According to those idiots over at the Guardian, “Harvard scientists reverse the ageing process in mice – now for humans”. As if that were not miraculous enough, the Guardian also claims that “Now they believe they might be able to regenerate human organs”. Here at the Hub we would love nothing more than for this story to be true, but alas it is one of the hugest piles of sensationalist bullshit I have seen on the net in quite a while. The scientific research cited by the Guardian does not support these sensationalist claims and the Guardian knows this. But they don’t give a damn because sensationalism sells – big time! The Guardian knows that sloppy, idiotic bloggers and news organizations across the web will regurgitate anything they see without hardly the slightest attempt at fact checking. And hence this bogus story has been an enormous hit. The story already has more than 15,000 Facebook likes and this number is sure to grow. It has been picked up and rehashed as a legitimate scientific story by major news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Endgadget, Wired, and many more. Congratulations to the Guardian and the author of the story, Ian Sample – you have created a story that sells well, but your reputation is utter crap.
First let us take a brief look at the scientific research that Guardian correspondent Ian Sample claims will reverse aging and allow us to regenerate human organs. Scientists at Harvard genetically altered mice so that they lacked an enzyme, telomerase, that is responsible for maintaining proper telomeres. Telomeres are repeated sequences of DNA at the ends of our DNA that protect the DNA from damage. Without the ability to produce the telomerase enzyme, the mice had essentially nonfunctioning telomeres, leaving their DNA unprotected and prone to extensive damage and malfunction over time. To no one’s surprise, as these mice grew and lived out their lives within the laboratory their bodies quickly broke down. Their organs began to fail – they lost their sense of smell, they became infertile, they were weak. With the mice now in this degraded state (that we are lead to believe approximates aging), the Harvard researchers then proceeded to give the mice regular injections to reactivate the telomerase enzyme to see what would happen to them.
So what happened to the mice once their broken, dying bodies were finally given injections to activate the vital telomerase enzyme that they had thus far been denied? In what will be a surprise to nobody (except apparently the Harvard researchers and Ian Sample at the Guardian) the bodies of the mice stopped their decay. As if this were not miraculous enough, the bodies of the mice also seemed to regain some of their lost vitality and function now that their DNA was allowed to function properly. Isn’t that amazing?
Any reasonable person would quickly summarize this research as something like “take away a vital enzyme from an organism and it starts to decay, give the enzyme back to the organism and decay stops, allowing the natural process of repair and growth in the organism to proceed”. The research sheds some light on how crucial telomerase and telomeres are to the proper function of an organism, but unless you are an expert in that field this is a non-story. This research is a long, long way from leading to a reversal in aging. Unless, that is, you are Ian Sample working for the Guardian, in which case apparently you have just stumbled upon a fantastic piece of research that you can use to create a misleading and sensationalist story that will sell to mindless readers and bloggers.
I can’t figure out what is more ridiculous here. Is the Guardian story itself the most ridiculous thing, or is the fact that the story was blindly syndicated by thousands of news outlets and believed by millions of readers across the world even more ridiculous? Ian Sample and the Guardian must be laughing all the way to the bank with the traffic this story is generating for them. Readers will correctly point out that I am only aiding their little game by giving the story even more prominence and calling it out in this post. To that all I can say is that I can’t stop people from reading the Guardian’s BS, but at least I can do my part to show the world what complete crap it is. The Guardian has gained itself a hugely popular story, but at what cost to it’s reputation? Sadly, most people probably won’t even care. But I can hope.
Image source [rama]