Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Illiterate science journalism at Morning News confuses nature and nurture

In a health story today at The Dallas Morning News, (don’t forget the initial capital!) freelancer (I’m sorry, “special contributor”) Elsa K. Simcik made a whopper of a mistake on nature vs. nurture. She says:
Reed also didn't realize that being African-American automatically put her at high risk for developing colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society Web site, “African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States.”

Yes, but there is NO definite evidence linking anything genetic in African-Americans to the higher colon cancer rates, therefore, Martha Reed was NOT “automatically” anything.

There are a variety of environmental risk factors, to be sure. Lower screening rates and detection often being in more advanced states of cancer both contribute to the higher fatality rate. Traditional black foods, higher in saturated fats and lower in fiber, are certainly likely contributory to higher rates of occurrence.

BUT … those are all “nature” factors, not “nurture” ones.

As for claims of genetic-driven difference, all of them are weak at this stage, and even if they do pan out with more research, nonetheless, their effects will be seen as much smaller than the environmentally-caused ones.

I know the Snooze got rid of its fantastic science editor, Tom Siegfried, in what seems like an eon ago. But, that’s not an excuse for not having at least a staff writer with some science writing doing this story.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

That said, per some recent writings of his post-Snooze career, Tom Siegfried has turned out not to be as fantastic as earlier recalled.