Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poor Science Journalism

Although this is about a Daily mail article this is not about the Mail as such, it's simply a small example of the piss poor state of science journalism in this country.

Take a look at this story here

Relatively sensible in how it portrays the research but what is frustrating is its insistence on referring to these people being "immune" to cancer. You can't be immune to cancer, it's impossible. An immune reaction is something that your body produces in response to a foreign body, eg an infecting bacteria or virus. It involves the production of anti bodies, T cells and B cells (both types of white blood cell) in order to destroy that foreign body. Occasionally you can get an auto immune response, a disease where the body's immune system starts attacking parts of the body. eg some types of arthritis.

Cancer is when a cell in your body starts dividing and growing out of control, simple as that (although the causes are very complex). How can you be immune to that?

Now you could argue that in lay mans language "immune" is just taken as meaning that you can't get a certain disease. Fair enough, but surely the press have a duty to try and educate people in science? I don't mean lecturing them but simply ensuring that issues are explained using proper, if slightly simplified at times, scientific terms. Could this story for example have not been told in terms of a certain population having an extremely low rate of cancer and that this appears to be related to the lack of a certain gene that produces this growth hormone? that's quite simple isn't it?

It's a relatively minor example but it is indicative of the poor reporting of science in this country to the point where Jo Public who maybe hasn't been taught any science since they were 16 can be quite justified in not knowing what to think anymore.

This is just a short post as I have things to do but it is a subject that I feel the need to return to in the future. Watch this space.

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