In an astonishing demonstration of the evils of Marketing in a Research University Context, the University of Leicester today announced that an upcoming research project would find a link between coffee consumption by pregnant women and leukemia to develop later in their offspring.
This is a statement made by scientists involved in the Research That Has Not Yet Been Done:
Although there’s no evidence at all of a link between caffeine and cancer, we’re putting two and two together and saying: caffeine can induce these changes and it has been shown that these changes are elevated in leukaemia patients… I wonder if caffeine can somehow sensitise cells or increase the risk of leukaemia? The idea seems plausible.
I’m glad scientists have thee thoughts. Taking a shower, sitting on the water closet, on the tube heading for work, thoughts like this should be rolling around in the heads of researchers, who then take them, critically evaluate them, and turn some of them into hypotheses, operationalize the hypotheses, test them, and move us incrementally (or more) in the direction of greater knowledge and deeper understanding. Of stuff.
Or, alternatively, you can take the random sciency thoughts floating around in the head and turn them into press releases which produce media statements like this:
Women should avoid drinking coffee while pregnant as it may increase their unborn child’s risk of leukaemia
Which, in this particular case, is positioned under a photo of a woman drinking from a Starbuck’s cup, RUINING HER CHILD’S HEALTH!!!!!
Now, to be fair, there is something to this. Caffeine can be shown to mess up DNA in some situations. The exact reason a child develops leukemia is not fully understood. There have been previous links made between caffeine and cancer, but as far as I know these links have all failed to pan out. It does not seem entirely unreasonable to conduct the study that is proposed here.
But it is utterly unreasonable, misleading, exploitative, and dishonest and probably highly unethical to convert a grant proposal into a press event that literally tells people that there is a link between a particular behavior and substance and a horrific childhood cancer, when there is no known link.
Shame on the Leicester press office.