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Sensational Science: Memory Expansion and the Purpose of Happiness
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Sensational Science: Memory Expansion and the Purpose of Happiness

Maybe it’s the summer heat getting to reporters’ heads.  Or maybe not.  Below I’ve outlined a couple of other recent examples of how the headlines that the popular press shares with the public don’t always match up with what the scientific press actually reports. Or, as in most cases, how the report is twisted in such a way to make for a good “story”.

 

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The Gist: “Scientists have created a chip that allows rats to instantly know things. It’s amazing.”

The Study: A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory

The Twist: The scientists isolated an area of the brain crucial for long term memory function in lab mice, and were able to block memory formation with drugs. They then developed an implantable device that mimics the memory formation circuit. While on the drugs with the device implanted the mice were able to remember things. They didn’t download jiu-jitsu into someone’s brain- they allowed memories to form after artificially blocking their formation.

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The Gist: Tasmanian devils are dying off due to a virus like cancer, but American conservationists have sequenced their genome to fight the disease.

The Study: Genetic diversity and population structure of the endangered marsupial Sarcophilus harrisii (Tasmanian devil)

The Twist: The researchers did, indeed, sequence the Devil’s genome. However, they’re not looking to “fight” the cancer. All they hope to do is genetically identify individuals that are resistant or immune to the disease, quarantine and raise them in captivity until the disease runs its course in the wild, and then release them.

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The Gist: “It’s possible that there’s a general awareness among primates that happier individuals tend to live longer, and that longevity might be a desirable trait in a mate.”

The Study: Happy orang-utans live longer lives

The Twist: The study had nothing to do with evolution, genetics, or mating. Instead, scientists rated the animals on how happy they seemed on a subjective scale. They found that those who were happier lived longer- that’s all.

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The Gist: Scientists have coaxed unicellular brewer’s yeast into a multicellular version. This evolutionary step only took two months: “This suggests that the evolutionary leap to multicellularity may be a surprisingly small hurdle.”

The Study: Experimental evolution of multicellularity.

The Twist: The jump to multi-cellularity was prodded by centrifuging down liquid cultures and selecting for any clumps that formed. As critics have pointed out, brewer’s yeast (you know, evolutionarily speaking) were once multicellular. So it’s possible the cells didn’t evolve, but had long dormant gene expression brought back out by this selection process.

 

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Nick Fahrenkopf is a Ph.D. candidate studying nanobiosciences- applying physics and engineering concepts and techniques to biological and medical problems. Outside of his research he enjoys curling, and resists the urge to dig too far into the science behind it. Always skeptical, he enjoys debunking email chains and digging deeper into popular science articles and blog posts. Follow his most random thoughts on science on Twitter.

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Need to catch up with other recent Sensational Science headlines?

Why It’s a Great Time to Be in Science

The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine?

Army Origami to Space Infections

Scientists Make Computers with Gold and DNA

Researchers Link Processed Foods to Lower IQ in Kids

Science Proves Keeping a Diary Makes You Smarter

Facebook Stalking can Actually Kill You

Alcohol More Harmful than Heroin

Mexican Beer Dermatitis: Booze Plus Lime can Cause Nasty Rash

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Seen any other sensational science headlines recently?

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. phosphofan

    wrote on July 14, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    So I guess the formula to becoming a famous science journalist is: A) read or hear of an interesting research result, B) place the result in a blender and shred for 1 minute, C) ask a unicorn to carefully reassemble the letters, D) publish.

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