Field of Science

Communication fails in science and health

A roundup of some of today's worst in science communication fails, from the misleading but clickable headline to the loose reportage. Got more? Send 'em along.

Milk Causes Cancer, from VegNewsDaily. And that seriously reflects the entire "content" of the article, except for a cursory mention of a (completely unsupported) link between casein and autism.

Vaccine-autism link proved false? From the Palm Beach Post. Sorry, Headline, Article doesn't support the query.

Friendships determined by DNA marker. Medical News Today! For antidote, see Daniel MacArthur's insights into this study over at Wired.

Weight loss may send pollutants into bloodstream. MyHealthNews/MSNBC. Take a look at the article. Try to find the "balance."

Weaning before six months 'may help breastfed babies.' BBC News Health. The problem here? These reports are based on a literature review, not new studies or new information, and neither article makes that clear. Indeed, the BBC piece is a muddle that makes it difficult for the reader to determine if any of the studies being described are the study being reported as "news." (They are not). At the BMJ site, the lead-in to the review says that in the piece, the researchers ask, "if the time is right for reappraisal of this advice." That is not the same as the conclusive evidence implied in each of the related news reports.

Finally, I bring you this one, complete with major typo:
Why do women shy from competitive jobs? (subhead): Males, not femals (sic), like to best their co-workers, research shows. Then the click-to, strangely in title case: Men Crave Competition, In (sic) Work and Play.

From the piece:
List and his coauthors, Jeffrey Flory, a graduate student in economics at the University of Maryland, and Andreas Leibbrandt, a postdoctoral fellow at Chicago, were intrigued by a number of recent laboratory studies showing that men are, by nature, more competitive than women. Most of us probably don't need scholarly studies to tell us that, because we see it all around us.

Nice. Furthermore....
Women are raised to be understanding and conciliatory; men are raised to slay wild beasts and triumph over their male friends.

Read the article. Note that the job offered is in office support. Note that the researchers did not actually assess reasons for not applying for a job that was described as more competitive (how could they)? All the study offers is a group of people, divided into male and female based on name alone, who applied for an office job. The ones who were presumed to be female were less likely to apply for the job if it was described as competitive. Does that mean that the women--if they were women, and Hilary, Beverly, and Bobby, I'm talking to you--really shied away from a competitive job? Or does it mean that they were smart and declined to take a crappy office job that would require you to compete in a bruising battle with your co-workers for bad pay?

The tease asks, "Why do women shy from competitive jobs?", but this study does not answer that question or demonstrate fully that women do, indeed, shy from such jobs. Furthermore, I don't see "play" mentioned anywhere in this study. Why is it included in the headline?

As much as these last two pieces muddled and befuddled, I'm giving the win for today to VegNewsDaily. Because...just, wow.


  1. This could be regular feature here, Emily. Or maybe a contest?

    You covered the topic well - better'n a late night talk show host.

    Typically, I see this type of headline often.

    But today when I'm looking for it - lo, and behold I find .... the opposite. Headline from Gerson "Miracle of vaccines eclipsed by controversy".


  2. This from Paul Raeburn at Knight Science Journalism Tracker:

    Noting even more bad headlines related to the "breastfeeding report." Note the very last graf. No shame.

  3. Momma Data (Polly Polumbo) is back on the breastfeeding beat (for the good). Have you been by to visit her?


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