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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Spotted: Student solution; media muddle

by  /  31 July 2015

July 27th

Student solution

There has been much talk about the dangers of not replicating research results, but few solutions. This clever proposal caught our attention: Make replicating a major finding a requirement for earning a Ph.D.

The bold idea, laid out in an op-ed last week in Frontiers in Psychology, is sure to send shivers down the backs of many a grad student. Replicating research is no easy task. But who better to tackle it than students who “could take as long as was necessary to do a good job,” wrote doctoral candidate Jim Everett and research fellow Brian Earp of the University of Oxford in the U.K.

Other researchers say the plan exploits Ph.D. candidates. “[It] takes advantage of a cheap, easily-pressured labor pool to do the low-prestige but necessary work,” Owen Schaefer, an ethicist at the same institution, commented in response to a blog post by Everett. (h/t Nature)

What do you think? Is this idea enlightened or exploitative? Tell us in the Comments section.

Media muddle

Many researchers have a love-hate relationship with mainstream media. News coverage brings welcome attention — and sometimes funding — to their work, but reporters sometimes get things spectacularly wrong.

Samuel Mehr, a graduate student in Elizabeth Spelke’s lab at Harvard University, aired his frustration with the media in an op-ed last week in Frontiers in Psychology. In 2013, Mehr reported that 4-year-old children who received six weeks of music lessons performed no better on cognitive tests than those who participated in other organized activities.

The media ran wild, with headlines such as “Do, Re, Mi, Fa-get the piano lessons: Music may not make you smarter” — a leap from the study’s actual findings.

The stakes are even higher for research into disorders such as autism, where news coverage can sway parents into trying experimental, perhaps dangerous, treatments.

(Disclosure: Elizabeth Spelke is on the advisory board of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative,‘s parent organization.)

Preemie personalities

A new study of 200 adult preemies links preterm birth with a withdrawn personality.

The study, published Monday in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that babies born more than eight weeks early or very underweight grow up to be more introverted and neuroticthan those who went to term. The findings add to mounting evidence that preterm birth may raise the risk of autism. But they also raise the possibility that autism is just one aspect of a larger profile of personality traits in preemies.

Tough sell

Making it in science is a lot like writing a hit song, according to an op-ed appearing last week in Science. The author, Neal Stewart, Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence in plant molecular genetics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, moonlights as a country music songwriter.

At a time when landing a grant seems as unlikely as landing a record deal, Stewart has a few friendly tips: Give your grant a catchy intro, a memorable hook and some good collaborators: “Science and commercial music are both so competitive that the right team is needed to produce winners.”

TAGS:   autism