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Science in the Media Mrs. Stewart Central Magnet School Biomedical Innovations

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Introduction You cannot open a magazine or turn on the television without being bombarded with statistical claims about products being scientifically proven to do one thing or another. The toothpaste claiming to whiten teeth better than other leading brands, the anti-aging cream proven to be better at firming and lifting than its top competitors, or the vitamin supplements scientifically tested to be safe and effective at improving health. All of these advertisements use results of so- called scientific studies to sell their products. Advertisers are not the only ones who make scientific claims. News broadcasters are constantly running stories claiming that so- and-so reduces your chances of getting a certain disease or some other promising finding. With all of these claims, how do you know what to believe? Let’s begin to analyze science and data presented in the media.

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Prosthetic, Inc. is one of the top suppliers of a new prosthetic arm currently on the market. Orthotics and Prosthetics is their leading competitor. In their last annual report, Prosthetic, Inc. claimed that their profits have increased significantly more than Orthotics and Prosthetics’ profits. In the report, they posted the following graphs showing their profits and Orthotics and Prosthetics’ profits between the years 1998 to 2009.

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What was wrong with the claim? The two companies had almost identical profit increases between 1998 – 2009 The y-axis ranges were manipulated

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Example 2: ABC.com, a website claiming to present important health care data, reported that the average blood sugar level before meals for Americans is 142 mg/dL, indicating that most Americans are either living with undiagnosed diabetes or are pre-diabetic.

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What’s wrong with this claim? Did not specify how the average was calculated. The mean (arithmetic average) of this study was calculated from a sample size of only four people ◦ 4 people do not accurately represent the population ◦ 3 patients had blood glucose levels in normal range ◦ 1 patient had blood glucose level 240 mg/dL Would have been better to use the median (middle of the data range)

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Example 3: A local news station reported a study that found that motorcycles are the safest vehicles to drive while passenger cars are the most dangerous vehicles to drive. They used the following graph to support their claim.

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What was wrong with this claim? The number of motorcycles on the road is significantly less than the number of cars on the road

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Think – Pair – Share What should you consider when viewing a conclusion that includes graphic or statistical results?

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Real World Examples View the following science in the media examples and write down at least one fallacy in each one

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Colgate Toothpaste Ad Video link

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Wrinkle Cream Ad Neutrogena Ad

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Climate Change Eliminates “Ginger Gene” Google search Dr. Alistair Moffat

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Assignment: Work in pairs : brainstorm a fictitious product or medical intervention. Design a short PowerPoint presentation, (no more than three slides) to “sell” your product. Use at least three of the statistical fallacies we just investigated. Present the misleading information to the class Be able to follow up this information with the true statistical information. Make sure to explain the process that your group followed to manipulate the information to make the product or medical intervention more appealing to the consumer.

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Mean: The AVERAGE values of a set of numbers. The mean is found by ADDING all of the values, then DIVIDING by the number of values in the set of data.

Mean: The AVERAGE values of a set of numbers. The mean is found by ADDING all of the values, then DIVIDING by the number of values in the set of data.

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