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Thursday, 25 June 2009


DIUS, peer-reviewed press releases, psychics and Twitter. All the latest natter on ABSW-L.

The DIUS is no more! Long live the DBIS! Yes, the short-lived DIUS (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) has been merged with the BERR (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) to form the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. No-one is quite sure what the change will mean, or how many more acronyms we may have to remember in the near future. As Jon Turney wrote on ABSW-L, "DIUS, we hardly knew you (I'm still not even sure how to say it)."

Back in the real world, Mike Kenward heard a rumour that Eurekalert is changing its policy, blocking press releases that are not based on peer reviewed research. Could this really be true, he asked, and do you really want someone to weed out material that has not been through the process.

Kat Arney wondered whether such a change would affect the flurry of stories that come from conference abstracts over the summer. "I'm often asked for comments on cancer-related ones, but often all I have to go on is an abstract and a press release, neither of which usually provides a fantastic amount of scientific detail."

"There is outstanding research out there being presented at meetings and fair play to the journalists who snap up those stories," said Celia Kozlowski, "and there is also some utter crap being published in peer-reviewed journals - some of which is touted on Eurekalert."

Justine Davies agreed, "There is an awful lot of good research that doesn't appear in peer-reviewed publications because of pressures on space." She hoped that any discerning journalist would take into account the credibility of the researcher and have enough knowledge of the field to know whether the research deserves an airing. "A decent journo would surely also ask for an opinion of someone else in the field before writing a story?," she wrote.

As Celia put it, "Whatever Eurekalert does, it ultimately comes down to the science writer to sort the gems from the dross."

That reminds me of a press release Mike Kenward received, describing how "More and More Business Owners are turning to Psychics". It was not (unfortunately) as Ed Yong first read it, "Business owners turning to Physics", but marketing for Russel Grant's carefully selected team of Mediums. "Using psychics and mediums for business use is not unusual, in fact they are usually employed to suss out prospective employees, solve mysteries within the workplace or indeed work hand in hand with astrologers and Financial Directors to plot the business moving forward," it declared, to the amusement of Diane Stillwell and others.

Brian Owens received the PR too. "It didn't go into my junk mail folder, so obviously Apple thinks there's something in it. Maybe that's how they knew the iPhone would be such a success?"

Elsewhere on ABSW-L, Pete Wrobel highlighted a fascinating statistic from The Times: "The overall risk of having a crash falls by five per cent for every one mph reduction in speed." They didn't say what happens if you reduce speed by 21mph. This reminded Bernard Dixon of something he heard on a US radio station, "The announcer said there was a 50 per cent chance of rain on Saturday and a 50 per cent chance of rain on Sunday, so rain was certain (100 per cent) over the weekend." That would certainly explain the weather during barbeque season.

Finally, list members were once again atwitter about Twitter. There was much bemusement at the Telegraph's huge fail with Twitterfall, which once again prompted the question: "What the hell is Twitter?". I won't bore you with yet another Twitter discussion (for helpful links, explanations and examples read the threads here and here, but as Ed Yong put it: "Future of journalism or time-wasting narcissism depending on who you ask."

Mun-Keat Looi
News Editor
The Science Reporter