The Sciences

Spinning Science On Its Head

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJun 1, 2007 5:26 PM

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It never ceases to amaze me how research may be portrayed through the lens of pop culture. Although I often argue that the right 'spin' in a science story allows it to appeal to broader audiences, certain efforts only leave me dizzy. Here's an example.. The Research: Dr. Benjamin Hayden at the Centre for Neuroeconomic Studies at Duke's School of Medicine published an article with his team in this month's Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Findings were relatively inconsequential, suggesting what we already know: Men place higher value in looking at the opposite sex than the ladies do. [Quick.. someone notify Flint and Hefner!] So why is this work significant? Because the research incorporates a new kind of economic methodology which may be useful with behaviors difficult to quantify like social decisions. Bravo Doc Hayden!

Media Circus 'Spin:' "These findings shed light on why men are much greater consumers of pornography than women and why sales of Playboy have always exceeded those of Playgirl." And with that, the good doctor was inundated with calls, gave a radio interview, and even made the very front page of the UK's Daily Telegraph! Curiously though, all this publicity, yet little mention of economic methods. Thus, the principle purpose of the Hayden et al. article was missed when the appeal of 'findings' seemed a better sell. You see, 'spin' can make or break how we perceive important research and novel ideas. It should be the responsibility of reputable media to foremost get the paramount message across in an engaging way. Besides, the real science story is usually 'sexy' enough with the right narrative. posted by Sheril R. Kirshenbaum

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