Two real winners from yesterday’s news

Don’t you just love those bits of science news that hook you with a headline, draw you in, and leave you hanging there? Yesterday’s news brought two examples. The first, found here, hits you with the header:

Smaller testicles may equal better father, says study

The article comes from CNN and mentions the method used: “Researchers used an MRI to study the testes of 70 biological fathers and their brain patterns as they looked at pictured of their children, other children and adults.” (Yes, it says “pictured”, but we all know that grammar doesn’t count if a text is posted on-line.)

This version of the story reports that “paternal investment” was inversely related to the size of testes and levels of testosterone. Then it concludes with the following sentence: “They say this does not mean that men with small testes are better dads, as a lot of other things go into being a father.” Hmm… Anybody detect a contradiction here? Readers could easily follow up on the story to get the details – for example, what “paternal investment” means, and whether you can really measure it by having people look at pictures of their kids, dogs, the Easter bunny, or anything else – if the post included a link to the original article. Unfortunately (sigh) it doesn’t.

Here you go: Testicular volume is inversely correlated with nurturing-related brain activity in human fathers

Article number two comes from space science, with the title:

Meteorite Brought Surprising Ingredient for Life to Earth in 2012

The article begins this way: “Scientists have discovered unexpected ingredients for life — organic molecules never seen before in meteorites — inside a chunk of space rock that fell to Earth over California last year, scientists say.” The story reports on an article due to appear in the journal PNAS that concerns the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which struck in California. I actually like its account of the way researchers extracted compounds from its fragments using solvents that mimic the effect of hydrothermal vents on Earth. But in this version of the story we never learn what those “surprising ingredients” are. Tease, tease…

The original story comes from a press release issued by Arizona State University. It has a clever headline: “ASU scientists strike scientific gold with meteorite,” pointing out that the meteorite landed somewhere near Sutter’s Mill. (If you’re not up on your American history, that’s the site that triggered the 19th-century “Gold Rush.”)
The ASU statement offers a little more information: the molecules represent “a variety of long chain linear and branched polyethers, whose number is quite bewildering.” Well, that sounds interesting, but ASU’s official press release doesn’t offer a link to the original article, either. And the study can’t yet be found in PubMed. I’m sure that will change over the course of the day, but until then, I guess the interested reader just has to take its premise, methodology, and results on faith (oooops).

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I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example

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