In this era of fake news, it's not uncommon for social media users – including the US president – to accuse journalists of doing bad work. Unfortunately, when it comes to reporting on scientific studies, these allegations are somewhat true. Science writers sometimes overestimate claims based on research findings, and now there is a Twitter account that just highlights a certain variety of these misleading stories.
The account @saysinmice Tweets about stories based on a study on mice to make statements about human health. It has existed for less than a month and only released seven tweets at the time of release, but it already has 24,600 followers (starting at 21,500 when I started writing this story). The scientist who runs this feed, James Heathers, has his own Twitter account. @Jamesheatherswhich, on the other hand, has only about 5,100 followers, although it has existed since September 2011 and spent more than 3,000 tweets.
Heathers is, according to his personal website, an Australian researcher at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where he works in the Computational Behavioral Science Laboratory. "I like methodology," he writes. "I develop novel techniques for analyzing data in the life sciences and the social sciences and compulsively tell people about it."
Maybe that's what inspired him to open Just Says in Mice. In any case, he seems to fulfill a need based on the speed with which he gathers followers and the concerns previously voiced by other researchers and academics.
"Let me start with a bold statement: a major problem for science writers is that they have difficulty communicating the truth," wrote Sharon Dunwoody, a retired professor from Evjue-Bascom at the Journalism School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2014 an article on Sci Dev Net. She says that reporters simply do not know enough about the various investigations they need to cover to pinpoint the implications, and suggests that writers should rather write about the weight of the evidence than to decide whether to make a specific scientific claim true. They argue that journalists should show both support and resistance to a given hypothesis and leave the final verdict to the readers.
For reporters, of course, there is not only the pressure to understand the story, to understand the facts correctly and to work on tight deadlines. Authors and editors must also make scientific stories relevant to the reader. This need leads to the sort of hyped claims that Heathers makes at Just Says in Mice. For the readers, it may not be so interesting to note that a particular development that seems to affect rodents is actually years away from the human research phase and even further removed from clinical use. Although these facts are evident in a story, the headlines that mislead readers often fail to make that critical distinction.
However, when Just Says publishes enough large publications in Mice with its damn tweets and turns out to be popular over time, in the short time since its inception, the word "mice" has been featured in many scientific headlines , And you will know why.
As far as quartz goes, rest assured that reporters here have long been told to be open about the limitations of scientific studies and that mice are in our headlines.