I recently read a article on Jezebel explaining how science stories get twisted by the media into something almost unrecognisable, and certainly not true. While this may come as news to some people, I’m sure many researchers are aware of an incident where either their own work, or that of a colleague, has been twisted in a similar manner.
It made me think of a project I did back in undergrad. A friend and I were taking a course called Science and the Media, or something like that. Part of our grade was determined by a pair project in which we had to interview a researcher at the University and give a short radio presentation on their work. So we dutifully went and interviewed a biologist who was working on the effects of heavy metal poisoning on water snails. In particular, she had recently found that feeding the snails silica reduced the symptoms they displayed. The obvious spin to put on this was some sort of environmental or conservation perspective. It all felt a bit dull though, until we did a bit of random googling and found a few stories suggesting a link between heavy metals and alzheimers. Further investigation showed that this was hardly an uncontroversial link. Still no-one had disproved it, so it was still totally valid. Our next big breakthrough was when we realised beer is actually fairly rich in silicon. Now we had our headline: “Beer could cure alzheimers!”
Needless to say, we got a first on that project.
The best thing in our minds was that we had created a story that was undeniably false, and bore almost no relation to the research we were actually supposed to be reporting on, without technically lying. Of course since no-one beyond our class was ever going to hear our story (we conveniently forgot to pass a recording along to the original researcher, we had some shame), we didn’t expose anyone to our lovingly crafted bullshit who would be in a position to actually believe it. So imagine my surprise many years later to come across this.
It seems life doesn’t just imitate art, it also imitates undergrad projects.