A recent study about the effects of exercise on men's sperm counts has generated a number of stories in the newspapers.
The study itself suggests that more active men might also have... uh... more active sperm, but no conclusive link has yet been determined (there is a writeup on the NHS Choices site). Of course this lack of certainty doesn't stop the media from reminding us how black and white the world really is - no pesky gray subtleties for us, thankyouverymuch.
What's interesting is the different approaches the various outlets have taken in their headlines.
The Metro and the Guardian seemed to take an optimistic attitude in their (still misleading) headlines:
- Metro: Get up and about to help boost your sperm count (unsourced.org page)
- The Guardian: Active men have higher sperm counts than couch potatoes watching TV (unsourced.org page)
The Times and the Mail took the more pessimistic angle in their (still misleading) headlines:
- The Times: Men’s fertility halved by hours in front of TV (unsourced.org page)
- The Daily Mail: Watching TV for too long 'cuts male fertility by half'. Study shows laziness leads to a drop in sperm quality (unsourced.org page)
Note the use of quotes in the Mail headline. This is always a bit of a warning sign when reporting on such studies - it allows the journalist a more sensational headline, without taking full responsibility for it.
And finally, there is the more-or-less correct:
Interestingly, the Daily Mail, Guardian and the BBC articles all provide a bit of balance by quoting the same words by the same independent expert, Dr. Allan Pacey at the University of Sheffield. Perhaps he was approached because he has been involved with previous research on a possible link between lifestyle and sperm quality, and some sort of statement was provided.
UPDATE (11 Feb 2013): I emailed Dr. Pacey asking about this and he told me that the Science Media Centre contacted him, inviting him to comment on the research. He read the paper over the weekend and sent them his views. The then published Dr. Pacey's expert reaction, along with a brief analysis of the story for busy journalists. Presumably the SMC then pushed the story out to the papers (or, perhaps with a little wishful thinking, journos picked the story up directly from the SMC site because they know that's a good place to get science stories with some proper analysis and context).