Scraping the bottom of the biscuit barrel

As a wonderful demonstration how media outlets will report the ridiculous as long as ‘neuroscience’ is mentioned, I present the ‘Oreos May Be As Addictive As Cocaine’ nonsense.

According to Google News, it has so far been reported by 209 media outlets, including some of the world’s biggest publications.

That’s not bad for some non-peer reviewed, non-published research described entirely in a single press release from a Connecticut college and done in rats.

The experiment, described in five lines of the press release, is this:

On one side of a maze, they would give hungry rats Oreos and on the other, they would give them a control – in this case, rice cakes. (“Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating them,” Schroeder said.) Then, they would give the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measure how long they would spend on the side where they were typically fed Oreos…

They compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine, known addictive substances, on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other. Professor Schroeder is licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to purchase and use controlled substances for research.

The research showed the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.

Needless to say, South American drug lords are probably not shutting up shop just yet.

But this is how you make headlines around the world and get your press release reported as a ‘health story’ in the international media.

As we’ve noted before, the ‘as addictive as cocaine’ cliché gets wheeled out on a regular basis even for the most unlikely of activities but this really takes the biscuit (“Bad jokes addictive as cocaine” say British scientist’s readers).

However, the alternative conclusion that ‘Cocaine is no more addictive than Oreos’ seems not to have been as popular. Only Reason magazine opted for this one.

The reason that this sort of press release makes headlines is simply because it agrees with the already established tropes that obesity is a form of ‘addiction’ and is ‘explained’ by some vague mention of the brain and dopamine.

The more easily we agree with something, the less critical thinking we apply.
 

Link to a more sensible take from Reason magazine.

9 Comments

  1. Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    They can’t exactly say “Sugar is as addictive as Cocaine” because the all-powerful sugar lobby will sue them for defamation. That’s where Oreos come in, as a euphemism for sugar.

    • Mitch
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      So in your expert legal opinion they’re less likely to be sued by mentioning a brand name rather than a ubiquitous, naturally-occurring chemical?

      And saying “sugar is addictive as cocaine” is actually more stupid than saying the same about Oreos. At least Oreos aren’t actually required for survival.

      I’d suggest you stop being so willfully ignorant and delusional, but you’re almost certainly a lost cause.

  2. Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Can’t agree more, and glad to see at least one news outlet took a reasonable approach. I got a bit angry about this whole thing myself and wrote a bit here (http://scramblingforsignificance.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-circular-logic-of-oreo-addiction.html).

  3. Martin
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Finally some sanity to this nonsense and lousy news reporting. It would take more than one piece of data (mouse data at that) to draw the conclusion Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with mouse experiments.)

    What worries me is these same “reporters” provide stories and insights into world, national and local affairs on an hourly basis. Hopefully those reports reflect reality better than the Oreos story, but sadly I doubt it.

    Thanks for the sanity.

    • David D
      Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      This I don’t understand. Almost every time I see a news story that is in a domain that I understand, the news story is a grotesque parody. Talking with others, they notice the same thing. Yet, when it is outside their domain (where the blatant incorrectness, bias, or other issues may not be immediately apparent to them), they blissfully assume that the reporter got it all correct and don’t show the same skepticism that they do within their domain. Absent evidence to the contrary, I just assume that any news report is as bad as this one.

  4. Mtwzzyzx
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Well, they should have called it “Mice more likely to seek pleasure than blandness or pain with no upside”, because that’s what it was- it certainly proves nothing about addictive power. Nothing. Science- they ought to try it sometime.

  5. FrancisChalk
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Remember, the “Lying, Liberal, Left” is heavily represented in the psychological and medical sciences. Any report of a new study in these fields should be immediately disregarded by anyone with the ability to add 2 plus 2.

  6. tom
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Poor science–to show addiction requires demonstrating what happens when the substance is withdrawn–ie DTs, nausea, vomiting, tremulousness, etc.

  7. Carolyn Foster
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Now really, is this preference of rats for oreos a comment on the oreos or the relative palitableness of rice cakes? I’d go for the oreos too. AS for the relevance of the news media and what they publish regarding scientific research (or any other subject)I learned long ago that a distressingly large number of media types will take almost anything they hear and run with it, at least partially because they are not sufficiently knowledgeable to have any idea of whether or not the information is reasonable.


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