share3This morning, I was planning to write about a new study where researchers said they found proof that women are more likely to share with others (such as contributing money, loaning a favorite sweater or donating blood) during their period week than during any other week of their cycle. Sounds pretty interesting, right?

Well, once I read the full study, I realized this research had serious flaws:

First, the researchers didn’t examine sharing across the whole four weeks of the menstrual cycle–they picked just two times: The period week and the end of Week 3 (which is when estrogen and progesterone peak in the luteal phase).

Second, though the researchers were aiming to examine the volunteers’ behaviors during the end their Week 3s, they couldn’t be sure which days they were actually measuring because they were relying on volunteers who were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program to fill out online surveys and guesstimate where they were in their cycles. No saliva or blood testing was used to determine where a woman actually was in her cycle.

This means the women could have been in the beginning of their Week 3 (when estrogen and progesterone are lower) or in their premenstrual Week 4 (when estrogen and progesterone drop). And, if you’re a longtime fan of Hormonology, then you know that the differences in behavior between these phases can be huge.

My point today is that I’m predicting a lot of news outlets are going to pick up this study and cover it because the results are unexpected–well, at least based on the prevailing myths surrounding periods–and, therefore, can provide an easy attention-grabbing headline, “Women more generous during that time of the month!” However, don’t believe the hype.

Many news outlets run press releases–often verbatim–without reading the full study. Or, more surprisingly, they’ll write an article about an article written by someone who didn’t read the full study.

This means that some research that is flawed or misinterpreted gets a lot of public attention when the results or what’s reported aren’t necessarily true. (Anyone remember the study that showed monthly hormones impact who women vote for? Then, the study refuting that study? Then, the response to that study refuting that study? Yeah, this can get exhausting pretty quickly.)

Then, even more shocking, there are people like this guy who purposely set out to fool reporters into covering bogus research. And, they succeed.

So, when you read hormone research in the news, try to find the study yourself (so many full versions are available online) or ask me to find it for you to make sure that what you’re reading is really reliable.

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[Photo: Creative Commons HQ]