Study investigating the link between mutations in a fathers’ sperm cell and the risk of autism in their children accurately summarized an article by TIME
This TIME article by Alice Park reports on a new study, published in the highly reputable journal Nature Medicine, investigating the link between mutations in fathers’ sperm cells and the subsequent risk of autism in their children. The research, conducted by a team from the University of California, San Diego, aimed to pinpoint similarities in genetic mutations between the children’s DNA mutations and the mutations in their fathers’ sperm.
Park’s reporting adheres closely to the original research paper. She correctly states the intent of the article–to further investigate the mutations in fathers’ sperm that contribute to the risk of autism in their children–and she gives a brief description of the methods used. Park then goes on to report the main findings from the study: the contribution of de novo mutations in fathers’ sperm to autism in their children, and the percentage of father’s sperm containing these de novo mutations. Park makes clear throughout the article that these de novo mutations are a contributing factor to autism, and not the sole causative factor.
Park’s reporting is neutral, and accurately represents the original research on which it is based. She does not selectively report findings with the intent to mislead, nor does she fear-monger, sensationalize, or use emotionally charged language. Park provides multiple perspectives in her article from Jonathan Sebat and Joseph Gleeson, medical experts and authors of the research paper. These individuals offered perspective on the value of the findings, as well as potential future steps in the field. However, the lack of independent sources from impartial experts raises the key issue in Park’s news story.
Although Park’s reporting is faithful to the original research, she does not move beyond the scope of the paper when it comes to her sources. Both of her sources are also authors of the paper, so contrasting opinions on the findings and the future of the field are not offered to the readers. Only one viewpoint is seen, and this hurts the credibility of the news article. The background information included by Park throughout the article is also mostly unsourced, further decreasing the credibility of the article and making it more difficult for readers to confirm the information they read.
Further, there are other areas for improvement within the article. Jargon, while explained in most cases (de novo, mosaicism), is not always clearly defined for the readers with minimal scientific background (IVF, whole genome sequencing). Also, no link or reference is provided to the original research paper, and the paper itself is not available without a fee. This makes it difficult for readers to follow-up with the research presented in the news story.
Published this past December, Alice Park does an adequate job in describing new findings on the link between paternal chromosomal mutations and autism. In this article, Park presents a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) published in the journal Nature Medicine that examines how de novo mutations in male sperm cells contribute to autism risk.
The review starts off by providing general background information surrounding autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and some factors that contribute to ASD risk. While the information presented here is written both clearly and concisely, the only references provided are from previous reviews by Park herself. While the content of this section agrees with general scientific conventions, specific claims such as “In fact, with every decade of life, the number of de novo mutations in sperm doubles” must be independently verified by the reader.
Park continues the review by providing more information about the results of the study. Summaries were given an appropriate level of detail, providing thorough explanations while maintaining simplicity for the lay. She also uses direct quotes from the researchers to effectively communicate the researchers’ perspectives. For example, the quote “That is not the goal of this; that is not the point. The point is to inform parents of their risk so they can make their own decisions based on that knowledge” is used very effectively to help relay the purpose of the experiment to the audience.
The review is concluded with some applications of the study. While it seems logical that genetic sequencing could be used in the future for ‘other conditions believed to be connected to de novo mutations, like schizophrenia, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative diseases’, such conditions were never mentioned (in this context) in the original study. Despite that these applications may one day be possible; Park strays away from the original research and provides no sources behind these application-style claims.
To summarize, Park does an effective job in communicating the major results of the study in a non-deceptive way that the general audience can understand; however, the inclusion of unsourced claims is a major setback and reduces the overall quality of the review
The views expressed by the reviewers for this article are not endorsed or shared by SciFeye. The interpretation of the review of the news story using the SciFeye Index was done independently by two SciFeye reviewers. We encourage you to conduct your own evaluation of the accuracy and quality of the news story using the Index.