MAY 16, 2011. As I’ve been writing—and talking about, on radio—the strategy of gene research is exaggeration, especially when it hits the press.

I suggest you go to Drudge and pick up links to two stories this morning—one on obesity and the other on depression. In both cases, the headlines make it seem as if the controlling genes have been nailed down…but as you plow through the body of the text, the seams rapidly fray.

And in both articles, it’s clear that, whatever these researchers actually found out, treatment is years away. Which means, welcome to the memory hole. “Check back in a decade, we’ll be on to something else, another breakthrough, another song and dance in the media—while we’re spending billions of dollars.”

The headlines on stories like this should read: “Nothing here, forget it, minor achievement, we’re hunting in the dark, we need more funding, so we’re touting every step we take.”

Never has so much money been spent on so little.

What I want to know is, where is the gene for public-relations puffery?

Remember, in these bloated articles, look for words that indicate SEEMS LIKE, MAYBE, POSSIBLE, SHOULD, COULD, EXPECTED TO, and the like.

Okay. First piece from Reuters is headlined: SCIENTISTS FIND “MASTER SWITCH” GENE FOR OBESITY. Here are a few choice tidbits.

…and say it should help the search for treatments…”

…the regulating gene could be [a] target for drugs to treat…”

…seems to act as a master switch…”

We are working hard…to understand these processes and how we can use this information to improve treatment…”

My note to Reuters: “Hey guys, I’m working hard to do a lot of things. Where is my headline?”

Next, we move on to the blockbuster piece in the Financial Times ( on depression. The headline reads: SCIENTISTS FIND GENETIC LINK TO DEPRESSION.

Standard trumpet blaring.

Here are the text tidbits.

The discovery…is expected to lead to a better biological understanding of the condition and eventually to more effective antidepressants…”

…as possibly for the first time we have found a genetic locus for depression.”

…is likely to pin down the gene responsible…”

…which may be the basis for designing more effective antidepressants, though the pharmaceutical development process takes so long that new drugs could not be available in less than 10 years.”

So the next time a friend, trying to sound like a guy in a white coat who does research at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Well, you know, they’ve found the genes that control obesity and depression,” you can say, “BRAAAAP! Wrong.”

Of course, people like to deal in certainties, so they help the PR puff masters by ignoring all the MAYBES and SEEMS as they read articles about science.

I’m obviously in the wrong business. Anybody out there want to partner with me in launching a new company? We’ll only need a small amount of seed money. Then we’ll roll on federal and private funding. The name? MAYBE COULD BE INC.


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