You see, as a scientist, I do a lot of pointing at things: I point at screens with laser pointers, at whiteboards with my finger, or even at other scientists when I'm laughing at their terrible hypotheses.
But that pales in comparison to how often I point with pins. So. Many. Pins. And as a neuroscientist, most of my pinpointing is at the brain:
Usually, we're pinpointing where in the brain things like love and snuggles are located. But sometimes we're more sophisticated. From the media, I have learned amazing things, such as the fact that:
- "...[S]cientists have pinpointed the part of the human brain that holds information momentarily about where things are located." Or that,
- "Scientists have pinpointed a source of nicotine craving in the brain, opening up a new path towards drug treatments to help smokers kick their habit."
Sometimes we pinpoint when in evolution things happened:
- "Scientists have pinpointed the single event that led to our world of plants and animals."
Sometimes we pinpoint naughty genes:
- "Scientists have pinpointed a key cancer-causing gene that, when overactive, triggers a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer to develop."
Sometimes we pinpoint mutations:
- "Scientists have pinpointed specific mutations that allow a common plant virus to infect new species..."
Sometimes we pinpoint hormones:
- "Scientists have pinpointed how a key hormone helps animals to recognise others by their smell."
But sometimes, it's not scientists who do the pinpointing. The media likes to shake it up and go crazy and shit. Sometimes they let researchers pinpoint things, too. (More naughty genes):
- "A... researcher has pinpointed the mechanism by which a gene associated with both autism and schizophrenia influences behavior in mice."
Or let "experts" pinpoint brainy regions about abstract concepts:
- "Experts have pinpointed the part of the brain that guides people when they are battling with difficult moral dilemmas, according to a study."
This serves as a reminder to science journalists: if you're going to write about a scientific finding, please don't forget to tell us, your readers, where that damned clichéd pin is pointing. Otherwise how the hell else are we supposed to understand science?
As a final note: those must be some pretty damn big pins. Because I guarantee, with stats like p = 0.05, those pinpoints are more like giant, fuzzy pinblobs. But then again, "scientists find suggestive evidence based upon possibly faulty statistical assumptions for..." doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Science is hard, let's go shopping.
Cohen, J. (1994). The earth is round (p less than 0.05) American Psychologist, 49 (12), 997-1003 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.49.12.997Courtney SM, Petit L, Maisog JM, Ungerleider LG, & Haxby JV (1998). An area specialized for spatial working memory in human frontal cortex. Science, 279 (5355), 1347-51 PMID: 9478894Fowler CD, Lu Q, Johnson PM, Marks MJ, & Kenny PJ (2011). Habenular α5 nicotinic receptor subunit signalling controls nicotine intake. Nature PMID: 21278726