What makes science newsworthy?

The Question posed on LinkedIn.

“What makes science newsworthy?”

My comment:

For specialists: a new discovery or confirmed hypothesis. Eg inflation marker, fine details of element 117.

For the couch scientist & inquiring minds: anything written well enough to be interesting.
Eg practical uses of graphene, quantum mechanics, “Cosmos”, Neanderthals vs Cromags.

For the non scientist: discoveries and developments that have the potential to affect them directly. Eg faster car, climate change, room temp super conductors, fusion power.

The Erroneous Reporting of Science

I was flicking channels last night and came across an episode of Landline on the ABC.  Being broadcast at the time was an article entitled “Smell The Roses”.

Of most concern to me were the following words I heard shortly after tuning in “…we actually freeze dry the rose petals, they’re taken down to minus 20 to minus 40 degrees, which means it kills off all potential bacteria, diseases…”

As a microbiologist with over 15 years experience within the pharmaceutical industry, I happen to know a thing or two about preservation processes and the above statement is incorrect.

One of the aseptic manufacturing lines where I worked included a freeze drying chamber. Once the product was filled, it passed into this chamber where all the water would be removed at a negative air pressure and at reduced temperature. This turned liquid drugs into a powder which could be stored theoretically forever before use. To make the powder ready for injection, all the administering doctor or nurse needs to do is add water. The process is explained in the diagram below. I apologize for it being a quick and nasty sketch that is not to polished and to scale. Continue reading

Storytelling in Science

The Question posed on LinkedIn.

Many say storytelling in science is a great way to describe complex material in an understandable way for the masses. In this post, I will try to use an analogy to illustrate the complexity of a typical motile bacterial cell. Link to referenced article.

My advice:

Perhaps, as the blog suggested – write an abstract for Joe Public. As well as the article submitted to a journal, perhaps a press release or one page summary in very general terms as to what the study set out to do and what the conclusions were along with possible applications of the new knowledge (unless the study disproved something or was confirming another study).

The ABC’s Catalyst and Dodgy Science

Catalyst, a science digest program on the ABC, for the last three weeks has been running stories on the evils of sugar. I suspect a recent push by some nutritionists is the root cause. Not having the program constantly run stories about climate change is a nice change though – there is far much more science going on in the world than studies into humans increasing the mean global temperature over time.

Here’s a summary:

  • 3 weeks ago – diet and tooth decay
  • 2 weeks ago – how sugar is the new evil
  • 1 week ago – how energy drinks are dangerous

Continue reading

Anti Ageing Docco

This evening on SBS I watched a documentary about “the truth about” skin ageing. Half of the program appeared to be a plug for Unilever. They had conducted a study into a pill they say rejuvenates skin. This study included a few hundred women (so a fairly small sample size) and made some pretty weak claims based on the good old “before and after” photo. Nobody has independently reproduced or verified the study.

Another section of the docco detailed how “Loreal is the leader in producing artificial skin”. Even without looking up any info, I can tell you that is crap. There are a number of medical companies who are working on creating artificial skin, and most of them use discarded skin as a starter (so grow skin, even if the end product is termed artificial).

In the end, the docco did not deliver. Pleasingly, it did treat the viewer like they had an attention span and told four stories in order, with no jumping all over the place or summarising the entire program after the ad break.

I got the impression the presenter was relaying press releases from cosmetic companies, rather than providing real science. They did mention small sample sizes and whether or not the studies had been peer-reviewed.