Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saggy boobs, dodgy science

As a PhD student, I of course try to follow the latest science news. Today, BBC shocked the world with the boob-scoop: women's breasts bounce. And it might be a bad thing.

So, the bra manufacturer had commissioned a study to show that breasts bounce more when the participants run without a bra than when wearing the Shock Absorber sports bra they make.

The study had been conducted in the University of Portsmouth, under the auspices of its Department of Sport and Exercise Science. Yes, the same cradle of innovation that has been in the news for their "Bachelor of Surfing". This for many has been the epitome of plummeting quality of higher education and research in British universities. It has been difficult to start a discussion about standards, scientific basis and relevance of higher education without referring to the BSc of Surfing or "beckhamology", as this general field of studies has also been called.

Citius, altius, dodgius?

This research also continues the proud tradition of corporate-sponsored pseudo-research that is either to provide us with the knowledge that the product gives your eyelashes 38% more volume, or it is carried out for the sole purpose of getting 15 minutes of government-sponsored BBC fame, like the "formula for perfect toast" or "how to dunk a biscuit" did. No wonder people still have archaic stereotypes of mad scientists... In the end, these are all for mostly harmless fun (and to keep scientists in mascara, toast and biscuits), but this tit-study is somewhat more dubious.

I'm of course fascinated to learn that when participants run on a treadmill, their bouncing nipples draw a figure-of-eight trajectory. The 'bounco-meter' also showed that in the course of one mile's run, the distance they bounce was about 135 meters. (Usually people stick to either metric or Imperial measuring units and don't change from one to another mid-sentence, at least when reporting results of a scientific experiment, but I'll let that pass.)

Collar bone and nipple trajectories (pic © Uni of Portsmouth)

Never have point-light technology and movement tracking been put to a better use. Since the study was sponsored by a bra-maker, the final result that breasts bounce less when wearing the right bra was not a huge surprise. What was worrying, though, was that at least according to the press material provided by University of Portsmouth, the study was simply a measurement of breast movements, yet the press release and the following news focused on the adverse effects running without the research sponsor's bra might have. According to the researchers, skin and the so-called Cooper's ligaments are responsible for supporting the structure of the breasts, essentially keeping them uppy and happy. And these, the researchers claim, may be irreversibly damaged and stretched if you exercise without a proper sports bra.

There is no mention in the press release, nor in the more detailed pdf, about how these conclusions were reached. According to the release, they just measured the bounce, not the stretch of Cooper's ligaments. Also, there's no mention about how these long-term effects were estimated or studied, and whether the running-induced stretch is greater than the normal wear and tear caused by aging. Of course, no statistical analysis or tests for significance were reported. (it's relatively difficult to find relevant information on this, try googling "breasts" and you know what I mean... :-) )

Is this just bad reporting or totally bogus science? At least it is very close to being unethical marketing, I think.

Also, I find it a bit strange that the coordinator of this study, Dr. Joanna Scurr, who "carried out the research at the University of Portsmouth", isn't actually a member of their faculty, at least not listed on the website. Google doesn't return any hits on her either. Maybe she works for the company making these shock absorbers. That, by the way, are endorsed by the cooper's ligament-wise very talented Anna Kournikova, but this brings us back to the googling problem...

Well, money talks, and while some researchers aim for the Nobel prize, some others go for the Ig® Nobel...

1 comment:

mitluana said...

Wow, kiitos tiedosta.

Dr Joannalla on todennäköisesti valkoinen takki, jonka rintataskussa on vähintään 25 kynää, hampaat valkaistut ja tukka huolettomasti auki, eikä sitä ole laitettu kuin ehkä n. 3,5h.

Ps. hereillä edelleen ja vielä, klo 3. En ole huomannut ajan kulkua, eli pitäisi kai mennä nukkumaan, tosin jutuistasi päätellen olet itsekin sopivassa vireystilassa. 8o)

Pps. Sorry folks, this one was in Finnish, life's not fair.