More Recent Comments

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Stupid Harvard press release illustrates the importance of author responsibility

Bonnie Prescott is a Senior Science Writer at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. She has written a press release concerning pseudogenes and cancer: Evolutionary Relic: Pseudogenes in the human genome may lead to cancer development.

Here are the first five paragraphs ...
Pseudogenes, a subclass of long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) that developed from the human genome’s 20,000 protein-coding genes but has lost the ability to produce proteins, have long been considered nothing more than genomic "junk."

Yet the retention of these 20,000 mysterious remnants during evolution suggests that they may in fact possess biological functions and contribute to the development of disease.

Now, a team led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has provided some of the first evidence that one of these noncoding "evolutionary relics" actually has a role in causing cancer.

In a new study published in the journal Cell on April 2, the scientists report that, independent of any other mutations, abnormal amounts of the BRAF pseudogene led to the development of an aggressive lymphoma-like disease in a mouse model, a discovery suggesting that pseudogenes may play a primary role in a variety of diseases.

The new discovery also suggests that with the addition of this vast "dark matter" the functional genome could be tremendously larger than previously thought—three or four times its current known size.
There are many things wrong with that description but I'm not going to elaborate. If you don't know what's wrong you probably won't be interested in this post anyway.

I want to discuss two rules that should be enforced for every press release.
  1. The press release must include the complete citation, including a link (doi). If This means delaying the press release for a day or two after the embargo is lifted then that's a small price to pay.
  2. The press release should always include a notice from at least one author affirming, in writing, that the press release is a complete and accurate report of the results and conclusions that have been published in the peer reviewed literature.
This press release did not contain a citation. In this case, the paper has been published online but there's no volume number or page number because it hasn't appeared in the journal. Here's the citation ...
Florian A. Karreth, Markus Reschke, Anna Ruocco, Christopher Ng, Bjoern Chapuy, Valentine Léopold, Marcela Sjoberg, Thomas M. Keane, Akanksha Verma, Ugo Ala, Yvonne Tay, David Wu, Nina Seitzer, Martin Del Castillo Velasco-Herrera, Anne Bothmer, Jacqueline Fung, Fernanda Langellotto, Scott J. Rodig, Olivier Elemento, Margaret A. Shipp, David J. Adams, Roberto Chiarle, Pier Paolo Pandolfi (2015)The BRAF Pseudogene Functions as a Competitive Endogenous RNA and Induces Lymphoma In Vivo Cell published online April 2, 1015. [doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.043]
There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

I can't read the paper because it's behind a paywall but the abstract suggests that the authors really do think their work applies to most pseduogenes. The press release quotes the senior author, Pier Paolo Pandolfi, and while his views aren't nearly as idiotic as the beginning of the press release it does suggest that he isn't a fan of junk DNA.

In order to confirm that the views expressed by Bonnie Prescott are an accurate representation of the views in the peer-reviewed paper, it would be nice to see a note at the bottom of the press release signed by multiple authors. It would state that they stand by the press release and that the views in the press release represent those views that have passed peer review.

I call this "Author Responsibility" and I think it should be a requirement in all press releases.

Hat Tip Dan Graur: Shouldn’t Press Releases from @Harvard be Less Asinine?


  1. I would have sent you the pdf but "You can contact him by looking up his email address on the University of Toronto website." does not seem to work.

    1. I'm going to be in my office in a few minutes so I can look at the paper then. Did you Google "Department of Biochemistry University of Toronto"?

  2. Strangely enough, though the sam DOI is given on the journal's website, it doesn't work (not activated yet?). The introductory paragraphs of the press release are astounding. I'm a layman, but I could easily make a long list of glaring errors they contain. Either none of the authors was asked to have a look at the press release or... I shudder to think of the other possibility.

  3. The Harvard press release has this note on the bottom: " Adapted from a Beth Israel Deaconess news release." The title for the Beth Israel Deaconess release is "An Evolutionary Relic of the Genome Causes Cancer":

    1. The Beth Israel release has a fair number of Pandolfi quotes along the lines of "It is vital to fund my research at tremendously high levels because cancer!"

  4. Pressiopaths.

    Is there a stick of evidence that this pseudogene and its micro RNA decoy mechanism plays any role or has any function in a non-cancerous cell? OK, you over express it and that causes cancer. How is that proof of function? Eat enough polonium and you'll drop dead, that doesn't prove polonium has a biological function.

    And from this, they generalize to all pseudogenes.

  5. Besides being pressiopaths, they're passive tense pussies.

    have long been considered nothing more than genomic "junk."

    Who did the considering, you PTP?

    Passive tense pussies have long been despised. I won't say by whom.

  6. Well, they convinced me I don't want any pseudogenes just like the Food Babe convinced me I don't want to eat anything with chemicals in it.

  7. The real issue is, of course, the misnomer pseudogene.

    To stupid to think out of the Darwinian box, the name implies non-functional junk DNA.

    It's no junk and pseuo-goo, you science stoppers, it is a regulatory part of the RNA computer with protein output.