This page was produced as an assignment for Genetics 677, an undergraduate course at UW-Madison.

Popular Press vs. Scientific Article Critique

              Both the Genomics article “Glutamate receptor metabotropic 7 is cis-regulated in the mouse brain and modulates alcohol drinking” and the Science Daily article “Gene that influences alcohol consumption identified” describe the findings of Vadasz et al. that a variant of the GRM7 gene directly influences alcohol consumption in mice (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). However, while both articles present the same findings, the writing style and level of detail provided by the articles is very different (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). Written as a scientific report, the Genomics article assumes the reader understands genetics and/or genomics and presents in great detail the experimental evidence that led to these findings as well as the impact these findings will have on our current understanding of the biological basis for addiction (Vadasz, et al., 2007). In contrast, the Science Daily article, written in the format of a newspaper article, assumes the reader knows little about biology in general (let alone genetics), and simply states the findings before briefly and broadly situating them in what is currently known about alcoholism (NIAAA, 2007). But while the Genomics and Science Daily articles are written very differently, both present the discovery of the involvement of Grm7 in alcoholism in a manner appropriate for their intended audiences (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). A scientist reading the journalarticle will want to know why the research was conducted, how the specific experiments were performed, the results of those experiments, how those results led to the conclusions made by the authors, and finally, what future work is needed. A lay reader, however, does not understand the scientific details and needs a “translation” of the primary scientific paper that conveys, in terms he or she can understand, “the new information obtained…and the methods used to obtain this information,” along with the context in which this research is situated (Kua, et al.,2004). Additionally, an article intended for the lay reader needs to be relatively brief, as a lay audience is not likely to spend a substantial amount reading said article. The Genomics article fulfills its intended role as a journal article meant for a scientist in the field, while the Science Daily article provides a translation of the science into terms the lay reader can understand (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007).
           
Due to the different levels of detail provided in the popular press and scientific articles, a reader of the scientific article understands much better than a reader of the popular press article how the discovery that a variant of the GRM7 gene directly influences alcohol consumption in mice was made (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007
). This is because, while the Science Daily article makes very general statements about the methods employed to uncover GRM7 and its role in alcohol consumption, the Genomics article provides a detailed description of all the methods and results leading to the conclusion that GRM7 is involved in levels of alcohol consumption in mice (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). Additionally, readers of the two articles will have very different levels of understanding about the specific impact this finding will have on our current understanding of alcohol and drug addiction, since the Genomics article goes into much greater depth about this than does the Science Daily article (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). However, despite these differences in detail, readers of both articles take home the same key points (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). The first of these is that variation in expression levels of GRM7 causes differences in levels of alcohol consumption in mice (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). A second key point conveyed by both articles is that this discovery was only possible because genetic background noise could be eliminated through the use of nearly identical mice (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). Finally, both articles communicate how this discovery contributes to the emerging idea that glutamate plays an important role in drug and alcohol addiction (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). While readers of the scientific article from Genomics will have a much greater appreciation than readers of the popular press article from Science Daily for the details of how GRM7 was identified as playing a role in alcohol consumption, both readers will understand what the new information obtained is, the methods that were used to obtain that information, and the context into which this new information fits (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007). Thus, while very different, both the Genomics article and the Science Daily article sufficiently convey, at a level appropriate for their intended audiences, the science (NIAAA, 2007; Vadasz, et al., 2007).

References

 

References

 

Kua, E., Reder, M., Grossel, M. J. (2004). Science in the news: a study of reporting genomics. Public Understanding of Science 13(3), 309. doi: 10.1177/0963662504045539

NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2007, December 6). Gene That Influences Alcohol Consumption Identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071205153142.htm

Vadasz, C., Saito, M., Gyetvai, B. M., Oros, M., Szakall, I., Kovacs, K. M., Prasad, V. V. T. S., Toth, R. (2007). Glutamate receptor metabotropic 7 is cis-regulated in the mouse brain and modulates alcohol drinking. Genomics, 90(6):690. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.08.006

 

Jennifer Wagner
wagner4@wisc.edu
Updated March 12, 2009
http://www.gen677.weebly.com