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What Makes Science News Newsworthy?

"Our results suggest that a genetic enhancement of mental and cognitive attributes such as intelligence and memory in mammals is feasible." This sentence, from a scientific paper published in the Sept. 2 issue of the international journal Nature by the laboratory of Joe Tsien of Princeton University,1 ignited a firestorm of publicity. The study, using genetically modified mice (I'll get to the actual scientific findings in a moment), was reported as news by major print and broadcast outlets. T

Susan Fitzpatrick



"Our results suggest that a genetic enhancement of mental and cognitive attributes such as intelligence and memory in mammals is feasible."

This sentence, from a scientific paper published in the Sept. 2 issue of the international journal Nature by the laboratory of Joe Tsien of Princeton University,1 ignited a firestorm of publicity. The study, using genetically modified mice (I'll get to the actual scientific findings in a moment), was reported as news by major print and broadcast outlets. Time, in a Sept. 13 feature inspired by Tsien's research, asked, " ... should we use genetics to make people brainier?"2

For me, the Nature article and the resultant media frenzy raises a more disturbing question. Although the sentence quoted above is provocative, the actual scientific findings, building on several years of research, are not what one could call revolutionary. What was it about this particular scientific study, as opposed...

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