Is it just me, or has the standard of what pases for ‘science’ and scientific reporting sunk even further into the dregs? The BBC News website today features a piece entitled “Coffee ‘no boost in the morning‘” claiming that coffee doesn’t actually provide stimulation, it just negates its own ‘withdrawal’ symptoms. This stupefyingly trite study from the University of Bristol, led by Professor Peter Rogers, a biological psychologist, claims “We do feel a boost from caffeine in the morning, but that’s probably due to a reversal of the withdrawal symptoms.That alertness you feel is you getting back to normal, rather than to an above normal level.”
And this makes the front page of the BBC News site … ?
Aside from the obvious fact that the morning cup of coffee does indeed pick us up, whether it’s merely to pull us out of the doldrums of the previous cup or not, the biphasic action of drugs is something that’s been well known and documented for centuries, so why exactly it was deemed necessary to produce some (no doubt costly) ‘scientific’ study to reiterate a matter of common sense experience, heaven only knows. This really does plumb new depths of banality. In the first phase of its action, caffeine is stimulatory. In the second phase, it’s inhibitory. Push the pendulum in one direction and it swings back in the other. That’s the story folks! That’s all there is to it.
In order to try and percolate something newsworthy out of this pointless nonscience, Professor Rogers makes all sorts of sweeping generalisations about people’s coffee drinking habits in an attempt to justify a judgement about coffee itself that is patently unsupported by the facts. Whether or not you time your next cup of coffee to coincide with the moment your metabolism gets into the previous cup’s inhibitory phase is entirely up … or perhaps I should say down … to you. Regular and frequent drinkers will tend to a level of habituation – again, a common feature of any repetitive drug taking regime, and common knowledge since man and stimulants first made each others acquaintance. So it will indeed be the case that for some the stimulatory phase of the fresh cup short-circuits the inhibitory phase of the last and provides little additional benefit apart from increasing caffeine dependence, but this is not exactly rocket science. Or news. If this is an example of how the University of Bristol’s professors (not to mention BBC journalists) justify their titles and salaries, then some serious questions ought to be asked by the governors and funders of these institutions. And we, as members of the public, should be asking ourselves what kind of idiots these so-called experts take us for if they expect us to swallow this as representative of worthy science without choking on our morning cuppas.
In its obligatory ‘balanced’ reporting remit, Auntie canvasses the British Coffee Association for a soundbite. Zoe Wheeldon, the association’s representative, said the research was “interesting”.
“But she added: “There are two sides to the debate and a wealth of scientific evidence suggests that moderate coffee consumption of four to five cups per day is perfectly safe for the general population and does have a beneficial effect on alertness and performance even in regular coffee drinkers.”"
This is a debate?! And moderate coffee consumption = 4-5 cups per day?!! I’d hate to guess at what their idea of serious coffee consumption amounts to, or at what the “wealth of scientific evidence” comprises when studies such as those produced over 2 years ago by the University of Athens and Harokopio University found that drinking more than 200ml per day increased the chances of cardiovascular inflammation.
But never let it be said that science stands in the way of profit.
BTW I’m not some rabid anti-coffee campaigner … I enjoy a good cup of coffee as much as the next person (though more than one cup in a day would have me climbing the walls), but “research” like this would be just a joke if it weren’t such an appalling indictment of the quality of today’s university level ‘scientific’ exploration.