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Communicating Scientific Literature to Specific Audiances

The dissemination of scientific findings to the public can be a daunting undertaking. Scientific literature is often full of dense jargon that the general population does not have the time or skill to understand. Unpacking and translating the literature is a task that is left the science writing journalists. These journalists must wade through the deep, confusing, and often treacherous seas of an ever expanding pool of information to distill and report the most recent and exciting findings to the public. The journalists that do this reporting often come under fire for violating the unspoken rules that govern science journalism; what most don’t realize, however, is that science writing in the popular press must span two, often times contradictory worlds with contradictory sets of rules. To make matters worse both scientists and the public at large harbor large egos. Put simply, it’s a miracle that any scientific journalism ever takes place to begin with.

This leaves us with the question: what does a good popular press article look like. Kua, et. al. (2004) asked this very question and created a generalized guildline for science writing based on what has been shown to be most effective. the three guidlines are to focus on the facts, the methods and the sociology or culture of science (Kua et. al. 2004). Only by effectively communicating these three aspects can a journalist fill the roles of being the “intermediary, a watchdog, and a tool-giver (Kua et al 2004)”.

Kua et. al.’s article will be used to compare selected research and the accompanying popular press. This comparison will help to serve as a model for how information must be communicated differently depending on the audience concerned.

Scientific Journal article: “Variant of TREM2 Associated with the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

-All information used in the following section has been paraphrased directly from within the paper-


Alzheimers disease is the most common form of dementia. Most of the identified variations are involved in pathogenesis and early onset of Alzheimer’s, while only one variation is linked with late-onset Alzheimer’s. Therefore this research was done with the goal of identifying variations associated with Alzheimer’s risk.


The researchers drew blood and other samples from populations of patients and controls from Iceland, Emory Ga., Norway, and Germany. Alzheimer’s was diagnosed by different tests, which were specific to the region. Controls were identified as people who had no signs of Alzheimer’s development after being tested by the region specific Alzheimer’s test.

The data was generated and analyzed using Whole Genome Sequencing, SNP calling and Imputation.


After excluding the known variants that are associated with Alzheimer’s: the ApoE variant, only the rs75932628 variant showed a genome wide association. This variant is a specific allele that encodes a R47H substitution.


This figure compares the gradual loss of cognitive performance between the control groups (noncarriers, blue line) and the Carriers (Carriers, red line).


Interesting fact: of four homozygous individuals two had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while two had not.


This variation affects the receptor for amyloid in microglia cells. A hallmark for Alzheimer’s disease is inflammation which is a result of amyloidogenes (the creation of Amyloid). TREM2 expression is induced in the presence of Amyloid plaques, and phagocytosis of amyloid ensues. Another very important aspect of this process is the link that TREM2 provides to the immune system: microglia can stimulate CD4+ cells, self-present antigen, and TREM2 has been shown to inhibit macrophage response to TLR ligation – allowing infiltration of tissues without promoting inflammation. This suggests a functional role supporting TREM2 variation in pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s.

Popular Press Article: “Alzheimer’s Tied to Mutation in Harming the Immune Response”

Image from New York Times

The popular press article “Alzheimer’s Tied to Mutation in Harming the Immune Response”, was published in print in the New York edition of the New York Times paper, on page A24. This article primarily discusses recent findings in the field of Alzheimer’s research. The article discussed the gene TREM2 and how it was implicated in Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and how its role integrates two systems that were once considered separate.

Deconstruction using Kua, et al. Recommendations


Good, The author does a good job in the first few paragraphs situating the reader into the current focus of Alzheimer’s research, and effectively summarizes the importance of the research being discussed.

Clear contextual characterization of findings


“the other gene found to raise the odds that a person will get Alzheimers, ApoE4, is much more common and confers about the same risk”

This situates the reader in the current level of understanding surrounding the most recent research

Discussion of scientific methods

Lacking, some methods are given but they are not discussed. The methods that are given are confusing.

“The researchers searched for people who had a mutation in just one copy of TREM2. To Their surprise, it turned out that these people were likely to have Alzheimers disease”

Discussion of methods is lacking, How were the people searched for? How likely was this result? Were their pertinent statistics?

Faithful reporting of the findings (no change of emphasis or omission of qualifying statements)

Mostly good.

Overgeneralization of contextual understanding is present: 1) the paradigm of the systems involved is discussed and a definitive role of TREM2 is indicated (this may be an oversimplification of the scientific process).  2) Studies in mice are cited, but it is not mentioned that mice are not perfect analogs for people.

These are minor, as the author does mention that more research is required.

Acknowledgement of science as a circuitous path

Very good. The author provides adequate discussion of background and discusses the scientific process that led both research groups to their discovery

Background of researchers

Very good. The Author stories both research groups and reveals their previous biases.

“’I was of the opinion that the immune system would play a fairly small role, if any, in Alzheimer’s disease’ Dr. Stegansson said. ‘this discovery cured me of that bias.’”

By doing this the author reveals information about the scientific process leading to discovery and the “culture” of science.

Some background of the culture of science

Very good. See above

Previous research (Background of the field)

Good. Excludes areas of research other than the most pertinent to the research immediately being discussed. Could have included more active fields.

Inclusion into the puzzle solving aspect of science

Very good.


Strengths: This Article does a very good job in communicating many aspects of the scientific process and communicates the findings adequately. The public, after reading the article will be up to speed on TREM2 effect on both the brain and the immune system. The article also does an exceptional job in revealing how the scientific process works: the background in the steps leading to the simultaneous discovery of TREM2 was the strongest aspect. This background effectively involves the reader in the discovery and helps to communicate the complicated paths taken during research. The article parallels the scientific journal article well and even helps to point out the integration of the brain and the immune system in a way that is more accessible to a budding scientist than the scientific article. The journalist has done an outstanding job in performing her role as intermediary (Kua, et. al. 2004) .

Weaknesses: There are, however, some clear failings of this article that are common in scientific reporting.  The methods and how the research was actually conducted are largely missing from the paper. This has the effect of simplifying the process and weakening the validity and importance of research. How were the genes mutated? How, exactly, did they find the gene responsible, was it by association with other genomic markers, was it done through sequencing particular sequences, How? Omitting the methods of research can obscure important information and create lingering questions. While the omission of methods effectively allows the author to cut down on valuable space merely a mention of detail would be sufficient. Readers can easily search Whole-Genome Sequencing or SNP on Google to find easily accessible articles in Wikipedia to gain insight into the process. Excluding the reader from this aspect alienates them from the journey of science.

A good scientific article, however, must also do more than just translate (Kua, et. al. 2004). It must engage the reader. While this paper does a very good job in involving the reader in the scientific process and the story of discovery, it is hard to follow. The organization and conclusion of the article leaves much to be desired. There is little discussion of current research directions, and the discussion that appears is found in the middle of the article and becomes lost due to incorrect framing.

In-text error: When a gene is referred to it should be italicized i.e. The gene TREM2, is present. When the protein is being implicated it is left with no modification.

Given these inadequacies the author does a very good job in parsing the important aspects of the research. There is an exceptionally large amount of information, and our journalist fills her role as intermediary well and cut out a great deal of excess. Areas of improvement are communicating the methods, and organization for more effective presentation of data.


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Popular Press Article: “Alzheimer’s Tied to Mutation in Harming the Immune Response”

Scientific Journal Article: "Variant of TREM2 Associated with the Risk of Alzheimers Disease."

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Stegansson, Kari, et. al. "Variant of TREM2 Associated with the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease." The New England Journal of Medicine (2012): 1-10. Print.

Kolata, Gina. "Alzheimer's Tied to Mutation in Harming the Immune Response." The New York Times [New York] 15 Nov. 2012, New York City ed., 24A sec.: n. pag. Print.

Eunice Kua, Michael Reder, and Martha J. Grossel. 2004. Science in the News: A Study of Reporting Genomics. Public Understanding of Science. 13: 309–322.