February 19, 2016
MIT’s misleading PR headline on autism
We’ve now published 125 systematic criteria-driven reviews of PR news releases about health care or research. We won’t apply all of our criteria to this one, because it is the often-all-important headline that is the focus of our commentary.
On Twitter, UC Davis professor Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics), wrote:
- Wow turned mice into humans and a few autism-like symptoms into autism – way to go w/ the deceptive headline
- I think should retract this headline/PR – humans are not mice; mice don’t have autism
- And in 2011 claimed that same researcher created autism in mice – again misleading
Immunology scientist David Usharauli (@3DiMMUNE) tweeted:
- I am also skeptical about “autism” definition for mice.
To be clear: this isn’t a comment on the importance or quality of the research. All of the above commentary, with which I agree, is about how the words matter. It’s about how science communication matters. It’s about how PR news releases from major institutions matter. And this news release got off to a very bad start.
- The big bold headline suggests nothing other than a breakthrough in people.
- As people smarter than I have questioned, why wasn’t the tremendous leap from mouse-to-man made more clear? How might it not translate to humans that researchers can reduce “mice’s repetitive behavior and their tendency to avoid social interaction”???
- The PR news release doesn’t hide the fact that the research was in mice; it simply doesn’t put it in proper context for journalists, or the public who may be spoonfed the news from journalists who were spoonfed by MIT’s PR news release.
Words matter. Our attempt to improve health/medical/science news releases matters.