Used to be, you needed a printing press and barrels of ink if you wanted to be heard in this world. Today, you just need an internet connection.
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to this Reuters’ article that essentially says glyphosate is to blame for every health issue known to man. I surfed around and found the original paper, which was published in a physics journal called Entropy.
Say what you will about journalists, but most of us are naturally skeptical. Maybe I have a double dose of skepticism being from the Show-Me State and all.
Anyhow, the first thing that jumped out was the fact that the papers authors are an “independent scientist and consultant” and an MIT computer science professor. O.K., we’re making accusations about a chemical compound causing health issues, but we don’t have a biologist, chemist or doctor as an author?
Clearly, this is one of those data point studies, where they pull a bunch of data and connect the dots. As many good scientists know, correlation does not equal causation.
That said, there was another oddity about the article: it didn’t include any data. Remember the high-fructose corn syrup study that looked at rats’ weight gain? The study compared apples and oranges, but at least it had data. You just had to read into it until you realized the data and the summary said two completely different things.
After spending an hour or so looking at this glyphosate study, I rolled my eyes and found a better use of my time. Then I saw a blog from Monsanto. Essentially, it points out that the scientific community is a bit outraged at this glyphosate study.
I read a couple of the scientific blogs that have taken aim at the study. Science 2.0’s Hank Campbell lays it out clearly in his post. Near the end, he makes some terrific points about the ease of publishing in today’s internet world.
Sure, just about anyone can publish a “peer reviewed” scientific paper these days. And, it is absolutely possible to get major media outlets to run sensationalized summaries of said research.
However, there is a growing group of scientists who are willing to strike back these days. They’re sick and tired of half-truths being published by self-proclaimed experts. Kudos to them.
To the media-consuming public out there, watch yourself. Our 24/7 news cycle naturally diverts attention away from the backlash of shoddy research. Today’s hottest bit of scientific news will be a blip on the radar tomorrow morning.