Each form of press is helpful to the public discourse if it serves two purposes: 1) Does it accurately convey the data of the study? 2) Does it force the reader think critically about the issue?
As specified in the Scientific Journal Publications section, the review article and the single study article both convey data in a way that the other cannot. The review article looks at the asthma from a broad perspective, with many factors in context, while the single study presents details of measurement and objective raw data. Because both the review article and the single study article state the method in which information was obtained, they accurately depict the truth of the scientific scope of knowledge.
The single study article forces the reader to think critically about the asthma because objective raw data is presented. This allows the reader to question conclusions drawn by the authors. The review article forces the reader to think about ADAM33 in a larger context to see if conclusions drawn from single studies fit in with other studies that make up the growing picture of what is actually going on at the molecular level.
The BBC News articles however fail both prerequisites for helpful public discourse. First, the article Gene Causes Many Asthma Cases changes the story while the article is being translated from science jargon into non-scientific terms. The article claims that, - Scientists have pinpointed a gene which has been found to be a major cause of asthma in a significant proportion of cases. - In reality ADAM33 has only been associated with asthma through positional cloning (1). While some studies have looked at polymorphisms of ADAM33 and decreased lung function, we are yet to identify the molecular mechanism through which ADAM33 contributes to chronic asthma, COPD, or a decreased FEV1 (2). Another subtly that is lost in the aforementioned statement is the degree of variability in ADAM33 mutations and polymorphisms. Many different SNPs of ADAM33 produce remarkably different phenotypes (3), not all of which correspond to decreased lung function. The failure of the BBC article to identify these subtleties oversimplifies the truth and misinforms the reader.
The BBC article Gene Causes Many Asthma Cases also claims that asthma is caused by an allergic reaction leading to inflammation of the tissues of the lungs. In reality there are two major known components of asthma: inflammation and bronchio hyperresponsivness (BHR) or dysfunctional airway smooth muscle. Also, epithelial damage and an impaired ability to activate mesenchymal cells for effective airway remodeling is surfacing as a third phenotype of chronic asthma that does not respond to bronchodialators or corticosteroids (1). Stating that asthma is caused by an allergic reaction that leads to inflammation is a drastic simplification because inflammation is only one phenotype in a case of asthma.
Gene Causes Many Asthma Cases also states that asthma is linked to environmental factors such as animal fur, pollens, fungi and dust mites. As stated above ADAM33 polymorphisms are linked to asthma as well however the authors chose to use the word cause when describing the genes effect on asthma. This is misleading because the actual cause of asthma is unknown and most likely a combination of both genetic and environmental stimuli. (3)
In addition to providing misleading information the BBC news articles fail to help the reader think critically about asthma and genomics. The majority of both articles are quotes from the program director and members of various related organizations expressing their excitement about the discovery. While the quotes produce a feel good story, there is no basis for the reader to objectively come to their own conclusions. Also lacking is a description of the results and methods. Readers of the BBC articles have no idea of the context in which the data that make up the authors conclusions were obtained.