Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Silly Science

          One of the first articles that our BioWriting class read was "'Shrimp on a Treadmill':  The Politics of 'Silly' Studies."  This article explains how often the media takes certain aspects of studies out of context and criticizes them.  Many reporters suggest the certain studies that are funded by the government are a waste of taxpayers' dollars.  Often the media does not get the full story.  For instance, yes, scientists did subject shrimp to a tiny treadmill; however the media missed that this study was used to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality.  This study was also linked to a half-million-dollar research grant; however not all of this money went to the shrimp treadmill.  In fact, maybe only $1,000 went into constructing this treadmill.  This article also explained that news articles criticizing research may be detrimental to the world of science because criticism may intimidate scientists because they are so dependent on federal funding.

          Many other studies have been criticized, like testing toenail clippings for nicotine content, evaluating the effectiveness of plastic surgery, or studying penis size.  Why are these studies actually being criticized?  A possible answer to this question revealed itself to me on my facebook page a few days ago.  One of my friends posted a status saying, "BREAKING NEWS...but really who are the people paying for studies like this?" with a link to an article entitled, "Plastic surgery does make you look younger, study finds."  Naturally curious, I read the linked article and the original article, "Perceived Age Change After Aesthetic Facial Surgical Procedures" to see if there was an underlying importance to this study that the news article had missed.  The original article describes how participants viewed pictures of sixty patients before and after facial surgery.  The participants estimated the ages of the patients both pre- and post-surgery.  On average, the participants rated the post-surgery pictures 7.2 years younger than the pre-surgery pictures.  The authors of the article suggest that the results of their study "can be used to facilitate informed preoperative discussions and to provide patients with a better sense of outcomes, creating realistic expectations."  Many may not see the importance of a study like this one.  As evident from my friend's comment on the article, some people are more upset about where the money is coming from to fund "insignificant" research.  Perhaps to eliminate unfair criticism of research, the funding of research should be more publicly displayed.  For instance, my friend may not have been as upset about the article if he learned that the research was funded by an aesthetics and plastic surgery company.  Perhaps the study didn't require much funding at all.  If this information is more publicly displayed then hopefully less criticism about the research would arise.  It is obvious that the relationship between research, media, and funding is not a flawless system.


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