Today in research: barking piranhas, hallucinatory pre-migraine smells, the thing about vitamins, and which types of punctuation get a study noticed.

  • This just about tops off the week in vitamin worries. In just a few days there were two widely covered studies that came to pointed conclusions about the detrimental effects of both vitamin E and multivitamin supplements. Today, the Associated Press published an explainer noting all the caveats that you'd read on a typical pill bottle (i.e. a variation of vitamins aren't proven to be good for you). It did, however, quote the president of Consumerlabs.org, "a company that tests supplements and publishes ratings for subscribers," saying something pretty striking about different types of vitamin products: "One out of 4 either doesn't contain what it claims or has some other problems such as contamination or the pills won't break apart properly." [Associated Press]
  • P.R. advice for the academic journal set. It's hard for researchers to get noticed, especially if their study doesn't proclaim some ground-breaking new finding (and trumping-up results have lead to a noticeable rise in retractions). So, what's an academic have to do to get attention? The Guardian's Ben Goldacre performs his own review of research on what academic papers get cited the most and sorts through a bunch of odd studies on the topic. He does, however, flag one study that found that the punctuation of the title matters: "Articles with question marks in the titles tended to be downloaded more, but cited less; and article titles containing a colon had fewer downloads, and fewer citations." [The Guardian]
  •  Smell hallucinations prior to a migraine have been overlooked.  A Montefiore Headache Center in New York meta-analysis highlighted by Reuters informs us that, although it's uncommon to have an olefactory hallucinations prior to a migraine, there have been some cases. This is what was smelled by these people, it seems to be pretty varied: "Some headache sufferers described a general burning smell, while others said they smelled cigar smoke, wood smoke or burned popcorn. After those burning scents, 'decomposition' odors--like garbage or sewage--were the next most common. A few people did describe pleasant odors, including the scent of oranges, coffee or, in one case, foie gras." [Reuters]
  • So, this is what they mean by a 'barking piranha'. Speaking of P.R. advice, how can a reader not click on this press release: "Aggressive piranhas bark to say buzz off." It manages to combine imagery of angry fish, dogs and bees into one sentence. Anyway, these piranha vocalizations, as they're called, were studied by researchers who published their findings of these combat sounds in the Journal of Experimental Biology. National Geographic has the video, which classifies the piranha warnings into three varieties: "repetitive grunt," "low thud," and "teeth gnashing." The "teeth gnashing" sound wasn't quite as intimidating as we anticipated. [Eurekalert - Press Release, National Geographic]