This web page was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College
"The Gene for Crohn's Disease"
or is it?
Often when a new scientific discovery is made, the news media will exaggerate the published results in order to entice more people to read their publication. Writers may claim that a gene to cure obesity has been found or that a complex disease can be cured by taking a simple pill. If you read the articles published by scientific journals and written by actual researchers the stories are usually different. Monumental discoveries are made from time to time, but even the most exciting ones may take years to actually affect people's lives. The story is usually more complex than the media makes it out to be.
One example of this was the discovery of the gene that codes for Nod2, a protein that plays a role in Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease in a chronic intestinal inflammatory disorder that affects over 500,000 Americans (Hampe et al., 2002). The discovery hit the presses on May 22, 2001. Many headlines claimed that a cure for the dreaded disease had been found. In fact, only a small piece of the complex disorder had been uncovered. The purpose of this page is to analyze the differences between the coverage provided by the popular media and the scientific community with regards to the discovery of the Nod2 gene and its implications for curing Crohn's disease.
Coverage given by the media to the discovery of the NOD2 gene may have bent the truth slightly but, in general, no false information was given. The headlines often left open the possibility that this discovery would soon lead to a cure in the near future but no article ever claimed that this was true. One headline, for example, states, "New Treatment hope for Crohn's patients in gene discovery." (Ahlstrom, 2001) While this doesn't lie to its audience, it may lead readers to believe that scientists had claimed that the discovery was an effective treatment for the disease. The article explains that the discovery "shows a link between the immune response to microbes in the gut and the development of the disease," but does not claim that an actual treatment has been developed (Ahlstrom, 2001).
Also, the majority of the articles found in the media are shorter than those published in scientific journals. For this reason, they go into less detail about the discovery leaving the topic open for interpretation. Several articles were 300 words or less while most scientific articles went on for several pages (Ahlstrom, 2001).
To the credit of a few media sources, many articles are accurate and even explain some of the more complicated science behind the discovery. An article published in the "Science" section of The New York TImes describes many of the complexities of the disease using terms such as "monocytes" and "lipopolysaccharides." (AP, 2001)
The scientific community generally communicates ideas regarding scientific discoveries using more words but in a more accurate way. That was case with the discovery of Nod2. This distinction is visible not only in the text but also in the titles of many papers, comparable to a headline in a media story. An example of a science article title is "Association of Nod2 (Card 15) genotype with clinical course of Crohn's disease: a cohort study." (Hampe, 2002)
Often the introduction section of a scientific paper included qualifying statements regarding the complexity of Crohn's disease and the idea that many more discoveries regarding the disease would have to be made before an effective cure or treatment could be developed. This is something that the media sources tend to put at the end of an article or just leave out entirely (Maugh, 2001).
Another major difference between articles from scientific sources and media sources is that scientific sources often include data tables and figures that display raw data or representations of raw data. This allows the reader to draw conclusions about the data instead of just taking a writer's word for it. It is possible, even for scientists, to manipulate figures in order to support a certain conclusion, so these items should be examined carefully. Sometimes, figures included in scientific articles can be very complex and suggest that the "cure" for a disease is not simple (Fig. 1). These types of figures are not usually included in media articles because they are hard to understand and because they show the truly complex nature of genomics.
This picture was taken from NCBI search page http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/blast/Blast.cgi
Fig 1: This is the result of a BLAST search done with the 1621 base pairs that make up the gene for Nod2, located on chromosome 16. It is an example of scientific research that can be done on genes and gives an idea of how complicated the "whole story" of a genetic disorder can be.
The media tends to sensationalize a scientific discovery, but they often do it by leaving small pieces of information out, not by presenting false information. In this case, many media sources did not present all of the information but none made claims that were entirely inaccurate. Media sources are good for becoming aware of new discoveries, but to get a complete story you have to read a scientific article.
To learn more about Crohn's disease go to http://www.crohnsresource.com
Ahlstrom, D. May 22, 2001. New Treatment hope for Crohn's patients in gene discovery. The Irish Times. 6.
Associated Press. May 22, 2001. Gene is linked to Crohn's Disease. The New York Times. F10.
Crohn'sresource.com. 2001 <http://www.crohnsresource.com>
Elson, C.O. February 2002. Genes, microbes, and T cells - New therapeutic targets in Crohn's Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine. 346. 8: 614-616.
Hampe, J. et al, May 2002. Association of NOD2 (CARD 15) genotype with clinical course of Crohn's disease: a cohort study. The Lancet. 359: 1661-1665.
Maugh, T.H. May 22,2001. Gene Link to Crohn's Disease Found. Los Angeles Times. A15.
This page was designed by Graham Watson a senior Biology major at Davidson College
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