“Science” in the News

Screen Time Changes Structure of Kids’ Brains, ‘60 Minutes’ Says

This kind of stuff gets me agitated so quickly these days. Good on Bloomberg for at least attempting to present enough information to follow up on and see what’s actually going on. So many times I see this kind of story and there’s no author name, no study title, and/or no link.

In summary, that headline is based on preliminary data from the beginning of a study, not all the data from the end of it. In fact, I came into this ready to take a swing at 60 Minutes. That is, until I read the actual 60 Minutes piece for myself. I should have known better.

First of all, near as I can tell, 60 Minutes did not actually say anything to that effect. The article contains an interview with Dr. Gaya Dowling from the National Institute of Health, the organization doing the actual study. She’s the one who allegedly said it.

Dr. Gaya Dowling: It’s very fascinating.

The colors show differences in the nine and ten-year-olds’ brains. The red color represents premature thinning of the cortex. That’s the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.

Anderson Cooper: What is a thinning of the cortex mean?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: That’s typically thought to be a maturational process. So what we would expect to see later is happening a little bit earlier.

Anderson Cooper: Should parents be concerned by that?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know yet if it’s a bad thing. It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot.

Now that, that is science. The willingness to admit that we don’t know yet. The title of the 60 Minutes story doesn’t suggest a specific outcome, and the body doesn’t either, though I’m sure someone motivated to find one could do so. It does seem to want to point it in a slightly negative light, but that doesn’t have to be the takeaway.

So even reporting about science reporting is questionable. I didn’t expect to find such a moderate piece. So many times they take one or two lines from a study, not from the results, but from speculation about future use. Then they report it as “Scientists say Eggs Could Cure Cancer.”

It’ll be from some study that found a protein in a robin egg that resembles something that could theoretically work and skip over the intervening years of drug development and safety/effectiveness testing. They’ll point out it worked in this study of 20 mice so it’ll be ready in maybe 5-10 years.

If only things were that easy. I think we’ve been 5-10 years away from Fusion energy for longer than I’ve been alive.

Okay, I’ll set the pitchfork down now.


Y’all take care now, and remember, the internet said to put your phone down before it rots your brain. Just like the TV.

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