Last updated on April 12th, 2017
A note to the editors of ScienceDaily — this is what a high fat human diet looks like. Or it might look like a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon, or a green salad with cheese, avocado, and black olives. What a high-fat human diet does not look like is that pile of buns, pizza, french-fried potatoes, and onion rings that you used to illustrate your story about a recent mouse study. The collection of carbs shown in your photo would choke a moose, never mind a poor little mouse.
Oddly, although your story focuses on a mouse study, no mice are mentioned in the headline nor in the summary nor in the first four paragraphs. No mouse is present in the only photo. Until the fifth paragraph, half-way through the article, you seem to be writing about human beings, not mice, not rodents of any kind. As a college writing teacher, I recommend that you introduce your true subject sooner than that. Otherwise, readers might get the wrong impression. They might think the story is about humans and human biology. I’m sure you can see that, can’t you? You don’t want to mislead your readers, do you?
Of course you don’t. That would be propaganda, not science reporting.
I also recommend that you provide some support for your big assertions. For instance, the claim in your first sentence that “high-fat diets have long been known to increase the risk for medical problems, including heart disease and stroke” needs backing up. However, before you can support the claim, you’ll need to define its terms. Obviously, “high-fat diet” needs definition. Is it your bread, fries and pizza fest? Or is it my juicy beef-steak with a side of buttery green beans?
Now, it would also be a good idea for you to engage in critical thinking about the study. That means asking questions. For instance, the study involved feeding some mice a “high-fat” diet and some other mice a “control” diet. What did these diets consisted of? What was the composition? In particular, what kind of fat was in the high-fat diet? What percentage of calories came from fat? Was the high-fat diet just high in fat, or also high in carbohydrates?
As I understand it, instead of running tests on these first two groups of mice, the researchers transplanted the “gut microbiota” of those mice into two other groups of mice. Isn’t this transplant process a tad unnatural? If not, where does it happen in nature? Are people doing such transplants? If so, who? Why? What on earth is wrong with them?
According to your non-critical summary of the study, the two groups of “recipient” mice were “non-obese.” This is apparently the reason for the bizarre transplant procedure. The researchers wanted to see if a non-obese mouse, having been infected by the gut microbes of an obese mouse, would exhibit negative changes in behavior. In fact, they did, and they also exhibited markers of brain inflammation. The study attributed the results to the so-called “high-fat” diet fed to the donor mice.
You then quote the editor of the journal that published the study, who claims this rodent research “suggests” something important about humans, human high-fat diets, human gut microbes, and human brain health.
It seems like a stretch. A better way to learn something about human beings would be to study actual human beings. There are plenty of people eating a high-fat, low-carb diet. Are their brains on fire?
But you accept his comment, and all the wackiness, without question. At first, your avoidance of anything approaching critical inquiry puzzled me, given that the word “science” is in your publication’s title, but then I realized that the article wasn’t authored by anyone at ScienceDaily. Rather, it was supplied to you by a company called Elsevier, a “provider of information solutions.” I guess I should be taking Elsevier to task, but you published the article on your web page, under your masthead, so I think you bear responsibility for it.
For all I know, this is the kind of writing that is expected of a “provider of information solutions.”
But I expect better of science reporters — and, indeed, of my first-year composition students.
[A hat-tip to well-known blogger Jimmy Moore, the low-carb man, whose tweet led me to the ScienceDaily “article.”]