Sunday, June 11, 2006

Relevant and Irrelevent

Ace, taking a leave of absence, has some guest-bloggers filling in at the moment. There are two posts I would like to point out to you.

The first, by Mrs. Peel, highlights questions that good scientists should ask about the HPV vaccine that is getting a lot of media attention right now. Really, anybody should ask these questions, but for scientists to take anything the media says about science at face value is just inexcusable.

The second post, well, if you ever hated driving in front of Princess Peach because it could result in your being squashed into last place, you'll appreciate this post.

1 comment:

-Murphy said...

Most of Mrs. Peel's questions have since been answered, but I think it's a mischaracterization to claim that the scientific community is taking what the media has picked up at face value. The vibe I've gotten from it is that, as with nearly every scientific study that has implications in the culture at large, the media has attempted to relay the results using terms that the general populace can understand. It is a mischaracterization to call this a cervical cancer vaccine, but in every report by an actual scientific entity (and those by several news sources a few months back), this is referred to as a vaccine for HPV, which it is. In doing so, the media will tend to be guilty of misrepresenting some data, whether that's through an overzealous simplification of the complicated structure of scientific communications or through laziness or through sensationalism. It happens every time an astronomer spots something that might be heading generally toward earth, or any time some wacky article appears in the Times about magnetism making dogs healthy to the point of actually gaining super powers or something. I think the confusion over the fact that this is being billed as a cervical cancer vaccine despite the fact that the testing period was too small to determine the presence of actual cancer is based in this simplification. In the releases by Merck (as well as some of the better written journalism), it is consistently stated that what is absent at the end of the test period are pre-cancerous lesions. Does this mean that cancer has been prevented? No. But as that's an external sign that HPV is being fought, and it is known that HPV is the cause of 70% of cervical cancer, the conclusion that fighting HPV means fighting the cause of cervical cancer isn't that far of a leap.

But the implication that researchers have been resisting vaccine tests because the media tells them they're doing just fine is, I think, unfair.