In the science communication world, perhaps especially in the subset that we self-identify as “scientific skepticism”, there is a lot of criticism of bad science reporting. The media often gets a lot of this criticism, and much of that is deserved. But various studies over the last decade or so have shown that journalists, while all too eager to participate, are often not the source of misreporting of science news. Much of it can be traced back to the press release, and even to study authors themselves.Steven Novella, “The Causes of Bad Science Reporting” at Science-Based Medicine (June 16, 2021)
He focuses on whether studies of Alzheimer disease make clear that mouse models were used. Why that matters? Because, we are told, only humans “go Alz” = get Alzheimer disease (AD), though animals do get plaques in the brain, which are considered a model for the plight of humans. The plaques are related to dementia in humans.
Whether all that turns out to be true or not, as stated, if it is a conventional assumption, properly described rodent studies might be useful. But are they properly described?
What the authors of the new study looked at, therefore, was AD research on mouse models and whether the fact that they involved mice was mentioned in the title of the paper itself. They report:
“To this end, we analyzed a sample of 623 open-access scientific papers indexed in PubMed in 2018 and 2019 that used mice either as models or as the biological source for experimental studies in AD research. We found a significant association (p < 0.01) between articles’ titles and news stories’ headlines, revealing that when authors omit the species in the paper’s title, writers of news stories tend to follow suit.”
Specifically, if the article title declared that the study involved mice, than 46.2% of news headlines did also. If the title did not mention mice, then only 10.4% did. This is a very large difference that traces directly back to the published science article itself. This is also an extremely easy fix – journals should require that animal research declare the focus of their research in the title. But also notice that these results do not let journalists off the hook – in less than half of the news reporting about AD research in mice, the headlines failed to disclose this. Of course, journalists often don’t write their headlines, so much of the blame is on the headline writers, but this is all part of the news reporting and the outlet has ultimate responsibility.Steven Novella, “The Causes of Bad Science Reporting” at Science-Based Medicine (June 16, 2021) The paper is open access.
Fair enough. But, if anything, media tend to be too deferential to science sources and are most likely to just follow their lead, in time for the 6:00 am deadline. If you are in media, you must publish something, and soon.
A question remains: Is it true that no other life form gets Alzheimer? Wild animals would simply be eaten and tame ones would likely be euthanized. It’s only humans who find their way to care homes where the disease flourishes, largely uncontested. Let’s not be too hasty about assuming no other life form “gets” it.
Anyway, Novella’s general point is well taken.
Has neuroscience “proved” that the mind is just the brain? This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions. Can a study of mice really prove that? I challenge materialist neuroscientist Steven Novella to disprove dualism rigorously!
Why the mind can’t just be the brain Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn’t even make sense. It turns out that even a committed materialist like neuroscientist Steven Novella doesn’t really believe that.