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Facebook "Science" Posts -- The Telephone Game

Here's an example of how the Internet takes science reports and distorts them like the "telephone game". A Huffington Post article dated 23/07/2015 proclaims:

A Glass Of Red Wine Is The Equivalent To An Hour At The Gym, Says New Study"


Did it? And is the study new? The "findings" link in the article points to a 2nd hand account from 2012, which does not mention "A Glass of Red Wine a Day". The lede there is:

A natural compound found in some fruits, nuts and red wine may enhance exercise training and performance, demonstrates newly published medical research from the University of Alberta.

Read that article to see what it does say. The strongest claim there is:

"We were excited when we saw that resveratrol showed results similar to what you would see from extensive endurance exercise training," says Dyck, who works in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry as a researcher in the department of Pediatrics and the department of Pharmacology. "We immediately saw the potential for this and thought that we identified 'improved exercise performance in a pill.' 

If you read just the article, and not the reference, you could be forgiven for assuming that the study was done on people. It was done on rats. Rats are not the same as people; e.g. ,rats make their own vitamin C. The original article makes it clear that the rats were not sipping Zinfadel at their book club. They were fed 4 grams of resveratrol per kilogram of food. The amount of resveratrol in red wine varies widely, but the upper bound seems to be about 6 milligrams per liter. So the rats were getting resveratrol on the order of a thousand times more concentrated than what a glass of red wine with maximal resveratrol provides.

So the fish story gets better with each re-telling. But there's more. A later study suggests that resveratrol might blunt the effects of exercise in old men:

"These findings indicate that, whereas exercise training effectively improves several cardiovascular health parameters in aged men, concomitant resveratrol supplementation can blunt these effects."

Another study's conclusion remarks:

Thus, examination of these studies regarding the association between RES and exercise indicates that the current results of published studies are inconsistent, and a standard is yet to be established regarding the association between dose and duration in RES administration."

So what should the non-technically inclined reader take away from this? Click through the links; find the original article. Even if the main article is hard to follow, the abstract likely gives you an idea of what is actually being claimed. Treat Facebook postings skeptically, because they are often at the warped end of the telephone game.

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