Rotten Apples

3 September 2014 by Tyler Shendruk

Are you a scientist who thinks the media doesn't do your field of research justice?

Do you study differences in the brain related to gender?

If you answered “yes” to the first question but “no” to the second, you have no idea. I can't say anything specific because it involves another embargo but this morning I watched a neurologist present an argument against biologically intrinsic differences between genders. It was a clear and specific argument based on the plasticity of brains (at least I thought so) but one or two journalists were clearly fishing for “SCIENCE PROVES MEN AND WOMEN INTRINSICALLY DIFFERENT” type headlines. It was the first time that I was not impressed by the journalists around me. I should stress that most seemed to take the speech for what it was but it only takes one or two rotten apples. I should also say that there may be a little bit of room for a minor scientific debate on potential biological roots for behavioural differences but it did not seem like that was what these few journalists were looking for.

While we are on the subject of retreading over settled issues, an interesting piece was published in Trends in Molecular Medicine last month. David Gorski and Steven Novella wrote an article discussing whether or not the limited resources of the medical community should be spent applying the scientific method (specifically randomized clinical trials --- the gold standard in medical sciences) to test alternative medicines such as homeopathy or reiki.

Although, the scientific method demands that all claims are tested against reproducible evidence, Gorski and Novella (who are heavily involved with Science-Based Medicine and with sceptics groups) argue that scientists have limited resources and a responsibility to the public not to waste taxpayers' money.

You can hear a summary of the argument straight from Steven Novella on the 477th episode of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.