Two interesting items from Nature this week:
Much of the reporting I read on the mass shooting in the Colorado theater or the Sikh killings failed to mention the two most recent U.S. government studies of gun deaths. One found that people living in homes with guns faced "a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide" and a "4.8-fold greater risk of suicide," compared to those in homes without guns. The studies were reported in an editorial in the Aug. 9 issue of Nature.
You might be wondering why these studies were not referred to more widely, and the reason is that the studies--the newest major U.S. government research on the subject--were published in 1993 ad 1992, respectively.
"Ever since, Congress has included in annual spending laws the stipulation that none of the CDC's injury-prevention funds 'may be used to advocate or promote gun control,'" Nature reported.
This appears not in the news section, but in an editorial arguing for more research on guns. Congrats to the anonymous editorialist for a nice piece of work.
In the comment section in the same issue of Nature, two researchers took issue with news media over sensationalizing research on animal sexual behavior.
One problem was that stories about sex between males and females was often reported as gay, lesbian, or transgender behavior. These are terms that refer to human sexuality, and they should not be used to describe animal behavior, wrote the authors, Andrew B. Barron and Mark J.F. Brown. Such coverage "implies that homosexuality is some sort of illness," wrote the authors, who surveyed 48 newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles written about 11 scientific papers.
The analysis is not especially trenchant. The researchers do not give us examples of the offenses they are describing and their prescription to ease this kind of bad reporting is for researchers to be more careful describing their work. Not a huge insight.
They conclude with something that I believe to be wrong. "Ultimately, any one study can tell us about the sexual behavior of only the species under investigation," they say. Really? Then all those studies of C. elegans and mice and rats that we spend billions of collars on tell us nothing about other species? Treating cancer in mice tells us nothing about treating cancer in humans?
It's a bit of a muddle. And, what's worse, if you don't have access to Nature, it will cost you $18 to read the article. For that, you can buy almost four copies of the Sunday New York Times.