Claim: “Male and female brains wired differently”

Male and Female Brains DTI ScanBetween 2-3 December 2013, reports emerged through the Guardian newspaper, followed swiftly by the Independent, that a new scientific study had demonstrated for the first time that “the brains of men and women [are] wired differently.” The media stories were based on a study by the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) which appeared to find that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and back regions, and are mostly confined to individual hemispheres. In contrast (on average), the connections in women’s brains were more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres. The only region where men had more ‘between-hemispheric’ neural connectivity was the cerebellum, which plays a vital role in motor control.

True or False?

Given the complexity of the issue, and the fact that new research is constantly being conducted, one can conclude that the statement that “male and female brains are wired differently” is at best largely true. Evidence has been presented which casts doubt on the theory of ‘hardwiring’, but the fact remains that the DTI scans showed clear differences in neural connectivity between males and females.

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Special Report: US states are sidestepping Supreme Court rulings prohibiting lifelong terms for juvenile offenders

The United States Supreme Court acted in 2010 and 2012 to restrict the use of mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. Beginning with Graham v Florida (2010), the court held that “sentencing an individual to life imprisonment without parole for a non-homicide crime [committed before the defendant reaches the age of 18] violates the Eighth Amendment.”

Later in Miller v Alabama (2012), the Supreme Court went further by deciding that the Eighth Amendment prohibited sentencing schemes which forced juvenile homicide offenders to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. Instead of life without parole sentences, juvenile offenders in some states are now being given sentences in excess of 50 years, breaking the spirit of the Supreme Court decisions.

An objective look at juvenile sentences following Graham and Miller reveals an unwillingness on behalf of certain states to interpret the Supreme Court decisions in a flexible manner. The rulings clearly aimed to prevent a juvenile offender from potentially spending the rest of his/her natural life incarcerated. Despite these landmark rulings, minimum sentences of half a century or more have made release an almost impossible prospect for thousands of youths caught up in the US criminal justice system.

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Claim: £1m a week in child allowances paid to children living overseas

On 4 February 2013, Sky News, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail said that £1m a week in child allowances was being paid to children living overseas. This claim surfaced again in the latest debate on immigration and benefits. In January 2014, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported that David Cameron wants to stop paying child benefit for children living abroad in countries such as Poland, whose parents work in the UK. Nick Clegg supports the policy, but both the Vice-President of the European Commission and Poland’s foreign minister have criticised it.

True or False?

The claim is largely true but we found that this represents only a fraction of total UK spending on child allowances.

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True or False on LSE’s Pulse Radio

Pulse RadioOn 30 January 2014, Stephen and Mohammed (researchers from The Henry Mayhew Foundation) appeared on LSE’s Pulse Radio with Daniel Sippel to talk about the True or False project.

An interview was given on the radio show, ‘Merkel, Mahler, Miscellaneous‘, which looks at German politics, culture and other topics. Discussion focused on Henry Mayhew, the Foundation’s work and True or False, a project investigating inaccurate and misleading claims in the mass media.

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Claim: “European Commission: UK’s 600,000 benefits tourists no problem”

The Sun newspaper on 21 October 2013 published a headline claiming that a European Commission report had revealed there to be around 600,000 “non-active” (unemployed) migrants in the UK (611,779 “non-active” EU migrants were living in Britain in 2012, up from 431,687 in 2006). The Telegraph newspaper added that this was costing the NHS alone a total of £1.5 billion. Similar reports emerged that prompted heated debate and rhetoric on the subject of “benefit tourism”. The Conservative backbench MP Douglas Carswell commented, “…the European project has debased and debauched the original, noble idea of the welfare state. These figures show that the wave of benefit migrants has become a tsunami of economic refugees fleeing the eurozone crisis to try to find jobs here”.

True or False?

The assertion that there are “600,000 benefit tourists” in the UK, and, that the EC argued they were “no problem”, is considered to be false. Moreover, The Sun newspaper eventually printed a retraction of it’s claims and admitted there was “no evidence” of 600,000 “benefit tourists” in the UK, and that Brussels had not said that this was “not a problem”.

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Claim: “As much as 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived”

Between 11-12 October 2013, it was widely reported by the British press that Dominic Cummings (advisor to the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove) in a private 237-page thesis, claimed that “as much as 70 per cent of a child’s performance is genetically derived”. These remarks caused huge controversy due to widespread recognition that genetic theories have in the past been used for much ill, as well as good (which is Cummings’ point). Fundamentally, Cummings did not use the phrase “70% of a child’s performance”, instead referring to “70% heritability” which is a population statistic that refers to the differences between (and not within) individuals.

True or False?

The press widely portrayed Dominic Cummings’ observations as a scientific and statistical estimate of an individual child’s intelligence, not that up to 70% of the differences between individuals’ educational achievement is attributable to genetic factors. Therefore, strictly speaking, it is inaccurate and consequently largely false, that as much as 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived.

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