Coffee News (and Another Example of Bad Science Reporting)

First comes the spiffy headline via the BBC:  Regular coffee drinkers have ‘cleaner’ arteries

Hooray! he thought, between sips of strong, black Colombian…

But then, actually reading the article:

Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries – a known risk factor for heart disease – Korean researchers believe.

“May”?  “Believe”?  That’s not what the headline said!

Some studies have linked consumption to heart risk factors, such as raised cholesterol or blood pressure, while others suggest the beverage may offer some heart protection.

But there is no conclusive evidence either way, and the latest research from South Korea, which is published in the journal Heart, only adds to the discussion.


Victoria Taylor of the British Heart Foundation said: "While this study does highlight a potential link between coffee consumption and lower risk of developing clogged arteries, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand what the reason is for the association.

No conclusive evidence?  The discussion is added to? A potential link?

Sometimes I think that the biggest problem facing the world of information sharing is headline writers.

Reminds me of this cartoon:

FILED UNDER: Food, Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Richard J. Medicus says:

    Fortunately, I stopped giving any credence to any “scientific” articles about food and drink and climate change and the big bang theory and talking fish and, oh, heck, I’ve stopped believing scientists altogether. I eat, drink and smoke whatever and whenever I want.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    All scientific discovery stories should be ignored for five years.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Richard J. Medicus:

    Yeah, that’s similar to how I hate American Idol, so I stopped listening to music.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    STOP THE PRESSES!!! EDITORS SACRIFICE ACCURACY FOR SAKE OF CATCHY HEADLINES!!! Just like they do with every other story that crosses their desks.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Richard J. Medicus: Seems to me it’s reporters you should be doubting, not scientists.

  6. stonetools says:

    Aren’t we now required to drink coffee? Or did I misinterpret the latest article (blog comment, tweet)?

  7. wr says:

    Hey, if the article was linked here in the (paid) “more articles and offers” section, the headline would have been YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE HOW THIS BEVERAGE CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE!!!!

    So maybe print headline writers not the worst out there…

  8. george says:

    BTW, Phd comic is a must read for anyone who’s been there.

  9. DrDaveT says:


    Seems to me it’s reporters you should be doubting, not scientists.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the reporters these days. Certain fields — nutrition, medicine, and epidemiology, I’m looking at you — have chronic issues with competence and methodological standards. The mismatch between “what is good science” and “what will get you published” is large, and good science isn’t the one that leads to tenure. Studies on the reproducibility of reportedly statistically significant “links” in these fields find that the majority (!) are not reproducible.

    Other fields do much better, but there’s still no substitute for learning statistics and reading the original paper for yourself.

  10. ernieyeball says:

    From Dr. Taylor’s item above.

    “May”? “Believe”? That’s not what the headline said!

    That this is a disparagement of the state of reporting in the scientific arena is pretty clear.
    Wouldn’t a more accurate approach be to state that A may or may not cause B?

    Can we criticize the realm of political journalism in a similar manner?
    From the linked NYT article.
    Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules

    Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

    Also from NYT.

    Under federal law, however, letters and emails written and received by federal officials, such as the secretary of state, are considered government records and are supposed to be retained so that congressional committees, historians and members of the news media can find them.

    How far down the ladder does this apply? I wonder if we can find out how many Federal Govt. employees are currently scrambling to establish .gov eMail accounts.

  11. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Journalism could regain some of it’s lost credibility if the speculative were curtailed. Words like “may” and “possibly” clearly are speculative and literally announce that investigation is not complete.

  12. Tony W says:

    I love with the chart with one exception: somewhere around “the Internets” we need to have a large corporate building pictured with a boardroom of folks figuring out how to make money (or protect themselves) from the new “facts”.