The internet is an amazing resource; the democratization of information will probably be judged as one of the greatest achievements of the early 21st century. I can’t even remember what coding was like before Stack Overflow, or primary literature research before PubMed (my brain must be protecting me from those memories). So the internet is all good you say?

Just like the invention of the town square some 2500(?) years ago, you can’t always control who stands up and yells gibberish to the gathered townsfolk. Today I was looking for any work on the use of human cell surface receptors in yeast in the field of cancer research, and stumbled on this gem:

Cancer is caused by infected injuries

As town squares go, that’s one massively drunk citizen. It has such great quips as:

“Genes do not control growth any more than a steering wheel controls an automobile or a traffic cop controls traffic. The traffic cop does not make cars drive down the street, the steering wheel does not power the automobile, and genes do not cause cells to divide and multiply. Biology texts state that genes have only two functions: store information and duplicate it in the form of RNA. Genes control the direction of growth and maintain the continuity of life. All genes are combinations of 2 functionally equal base pairs called AT and CG. There are only 64 possible combinations known as the “Universal Genetic Code”. All genes produce amino acids, none of which control other genes. The very existence of oncogenes has never been proven. It’s just a theory totally lacking in a scientific basis.”

Wow, there’s just so much to take apart there, it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s just say from a high level view this is completely wrong.

But the paragraph did get me thinking about the core of the problem: we could be doing better job teaching basic scientific literacy to the public, to say nothing of the specifics of gene regulation and expression. Descriptions like this gain traction by combining some basic facts (quoting “Universal Genetic Code” makes it seem so official…), while using small tie-ins to an argument that would be completely insane standing on it’s own. According to my five minutes of research on Wikipedia, this is best described as Proof by intimidation (or verbosity, take your pick).

The challenge is that you need a fair amount of background to not walk away from an article like this thinking “wow, I should start drinking bleach and bath salts to cure my XYZ”, or whatever specific solution they’re selling. The scientific community has to continually push down the barrier between our research and the public. Not only will this prevent sham cures like the above link, but help increase the public’s perception of the importance of scientific research.

If you want to see a good example of what can be done, check out U. of Utah’s genetics primer, it’s a really great showcase of bridging this gap:

http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/

If you find something good like this for cancer, let me know!