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As the worm turns – from scientific paper to news release to bad news coverage

A journalist-friend asked me to comment on this.


The story, in the Daily Express of the UK, finally got around to explaining that the breathless claims made in the headline and subheadline were based on research in laboratory worms.

Microscopic worms.

The story states:

“Although (the worm in question) is a long way from a human in evolutionary terms, it has been shown to mirror ageing processes in higher forms of life.

Dr Blackwell said: “That’s a strong predictor that this mechanism is relevant to people as well.”

The story also included lots of “coulds…maybes…what ifs” but not any “may nots.”  For example, more excerpts, with my emphasis added:

  • The breakthrough finding could lead to “elixir of life” anti-ageing drugs that would slow down or even put off the development of chronic age-related diseases.
  • It could even lead to a new generation of cosmetics which help hold back the ageing process and boost overall health.
  • It could also lead to the development of improved anti-ageing drugs that would put off the development or slow the progression of age-related chronic disease.
  • This is a very important discovery, which may impact many areas of diabetes development and complications.

Yes, it could or it may.  If – a big if – results in people (far away from today) match those in microscopic worms. Maybe the story should include some “may not lead to” or “may not impact” caveats.

FYI:  Here’s the Joslin Diabetes Center news release on the work emanating from its laboratory. You can quickly see that quotes appearing in the Daily Express story are lifted directly from the institutional news release.

That is not good journalism, especially when there are no independent perspectives in the story.

A paper, published in Nature this week, is what kicked off the food chain – leading to the Joslin news release, which led to the news coverage.

In 2015, we’ll be taking a closer look at the contamination of this food chain of dissemination of research news to the general public.  This is a prime example.

Stay tuned.


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Comments (3)

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Mary M

December 18, 2014 at 8:21 am

It’s already been covered.

I think that pretty much captures the whole thing.