk of coronary heart disease,” said Liu. “This study indicates that the protective effect of peanut consumption could be due, in part, to its beneficial effect on artery health.”
Stop. What did you take from the paragraph above? I've given you very little information. What if I summarized the "methods" of the study and gave some more general information about peanuts. Are you, or would you be, convinced that you should start eating daily high-fat meals with peanuts? Should this report about one study cause you to believe that ONE thing will make a significant difference to your long-term vascular health? Are you prepared to eat this way every single day for pretty much the rest of your life? Before you say yes, let me report something else. You've been duped.
I, the 'author' of the first paragraph above did very little to bring you this SCIENCE NEWS. All I did was get myself over to Newswise, look at the 'nutrition' tag, and click on the first thing that looked good. A serving of peanuts protecting you your cardiovascular health fit the bill perfectly, but I could have picked more exciting stuff, I suppose. As for the writing, I just rearranged a couple of things and strung together sentences from the article at Newswise, etc. However, I myself do not believe for a second that this study "proves" that peanuts are the key to cardiovascular health. It is doubtful that the study authors do either.
If I was really clever, I would have made it seem like I was quoting the actual study head, as if I had interviewed him about the study even though I was still just copying what I'd found on the news site and adding nothing else of value in terms of interpretation, comment, etc. You can be certain of one thing: I did not read the study!
What's more, I misreported even what I found on Newswise. Let's look at this important paragraph:
Vascular dysfunction plays a major role in the development of atherosclerosis and the formation of coronary plaques and lesions that lead to coronary artery disease. Typically after a high fat meal, vascular function is reduced, albeit temporarily, until the fat that is in the blood (from the meal) is cleared. Strategies that can blunt this response to both dietary fat and its effect on vascular dysfunction may decrease the risk of coronary disease. Our finding demonstrated that peanut consumption was shown to be atheroprotective as a part of high fat meal.
It seems that nobody is saying you are supposed to eat a high-fat meal with peanuts in it. That was a part of the study methods. If I was writing an article with a provocative headline designed for click-bait purposes, and I didn't bother to carefully explain to my readers all the important aspects of this information, many people would have missed this.
There have already been previous studies that indicate a possible lower risk of coronary heart disease for people who consume peanuts two or three times a week. Study author Liu mentioned this and peanuts product are even allowed to display a health claim on their label based on this. This particular study is not exactly front page news. The purpose was to try to figure out HOW peanuts might help protect cardiovascular health. If I wanted to get lots of shares and clicks, and get people excited, I would not have highlighted this particular fact. I would have made it seem, through clever manipulation in the "reporting" as if this one study should turn health and nutrition on its head. And remember, I didn't read the study. There wasn't even a link to an actual paper in the report.
I wouldn't want this article to be nothing more than me trying to fool you to make a point. But, let's be clear about the point. It is kind of nice to think that something you actually enjoy eating (who doesn't like peanuts) can be very good for you. It's not all kale and mercury-free fish.
But any article that reports the results of one study and makes it appear as if these results represent a KEY to maintaining your health is irresponsible, to say the least. This one study is not significant. Eat peanuts, but don't think they are a super-food.
Now, on to the over-arching purpose of this charade. As I began writing this, I looked at the clock on my computer. Now that I'm just about finished, I'm looking again. It's taken me about 10 minutes to write this, including going to the news site and finding the article in the first place. That time includes getting up to fetch another cup of coffee. That's right, I put minimal effort into this. I could have just paraphrased or re-wrote more of what I found at newswise in the same time period. It will take me longer to find a nice image of peanuts to put on the page, and to get that loaded up and formatted, than it did to write this. As a matter of fact, this part is taking the longest, and the preceding paragraph is taking the longest because I'm actually thinking about what I want to say.
Science Daily and Others: Content Mills
What I've done is exactly what sites like ScienceDaily do, only they do it dozens of times a day. These types of so-called science reporting sites are nothing more than content mills and they do you a disservice by misrepresenting the significance of single studies. Indeed, they misrepresent the pace of science, making it seem as if there are daily "breakthroughs."
It is easy to do. You just troll (different type of troll) journals and news deliver services for "science" and then you pretty much copy what you find and maybe improve the headline to make it more click-worth. You could even use the Associated Press and Reuters, I suppose. Copy and paste. Add an image. Throw it together. Repeat. Get lots of traffic, make lots of money. Think…none. Work…not hard. I could do this 20 times a day. Easy-peasy. 11 minutes. I rock. Yesterday's article took hours and hours.
So anyway: April Fools.
Spot the Misinformation About Peanuts
Bonus: I've buried a bit of misinformation about peanuts somewhere in this article. Some people might call it a 'half-truth' but it is quite misleading. This particular piece of info does not come from the study. It is something I added myself. Can you spot it? It's tricky! Hint: This might require a few minutes research.