32 Unhealthy Headlines, Annotated by Dr. Geyser

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January 11, 2016 by Dr. Geyser

Greetings! Iam Dr. Geyser! and I know nothing until proven otherwise. Let me be Frank with you about a few things.

  1. Iam not a doctor.
  2. The science is good.
  3. The headlines are not.
  4. Science writing is not science.
  5. Science writing is not scientific.
  6. Iam not a scientist.

The following headlines, for which I have provided my initial impressions in the humorously criticalistic form of brief annotations, are linked to their corresponding posts on Phys.org. I obtained these headlines from the landing page on Phys.org, on a single day last summer (2015). I have made no effort to read the posts attached to these headlines. For the goal of this study is to examine the styles, strategies and scientific content of headlines featured on Phys.org, independent of the actual content of their associated posts. The value of these critical annotations are not mine to determine, but rather belong to the community of science writers, bloggers, and even scientists, attempting to communicate their values via the internet. Headlines are capable of communicating values independently of their associated content – this is obviously true. More to the point, there is a supra-abundance of content on the internet, such that headlines may often become the primary substrate for communication between the root agencies associated with publication; which is to say, a) between the writer and the reader; b) between readers; and c) between writers.

In any event, Phys.org is a particularly egregious offender with regard to their headlines, as well as being a Frankly unprofessional purveyor of dysfunctional news, hosting many thousands of “articles” that merely reiterate, typify, and reduce to exceptionalist narratives the specific content of published scientific research. At the level of the headline, scientific publications are subjected to the most vulgar methods of genreification wherever they are repurposed as “news.” Phys.org is a particularly dysfunctional example of the sorts of errors communicated by writers of sceince-related news, and in that respect it is useful – as a case study, and a means of future self-criticism for those who choose to continue referring to themselves as “science writers.”

Headline 1. “Engineers create artificial skin that can send pressure sensation to brain cell

Neuroectoderm. I mean, duh. Since the nervous system and the skin both arise from ectoderm, there is nothing particularly exceptional about

Headline 2. “Supercoiled DNA is far more dynamic than the ‘Watson-Crick’ double helix

Very old news.

Headline 3. “Hubble sees an aging star wave goodbye

Anthropomorphism.

Headline 4. “A particle purely made of nuclear force

Particles are not forces. Pretty basic concept.

Headline 5. “A sex pheromone assembly line in Manduca sexta

Anthropomorphism

Headline 6. “What is quantum in quantum thermodynamics?

The word ‘quantum.’

Headline 7. “Latest experiment at Large Hadron Collider reports first results
Headline 8. “Measurements of dinosaur body temperatures shed new light on 150-year debate
Headline 9. “New insights into the dynamics of past climate change

Basic structure is dichotimization of past and present in terms of old and new. Knowledge derived from the close study of history must either be a contradiction, or something history at all.

Headline 10. “System that replaces human intuition with algorithms outperforms human teams

Group think.

Headline 11. “Genes involved in schizophrenia and obesity highlighted

What color?

Headline 12. “Chemical transformation of human glial cells into neurons

Biochemical? Biomolecular? Beakers for brains.

Headline 13. “Research offers new insight into light detection in vertebrates

Replace ‘research’ with… blogic? Oh, right, science is the only path to knowledge of reality.

Headline 14. “Researchers find more atmospheric rivers will hit western North America

Truly abominable use of words that already have meaning in normal contexts. ‘Stream’ is a little better, but this headline is simply inappropriate.

Headline 15. “Massive open online courses haven’t lived up to the hopes and the hype, professors say

Conflict of interest, perhaps?

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Headline 16. “Scientists solve structure of virus linked to diabetes, infant death, and neurological conditions

This is not the same as figuring out how the virus actually causes these problems. Both types of diabetes cause neurological conditions due to the build-up of glucose around nerves (type II) or ketosis (type I). Infant death could certainly be a direct consequence of type I diabetes. There is just too much ‘linking’ going on here, don’t you think?

Headline 17. “Climate change leaves its mark on the sea floor? Maybe not, study says

About as gullible as a Christian of the late Roman empire going out on a pilgrimage to discover the site where JFC wrote something dirty in the sand to offend educated know-it-alls who use their position of power to confuse and extort those who can’t read the law they are somehow supposed to know/follow.

Headline 18. “Huntington’s disease protein controls movement of precious cargo inside cells, study finds

Anthropomorphism.

Headline 19. “Researcher develops light-based tools to study the brain

The swinging flashlight test is still more practical, because even an idiot can do it.

Headline 20. “Catalyst combining reactivity and selectivity could speed drug development

As opposed to catalysts which slow down drug development…

Headline 21. “Sea level rise will swallow Miami, New Orleans, study finds

Anthropomorphism.

Headline 22. “Team finds that targeting sodium-potassium pump in fat cells may help reduce obesity

Maybe these will have more luck managing this absolutely essential membrane protein than they did uncoupling mitochondrial proton gradients using 2,4-dinitrophenol. The latter made the mitochondrial membrane leaky, leading to potentially fatal hyperthermia. Some of these tubby patients had to be cooled off in an ice bath, on account of the heat being produced by their mitochondria.

Dexedrine is another example of a potentially useful drug that was negatively affected by the medical community’s ongoing obsession over normal weight. The medical error here was not caused by the drug obsessions of the hippies or the beatniks, but rather by the zeal of physicians to treat what was then a primarily cosmetic issue. Obesity is not a disease, not a diagnosis.

“Are you on uppers, ma?”

Headline 23. “The world’s first female sex drug could spur similar meds

Um, yes it could.

Headline 24. “College students say prescription stimulants easy to find on campus

So are alcohol and marijuana, neither of which have ever improved my study habits. To be honest, every Thursday there was free drinks for an hour or two (I can’t remember precisely how long) at a bar right on my alma mater’s main campus. Coincidentally, this was only a few doors down from the medical school. Go figure.

Headline 25. “Neuroscientists decode the brain activity of the worm

It is truly astounding how many people are ready to attribute brain status to a little smudge of tissue in an earthworm, while ignoring the second brain in our gut. There are, in fact, a comparable number of neurons in the GI tract as there are in the human brain. Fuck your worms, bruh.

Headline 26. “Hormonal contraceptives safe after complete hydatidiform mole

Just so we’re clear, this is not a mole you might find on your husband’s back, and then harass him to have it checked “while we still have good health insurance” which inevitably means “for the next 10 years,” only to find out in the end that it was benign. Hydatidiform moles are non-viable embryos which implant in the uterine wall. A complete mole has the genetic equivalent of two sperm and no egg. A partial mole includes the genetic material from the mother’s ovum as well. Which is to say, a partial mole has more genetic content than a complete mole, for obvious reasons.

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Headline 27. “Study finds inflammation in the brain is linked to risk of schizophrenia

Another blogger had a post with a similar title, and together they irritated me enough to engage in this entire display of Frank-ness, top to bottom. I just have to be up front with you about all this shit, I don’t know why. Well, anyway.Nearly every disease is associated with inflammation, and inflammation itself is quite painful when it presents as a bona fide disease. The effects of the immune system on neuropathology seem to be a hot research topic right now, and so posts simply reiterating the content of an actual study the reader could read from the publisher’s website will continue to sound awfully similar. It is not the fault of Phys.org that journals charge for publications that are funded, at least in part, by public research grants made possible by our tax dollars.

Headline 28. “Pursuing links between inflammation and Parkinson’s, in lab and clinic

“Told you so.” See previous.

Headline 29. “Doctors use ultrasound waves to stop hand tremors

This article actually sounds interesting, and I believe the inclusion of “doctors” as the subject of this headline is appropriate. I have a feeling that much of the scientific crapulence on Phys.org is caused by a failure to respect the timeline of scientific discovery. The transition from ‘scientists discover’ to ‘doctors treat’ spans many years, and often enough ends in failure. Also, the very process of discovery itself spans multiple publications, and is further dependent on an entire research tradition dating back to a time when there were no scientists. So…

Many skin cancer patients skip routine self-exams

For those who do not have steady relationships, it is generally out of the question to ask a girl you invited over “for a drink” to check out your mole before you move on to more pressing matters. And God help you if you ask her once these matters have been resolved. I mean, gross?

Headline 30. “Girls’ happiness plummets as they reach teenage years, research reveals

I must have been a girl, then.

Headline 31. “Native Americans in Arizona had nation’s highest obesity and overweight rates, report finds

Maybe that’s because we treat them as if they were “Native Americans,” as if the ongoing incarceration of their spiritual (i.e. historical) past on reservations isn’t at all like institutional racism. We used to complain of Guantanamo Bay, but those prisoners had a land to return to. Native Americans are prisoners on their own land.

Headline 32. “Ten big energy firms vow to fight climate change

Unless this is a legally binding vow, there is little reason to report it. Go report on some terrible event happening in your home town, like when a library no longer has room for unpopular books, and has to decommission them. That kind of defeats the point of having a library, if all the old worthless books that we actually need someone to preserve are given away to make room for whimsically insufficient genres of escapist fantasies ordered to fight our own presenthood.

 

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