"A look at what not to do – a chalk press release analysis" by Will Leaning

With the rapid expansion of social media, and humanity truly living in the digital age, we face unprecedented access to information. With a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen, we can answer pretty much any whimsical question we come up with. But with this access to information we must be careful not to take everything we read at face value. Many sites make claims without making any reference to the sources from which the information originally came from, whilst others purposefully twist the results of a study or event to fit their own agendas. Today I wanted to quickly talk about an article based upon a press release which had all the hallmarks of what not to do. Now, before I go on to talk about this example I want to preface it with I don’t think this was done intentionally.


Researchers at De Montfort University, under request from the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC), studied the effect of chalk on human coronavirus OC43. From the initial press release they claim that when OC43 comes into contact with a chalky surface, the absolute amount of infectious virus reduces by around 99%. As a climber, when I first read this I was over the moon. I was apprehensive about climbing gyms re-opening as, let’s face it, they have never been the most hygienic of places, but seeing the title of ‘CHALK DEACTIVATES THE VIRUS ON HOLDS’ I was psyched.


However, the scientist in me had a few questions. I am no virologist, but I know that an anti-viral treatment that works for one virus may not work for another. This is my first issue with the article posted on the ABC walls website; the title is incredibly misleading (‘CHALK DEACTIVATES THE VIRUS ON HOLDS). ‘THE VIRUS’, although not explicitly claiming to be SARS-CoV-2, heavily implies that this was the coronavirus strain being experimented on, which is not the case. Secondly, it says chalked surface, but gives no indication of how much chalk is needed to achieve these results. Thirdly, it states a ‘plastic surface’. Is this a hold or a sheet of plastic? I ask because the rough texture of a typical climbing hold may yield different results to a smooth surface given its higher surface area.


The study is to be published in early August, and I will release a follow up post looking into the science of why chalk is so effective at deactivating human coronavirus OC43, what this means in terms of SARS-CoV-2, and a further discussion of the points I have brought up.


As I was writing this post I noticed that the ABC walls link I was using to get to the initial post was no longer working. It seems that somebody was quicker than I to alert them to the misleading nature of the article and it has been removed and replaced with this one.


References

https://www.abcwalls.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Corona-Virus-and-Chalk-Press-release.pdf

https://www.abcwalls.co.uk/news/chalk-deactivates-the-virus-on-holds/ - no longer available

https://www.abcwalls.co.uk/news/research-shows-chalk-could-be-a-climbers-best-friend/

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