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Genomics in the Media

News Articles in the Popular Press

The popular press should convey the context, methodology, and often non-linear, frustrating process of research, while presenting the information in a way understandable to a lay reader (Kua et al., 2004). A proposal for a model science news article includes having a good translation of the research understandable by the public, noting “social and ethical implications” and significance of the research, and providing current scientific context, applications, and future avenues of research (Kua et al., 2004). However, news articles often cut too much out of the research process or past/future scientific context/background, and instead rely on sometimes vague,“isolated facts” to summarize the research significance (Kua et al., 2004).

Below are summaries and critiques of two news articles based off off the Burt 2009 study. Overall, the two articles were concise, but sometimes misleading in summarizing findings and main points for the more general public audience. Both articles are similar in their order and wording, but showed difference emphasis on some topics like the concept of evocative gene environment correlation. Both give minimal credit to past work of other researchers regarding the same topic. Both do not emphasize enough some of the uncertainties and caveats of the original study.


Click here to see the news article.
Popularity Gene Found?
By Daniel J. DeNoon WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The article published in WebMD Health News unfortunetely begins and uses throughout the article the term “popularity gene,” which implies that a single gene is directly linked to popularity (DeNoon, 2008). The misnomer is clarified by stating that genes mediate specific behaviors, which mediate social status/popularity; however, the theory of evocative gene-environment correlation is not mentioned by name (DeNoon, 2008). A very brief description of 5HT2A cites one of Burt’s earlier studies to link certain types of 5HT2A to more popularity; however, no credit is given to the past efforts of other researchers as seen in the original journal article, nor is there enough context or knowledge regarding the ties between popularity, RB, and genetics (DeNoon, 2008). The article abruptly transitions to the associations found between popularity--adolescent RB and RB impulsivity--serotonin levels, which similarly leaves out acknowledgement of previous studies that have supported these associations (DeNoon, 2008). The paragraph on the methodology conveyed the main ideas in a few sentences, but leaves out many details like how RB was scored (DeNoon, 2008). The method description conveniently leads into the conclusion that the popularity gene is found in those with RB, and those with RB were more popular (DeNoon, 2008). ¬†For the sake of conciseness, uncertainties in genetic variations and other unknown mediators affecting popularity mentioned in the original journal article are left out; instead, the article emphasizes the uncomplicated linear path of the popularity gene--RB--popularity (DeNoon, 2008). One redeeming aspect of the article was that the conclusion mentions that further research will look beyond adolescent males and into what mediates female popularity, and what other aspects might mediate popularity in general (DeNoon, 2008).


Click here to see the news article.
Genes May Influence Popularity, Study Of College Students Finds ScienceDaily
(Dec. 22, 2008)

The second article published in ScienceDaily shares much of the same content and fallacies as the article in WebMD, but has some improvements. This article does not mention the misleading term “popularity gene” like the WebMD article (Michigan State University, 2008). The best aspect of the ScienceDaily article was that it emphasized several times the study’s accomplishment of being the first study to illustrate the concept of evocative gene-environment correlation, which was helpful in informing/situating the reader (Michigan State University, 2008). The ScienceDaily article includes the evocative gene-environment correlation by name while the WebMD article does not mention it; however, the ScienceDaily article does not mention the gene name 5HT2A nor anything about serotonin, while the WebMD article does mention those terms (Michigan State University, 2008). One mention is made of other research on the association between popularity and RB, but there is still not give nearly enough context of previous research compared to what was included in the journal article. The description of the methods is unfortunately very short and does not give very much information about how data was collected (Michigan State University, 2008). The conclusion of how a gene is associated with rule-breaking behavior, which is linked to popularity is better situated in this article because the previous text dedicated much to explaining the concept of evocative rGE (Michigan State University, 2008). Like the WebMD article, the ScienceDaily article did not mention the uncertainties concerning genetic variation between the sample groups, as well as other unknown mediators of popularity in addition to RB. Similar to the WebMD article, the ScienceDaily article also notes that further research will look into other mediators of popularity (Michigan State University, 2008).



Kua, Eunice, Michael Reder, and Martha J. Grossel. "Science in the News: A Study of Reporting Genomics." Public Understanding of Science 13.3 (2004): 309-22. <>

Michigan State University. "Genes May Influence Popularity, Study Of College Students Finds." ScienceDaily 22 December 2008. Accessed 20 January 2011 <>.

DeNoon, Daniel J. "Popularity Gene Found?" WebMD - Better Information. Better Health. Web. 22 December 2008. Accessed 17 Jan. 2011. <>.


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