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Scientific American: Let’s Stretch Research to Make it Sexy!

You’d think that Scientific American would be the last publication on Earth where its editors would stretch an article or its headlines to suggest findings not actually found in the research.

And if you’re a regular reader of World of Psychology, you’d know you’d be wrong.

Scientific American recently published an article entitled, Blogging: It’s Good for You. In such an article, you’d expect an article to reference research on blogging, no?

Well, not surprising, the article had no such reference. Which didn’t stop its editors from suggesting that “expressive writing” = blogging (even when that’s usually not the case). Blogging encompasses writing that is chronologically-based and links to other interesting stuff online. Expressive writing may or may not be a part of blogging. Journaling, on the other hand, has a rich, long history long before the online world, and usually does incorporate more of a personal, diary-like aspect to it.

Language is important. If we make words describe processes that they don’t always encompass, we have a way of making people believe facts that simply aren’t true. And this is the case in the Scientific American article.

The one research study the article references is “Implementing an Expressive Writing Study in a Cancer Clinic.” It does not involve blogging. Half of the people who participated in the research dropped out before the researchers could gain followup data, making its N=71 even less generalizable (obviously, expressive writing is not for everyone).

So what makes a respected publication like Scientific American bend the facts to fit a headline? Page hits online, of course, because the original title of the article had nothing to do with blogging. It was called, “The Healthy Type” when it appeared in print, but was repurposed to appeal to the online crowd when printed on its website.

Can you trust Scientific American to give you the facts and not try and spin them to fit whatever the meme of the moment is? I’ll let the article speak for itself:

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. […] Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly. […]

Scientists’ understanding about the neurobiology underlying therapeutic writing must remain speculative for now.

Indeed. So this is an article about nothing new.

They’re writing about the “neurological underpinnings” of blogging??! Geez, it’s called writing, and it doesn’t matter what pretty images your can find on your fMRI. It will still be writing, a behavior humans have engaged in for thousands of years. And nothing will shed light on its therapeutic effects until studies are actually conducted on blogging (not just “expressive writing”).

Read the article for yourself and make your own decision: Blogging–It’s Good for You

Reference:

Morgan, N.P., Graves, K.D., Poggi, E.A., & Cheson, B.D. (2008). Implementing an Expressive Writing Study in a Cancer Clinic. The Oncologist, 13(2), 196-204.

Scientific American: Let’s Stretch Research to Make it Sexy!


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Scientific American: Let’s Stretch Research to Make it Sexy!. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/scientific-american-lets-stretch-research-to-make-it-sexy/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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