Carl Sagan´s Guide to Fake News. The story behind the headline: “Diet of fish can prevent teen violence?”

This story appeared The Guardian dated 14 September 2003.  It describes a real study by a Professor Raine of the University of California.  The study is described as:

“A group of three-year-olds from Mauritius were given an intensive programme of enriched diet, exercise and cognitive stimulation, which included being read to and involved in conversation. By the age of 11 they demonstrated increased brain activity on brain scan read-outs, and by 23 they were 64 per cent less likely than a control group of children not on the programme to have criminal records.”

The headline, though, is probably making a leap too far, as even Professor Raine himself has doubts stating that:

“Could it be the exposure to increased omega 3 fatty acids, which we know are the building blocks of cell membranes, leads to better brain function which we did discern at age 11 – and better outcomes at 23?”

“Could” is quite an important word in that sentence which is missing from the headline.  It could also be the case that the Guardian (and maybe Raine as well) is confusing correlation with causation as mentioned in the baloney detection toolkit and perhaps children with increased brain activity are more likely to eat fish?  In either case, a lot more research would be required to prove such a link…

Click on Carl Sagan´s Guide to Fake News if you want to find out more about fake news or the baloney detection toolkit.

 

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