Shooting crickets in a barrel

fieldcrickets

Is there really any point criticising gender-related MSM science “journalism” anymore? It has devolved into farce.

Alias-sqbr spotted this one on the ABC News site:

Men need carbs, women need meat: study

The wisdom of feeding the man meat has been thrown into question by a study that shows the secret to a long reproductive life in males is carbohydrates.

A study – published today in Current Biology – suggests it is females who should be pulling out the steak knife to ensure their reproductive fitness.

University of New South Wales biologist and study lead author, Dr Alexei Maklakov, says his study on Australian black field crickets

[…]

SFx: *squealing of brakes*

Er. Yeah. There’s your problem, right there.

Read the rest at the ABC, if you can be bothered.

Full points to anyone who recognises the screencap.



Categories: media, Science

19 replies

  1. Science reporting in most of the MSM is completely sucktastic. First the PR department of the university or institute where the study was done put out a press release. The PR people don’t necessarily know anything about science, but they do know what catches public attention, so they frame the study with that in mind, even if it has little or nothing to do with the actual results. The newspapers then pick up the the press release and print it verbatim, usually adding a catchy title that has even less to do with the actual research. Sometimes they interview the scientist, like they did in this article, where he sounds like he’s stretching pretty hard to extrapolate his cricket work to humans. People then read the fantastic claims and think that scientists are the ones promoting those conclusions. I suppose a study on cricket diet wouldn’t have made the news otherwise, though.
    Of course I will cite it anyway if anyone dares to suggest I shouldn’t be eating a nice rare steak.

  2. I’m going to guess James Bond on the screencap, even though I have no idea why.
    More junk science. They give it out like candy.

  3. More junk science. They give it out like candy.
    But this probably isn’t junk science. It is likely a perfectly decent study of cricket diet (the paper isn’t up at Current Biology yet, but I’d be surprised if it were really crap). What it is is junk science reporting that makes the public think it’s junk science.
    (Sorry, serious pet peeve)

  4. When they interviewed the subjects of the study,
    *Crickets chirping*
    Sorry, I’m just on a roll today. Boom-tish

  5. Peggy, did you read about the study about women “delaying” their births to get the baby bonus, when in fact a few people were putting elective caesarians forward? The study by Joshua Gans was a fairly dispassionate and practical, if nitpicking affair which concluded that this might be an issue just for hospital administration, bed availability and so on. Then the press got hold of it and ZOMG!!1! Selfish wimmen sewing their legs together!!!
    Perfect example of what you’re saying. As well as the crickets.

  6. Actually – the study by Gans and Leigh started out that way, then devolved into an evidence-free, poorly-thought-out OMGbabieswillbefatanddie!, before the press got hold of it. The press just made it worse, but the raw material was right there in the original paper.
    I should see if I can pull the original version of the crickets paper.

  7. Screencap is not Bond.

  8. Screencap is the teacher in Buffy who turned out to be a giant preying mantis, in the seduction of Xander scene, I think?
    I loved that ep. I’m not sure what that says about me.
    On the OMGFATBABEEZPANIC!!111 front, I came across a solely breastfed child whose mother had been instructed to ‘ramp back’ on feeding his 2 month old self, because his BMI was apparently too high. They’re in my parents group. D:

  9. Aphie: Points to you! Lots of them!

    *headdesk* on the breastfeeding ignorance. Was this a doctor, CHN, or other?

  10. But this probably isn’t junk science. It is likely a perfectly decent study of cricket diet (the paper isn’t up at Current Biology yet, but I’d be surprised if it were really crap). What it is is junk science reporting that makes the public think it’s junk science
    Tell me about it. I used to write press releases about university research, and when people got ahold of it, it often didn’t end up actually reporting what I had written about. It was very frustrating. I would go to all the work of translating a scientific paper into a 500-800 word piece appropriate for a general audience, and it would get all mangled by others.

  11. Helen: No, I haven’t read that paper. My impression is that studies involving human behavior are more likely to drift into unsupported speculation – or maybe it’s more that the press latches onto the unsupported speculation if it’s about human behavior.
    The cricket paper is now online. The only mention of humans is in the final sentence of the paper:

    Lifespan, reproduction, and fitness are subject to complex, sex-specific, and nonlinear relationships with the quantity and ratio of macronutrients, and these relationships involve a combination of factors, including reproductive performance and postingestive processing of nutrients consumed to excess. The intriguing possibility exists that a more thorough understanding of sex differences in the relationships between nutrition, reproduction, and longevity may even offer insights into sex differences in the nutritional challenges facing human populations and into sex differences in aging-related disease.

    That sentence doesn’t say anything specific at all, and it certainly doesn’t extrapolate the conclusions of the study to humans.

  12. I looked at that one at Science Daily today, thinking it might be interesting to write about for Broadsheet, until I got to PARAGRAPH FIVE, where they finally mentioned the crickets. Same brake-squealing noise over here.

  13. The intriguing possibility exists that a more thorough understanding of sex differences in the relationships between nutrition, reproduction, and longevity may even offer insights into sex differences in the nutritional challenges facing human populations
    I think that “the intriguing possibility exists” and “may even” are the bits that the journalist didn’t understand. There was a different squeal of tyres as the journo did a doughnut and fanged off into Speculationville.

  14. Lauredhel – was the CHN, I gather. I boggled. But then, I’ve also been told by same that the Tiny Tyrant shouldn’t be feeding more often than 3 to 4 hourly, and his 2 hourly feeding schedule is “wrong” and runs the risk of me overfeeding him.
    Yay the ubiquities of formula schedules & information!
    /thread hijack *ahem*
    Peggy, I think it could be argued that by virtue of the final sentence even being in the report, it contextually implies the findings could be extrapolated to apply to humans. I’d kind of expect a professional reporter to be more aware of that kind of stuff and not run away with it, though.

  15. Aphie, I’m probably taking a different perspective on this because I’ve read a lot of scientific papers (even written a couple). The way the line is written it is perfectly accurate, since the possibility does exist (even if small) that at least some findings of their work could be extrapolated to vertebrates – even humans. It’s kind of tacked on there, like a verbal tick almost. If they actually wanted to say that their study could be extrapolated to humans I don’t think they would have been coy; I imagine they would have stated that (with cites, of course), since that would have made the paper of interest to a wider range of readers.
    For an example of how reporters elicit quotes from scientists to “fit” the story they want to tell, check out this post at Shakesville. I’m at the point that I just assume any story about science in the MSM is only going to be peripherally related to the actual science.

  16. Ah, and I’m a Cultural Studies major Peggy, so yes, I think we’re coming at this from different perspectives.
    My point is; why does the original report (not the news story that runs away with itself, but the report you quoted) even include that sentence, if the authors were not meaning to *imply* the findings MAY be extrapolated to humans? What’s the point of that ‘verbal tick’? Justification for the study? An indicator of where the researchers wish to go?
    Without more information, I think that sentence could be read as the scientists’ extrapolation/hope the research could be applied to humans.
    Which doesn’t stop the news story from being overblown tripe and dreadful ‘reporting’!

  17. Peggy’s more of an expert about scientific papers than I am, but certainly I know that my own thesis in Applied Science (Physiotherapy) – on the biomechanics of lower-limb prostheses – would have been marked down severely if the conclusion had failed to speculate on avenues for further investigation. The broader the big picture painted the better was my impression at the time – the idea being to show how your work contributes to the field as a whole and may be something for others to build upon.
    Pretty sure that it is a convention of the thesis/journal article genre – if the conclusion doesn’t include such passages the reviewers will send it back for redrafting, yes Peggy?

  18. (Coming at this from both cultural studies and science backgrounds.) I think that scientists know there is a big wide world of difference between extrapolation and suggestions for further investigation, and most journalists don’t (and don’t care, and want the most sensationalist headline possible), leading to an complete breakdown in effective communication.
    It’s the same old “words mean stuff” problem rearing its ugly head again.

  19. Pretty sure that it is a convention of the thesis/journal article genre – if the conclusion doesn’t include such passages the reviewers will send it back for redrafting, yes Peggy?
    I think it’s pretty standard to include at least a sentence about the wider implications of your research, although how much that’s expected seems to vary from journal to journal and from field to field. Usually those kind of statements are more specific and less speculative than what Maklakov and colleagues wrote. It’s not even a suggestion for further investigation, since the kind of study they did isn’t really possible in humans – and scientists who study crickets are extraordinarily unlikely to start research on mammals. There’s no way to know what the scientists were thinking when that final sentence was added, but may have just been tossed onto the end of the manuscript with the thought that it would make the study sound more interesting to the general scientific population. And yeah “words mean stuff”, and words in a technical publication may mean different stuff than what they mean in a newspaper.
    Also, I would be surprised if the reporter who wrote the article actually read the original paper. Instead, it was likely based on this press release which does indeed make it sound like their research is directly applicable to human diets. This appears to be largely the fault of the University of New South Wales’ PR department.

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