“German scientists find ‘internet-addiction gene’,” said a headline on a German news site last week. Another site reported that scientists have “nailed down the gene responsible for internet addiction.” Is it true? No, but its falseness is interesting for what it says both about the nature of our addictions and about how scientific researchers sometimes help journalists sensationalize research.
This again! Another study, another round of sensationalized reporting, and yet another debunking. There is no end to the cycle of people trying to tell you that internet addiction is real and dangerous and killing your family. (Remember the gold standard of internet addiction bullshit, when Newsweek tried to tell us internet use caused psychosis?) The truth in this case, from someone who, using most science reporting as a yardstick has far too much time on their hands and actually read the study, is that only 27 percent of supposed addicts have the gene in question and so do 17 percent of non-addicts. The fun thing about this study is even the abstract and press release deliberately hide their true findings. Perhaps they’re familiar with how gullible science journalists are. If you’re interested in this, and why it’s unmitigated bullshit, I would suggest Vaughan Bell as a starting point, he’s been debunking this nonsense since before Newsweek even realised how many pageviews it was worth. The upsetting thing about this is that maybe, just maybe!, there is something here, but lazy studies and lazy reporting are ruining it and making everyone look stupid.
I have no particular horse in this race—in fact, if internet addiction exists, I’m sure I’d make a fine case study—but I will always link to this stuff, even if it’s something as trivial as confusing a CT scanner for an MRI. I don’t think any field has suffered more from laziness and misinformation than science in this age of aggregation and curation, and any attempt to set the record straight is important (and usually dishearteningly easy, even if you’re neither a scientist nor a journalist!). The result will occasionally be that someone calls you a very angry boy, but what are we online for if not to be insulted by trolls?