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Author Topic: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody  (Read 833 times)

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Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« on: September 27, 2010, 09:21:18 PM »
Ran across a link to this on Phyrangula today. It is a paradoy of the vapid scientific articles that you see so often in the press. You know, the ones that tell you exactly nothing while making impossible claims?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/sep/24/1

I have to say, that I found it annoyingly accurate in multiple regards, my favorite bits reproduced below:
Quote
In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won't provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can't be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.
Quote
To pad out this section I will include a variety of inane facts about the subject of the research that I gathered by Googling the topic and reading the Wikipedia article that appeared as the first link.
Quote
If the subject is politically sensitive this paragraph will contain quotes from some fringe special interest group of people who, though having no apparent understanding of the subject, help to give the impression that genuine public "controversy" exists.
Although of all those I really hate: "c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published" If it is not published research, why are you reporting on it? I utterly lose respect for any article on research that has not actually been published. I mean, what's the point? No one should think that the media is a reliable source for scientific information, and if the press gets their hands on something before it is actually published there is absolutely no way to know if they are accurately representing the research (Protip: they aren't <_<).

Offline mystictiger

Re: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2010, 08:22:16 AM »
I loved Ben Goldacre's book, called Bad Science I believe, on a similar topic. What particularly annoys me is that, according to the Daily Mail, everything is a cause of or a cure for cancer. Sometimes both.

I don't think that scientists are beyond reproach though.

Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Re: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2010, 03:03:43 PM »
I don't think that scientists are beyond reproach though.

Certainly not, and this is why the point that I single out annoys me so. There is no point in releasing any kind of story on a scientific breakthrough until after it is published in a peer reviewed journal. Because until that point there is no sense of accountability whatsoever. If I can't go and pick up the journal and look at the data, materials, and methods the article has no meaning. Until that point it is an empty statement made on the apparent authority of a journalist who most likely has no training in the sciences and has not fully  considered the actual results of the research, their implications, and the methodology used to achieve those results.

Frankly, I don't even know why these articles are run, they are utterly useless to any scientist and (hopefully unintentionally) misleading (at best) to laymen. If you want to keep up on science, follow real journals. Hell, maybe if they had wider readership they would stop charging an arm and a leg <_<

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Re: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2010, 12:54:06 PM »
I loved Ben Goldacre's book, called Bad Science I believe, on a similar topic. What particularly annoys me is that, according to the Daily Mail, everything is a cause of or a cure for cancer. Sometimes both.

I don't think that scientists are beyond reproach though.
Look at soy. Science is still flip-floppy on that.

Offline mystictiger

Re: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2010, 03:44:08 PM »
Quote
Certainly not, and this is why the point that I single out annoys me so. There is no point in releasing any kind of story on a scientific breakthrough until after it is published in a peer reviewed journal.

I think you have too much faith in the 'system'. There are times when challenging the scientific orthodoxy is wrong (thank you for that, Dr Wakefield), but there are other times when research is attacked for personal reasons. One story that hit close to home is this gentleman's. I was working at the institute at the time. Or if you think about amyloid theories for Alzheimer's Disease - billions of dollars have been spent following this orthodoxy and have yet to provide a single workable cure (I'm biased in that I support the Tau protein autocatalytic cascade hypothesis), and yet countless peer-reviewed articles have gone on and on and on about how Amyloid is great, while Tau protein is only recently starting to receive more acknowledgement.

The one generalisation that can be drawn about scientists is that they're people. People have their own biases and ideologies and despite their claims to rationalism, scientists are guilty of petty factionalism just as much as any other group. And yes, we lawyers do it a great deal as well.

Having said that, I can't think of a better way to self-regulate research.

--

AD-related stuff:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1615337/?tool=pmcentrez : Oops. Amyloid premise is wrong as shown in 2004.
http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mediareleases/uploads/files/tau/ICAD_NR_29_07_08.pdf - Anti-Amyloid drugs fail.

Also, why bother going through the peer review process? It takes time that a research group doesn't necessarily have if it wants to be the first to-market drug that will pass administrative hurdles. The FDA / NICE are far harsher reviewers of a clinical trial than most academics.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2010, 03:53:50 PM by mystictiger »

Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Re: Unfortunately insightful: Science Journalism Parody
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2010, 08:11:22 PM »
I think you have too much faith in the 'system'. There are times when challenging the scientific orthodoxy is wrong (thank you for that, Dr Wakefield), but there are other times when research is attacked for personal reasons. One story that hit close to home is this gentleman's.
2 points:
1) It seems you have missed the part about how I prefer peer reviewed journals because in the case of a news article: "If I can't go and pick up the journal and look at the data, materials, and methods the article has no meaning." Not saying that the establishment is always reliable (if Antoine Lavoisier taught us anything it is that), but I am saying that without analysis of their procedures, materials, and methods, you will never know.

2) Pusztai's problems stemmed significantly more from the government and scientists on a government payroll than the larger scientific community. Indeed it was only through peer review by his fellows in the scientific community that his research was vindicated in direct opposition to the will of the govornment.

Also, why bother going through the peer review process? It takes time that a research group doesn't necessarily have if it wants to be the first to-market drug that will pass administrative hurdles. The FDA / NICE are far harsher reviewers of a clinical trial than most academics.
Frankly I care little about the race for drug-patents, but that is just me. We bother with the peer review process for three reasons:
1) Accountability: Not all research that goes into making a drug is going to be reviewed by the FDA. Every drug trial is based on a large amount of foundational research in vitro that is not subject to their oversight. Nor is indeed a majority of biological research even involved in drug-discovery, and as such is not subject to the FDA. For that which is subject to oversight, double accountability is a nice thing to have before you begin injecting humans.
2)  Volume: There are currently over 800 clinical trials related to AD currently underway. This links back into oversight. With that many disparate trials in that many disparate institutes, not to mention the thousands of animal model studies and theoretical works that need to be reviewed, it requires the joint activity of the community and government to generate an acceptable level of oversight. Once again, a little care in what we inject into people is not a bad thing.
3) Specialization: Government regulators are well and good. They may have training, they may even have training in the broad field that they are going to review. But that isn't a substitute for hands on, specialized laboratory experience. A government neurobiologist reviewing a Parkinson's drug trial is not going to see it in the same light as an independent neurobiologist who has specialized in the study of Parkinson's and works with models of the disease in his lab everyday.

And as a fourth reason: because as you yourself have pointed out with the Pusztai case, leaving things solely in government hands with no oversight is a bad idea.



All that said, this is not really the place to talk about this. So ima going to go ahead and lock this thread down since no one seems interested in discussing the original premise of journalists and their inability to properly portray science. If you want to talk about the peer review process, do feel free to either start your own thread or PM me.

And yeah, they tossed out the ABeta plaque theory years ago. There is contention now that the aggregatioon of ABeta into plaques is in fact neuroprotective and is done by the immune system. There is now a theory that the unaccumulated fragments are the real culprits (much like peptide fragments cause nuerodegeneration in Huntington's). However, to proclaim my personal bias for the record: ABeta oligomer/Tau fibril Combinatorial Process Theory FTW!  :P