Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Coming live from the lab

It's been a while since I've done this, I've been remiss, I apologise. Blogging takes a certain level of commitment, and I've slipped! But soon I will be presenting an opportunity for new bloggers to join me, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, today's lab meeting was interesting both because of the chocolate cupcakes and because it was the first time I'd been to the lab's "Journal Club" where one of the lab members picks an interesting journal paper they've found and discusses it. This time it was not one but two papers, both published in the same journal within a few months of each other and both seeming to deal with exactly the same question: Does a wound cause hair follicle stem cells to contribute to tumour formation? What is fascinating is both why the journal chose to publish two seemingly quite similar papers so close together, and also the fact that one has a much "sexier" title than the other although both actually mean the same thing!

I'm learning a lot here about publishing in journals - but to be honest I couldn't really even understand the introductory paragraph of either paper. The interesting detail I gleaned was that the possible relationship between injury and cancer was first thrown up in 1863... which just gives an indication of the evolution of scientific ideas, that nothing happens in a week or even a decade, sometimes a question is put out there and over 150 years later it is still be investigated.

The discussion of these papers also touched on something that is particularly interesting to me: what aspect of this research reached the "public"? The researcher in the lab mentioned how he had told his girlfriend about the papers and she had immediately panicked and said "Does that mean when I get a cut I could get cancer?" This might sound like an overreaction, but then I googled to see what the press has made of these publication and I found headlines such as:

How a paper cut could trigger skin tumors

which is not in the least alarmist, eh?!

But, I have to say, it's not such a stretch from the titles of these papers to the headline of this article. However, I'm sure the scientists involved would never want a wave of public panic about paper cuts! So, an interesting point to ponder about science communication. Where's the disconnect? Whose responsibility is it? Any comments?



Anonymous said...

It's an interesting topic that's for sure and one that my colleague and I talk about often. We are amazed at the opinions and views of people in the science community when it comes to communication. It’s a loaded question for me, working right in the middle of them…

So in my opinion, it’s the responsibility of everyone. However, there needs to be considerable help from the institution. Marketing, writing and so forth are often not a match with people who do “coding” all day and look at models. I think the new developed Marketing team at Bristol Uni would be a great help. Let’s just hope they get utilised.

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Freya,
thanks so much for your comment! Am i allowed to ask where you work? Good point about the marketing team, I worked in public relations for a uni for a while, so yes, a lot will depend on a press release or I guess a web alert these days. But then again the news has to sound "sexy" otherwise no media will pick it up. Bit problematic, isn't it?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.