A lot of science geeks enjoy lambasting the press for their excessive use of hype in reporting science and medical news. The excellent Bad Science blog specializes in this sort of media skewering, as do several ScienceBlogs writers and other science bloggers.
One problem with all this finger pointing is the fact that scientists and doctors often infuse quite a bit of hyperbole themselves whenever they discuss their research. The discussion section of any paper is often where the forest of wild tangents lives. This is especially true with basic science research where they use this section to say “See! See! Our research is relevant too! It’s worth the funding since it’ll lead to new cures for the Whathaveyou Syndrome.”
Case in point, I was recently gleaning a few recent cocaine research study news releases and I noticed a distinct lack of reality with the conjecture. All these come from Science Daily which prints articles in their original form from universities and research organizations. This all hyperboles are coming straight from the horses mouth.
“We have a brain hard-wired to appreciate rewards, and cocaine and other drugs of abuse latch onto this system. We are looking at the potential for new medications that reduce the brain’s sensitivity to these conditioned drug cues and would give patients a fighting chance to manage their urges.” (Subconscious Signals Can Trigger Drug Craving) 1
“Based on this study, it appears that promising new therapies for addiction may be based on treatments that mute the desire to escalate cocaine intake by blocking the elevation of brain reward thresholds produced by chronic cocaine use.” (Research Helps Explain Why Perception Of Pleasure Decreases With Chronic Cocaine Use) 2
Anyone with an ounce (28.3495231 grams) of scientific skepticism can see right through any of this, tear into the meat of the study, toss out the wild tangents, and hunt for connections to broader theories and future research ideas. This however is not the journalist’s job. There job is to make the science seem more like SCIENCE!
SCIENCE! journalism — as opposed to science journalism — is useful for keeping science interesting and relevant to the public at large, and hopefully inspiring the next generation of scientists. Of course, it also has it’s problems in that distorts the science, but as I mentioned, scientists are pretty good at doing that themselves.
- I.E., put the addict on an antipsychotic (aka dopamine antagonist). Antipsychotics have fun side effects like the desire to sleep a lot, reduced libido, weight gain, and a general anhedonia (they don’t get too exited about anything). Sure it may deaden the cravings (and possibly protect D2 receptors), but will addicts really willingly take a drug that makes them feel like they are in continual withdrawal?
- I.E., somehow get the addict to take some sort of anti-psychotic when they are in the middle of their drug binge — even better if it’s their first drug binge. Sorry to burst your bubble but this ain’t gonna happen.
- The cocaine vaccine while not a panacea shows some promise — if ethically awkward. I’ve been meaning to write something on it but I want to put a bit more research into that post.