Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Facebook Causes Cancer, and other fairy stories

I'm following an interesting debate at the moment - does an increased use of social networking sites increase loneliness, which in turn can cause an increased risk of illness. Neatly summed up by the Daily Mail headline - Facebook Causes Cancer. As a user of such sites I obviously have an interest in this topic.

As well as the Facebook Causes Cancer story, the Daily Mail also ran with something as sensational - Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist. This was based on statements by the Head of the Royal Institution, Professor Susan Greenfield that excessive sitting in front of a computer screen using social networking sites could "rewire the brain".

Ben Goldacre from appeared on Newsnight last night to argue against this theory, and that put forward by Dr Aric Sigman that loneliness affects your immune system, social networking makes you lonely, therefore - you can fill in the rest. Ben's blog contains a link to the Newsnight programme - watch out for Ben's facial expressions during Dr Aric's statements - very funny. Immediately after the programme Ben posted a load of references which do not support Dr Sigman's theory, which he had conveniently ignored.

I'm not an expert on Neuroscience, or Psychology, but I've done a PhD and 3 years post-doc work in a biological science, and I do understand the basic principles of scientific research. Cherry picking evidence to support your theory does not appear in them!

The Guardian technology blog has picked up the story this morning and quotes Age Concern extolling the social and health benefits of social networking for older people.

But my favourite post on the topic is this one, and I look forward to the More Fur, Less Facebook campaign.

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