|Universitat de Barcelona
From left to right, Josep Marco Pallarès, Pablo Ripollés and Antoni Rodríguez Fornells, researchers at the UB-IDIBELL who led the research on «The Role of Reward in Word-learning and Its Implications for Language Acquisition».
On 24 October readers of «La Vanguardia» came across this striking headline «Learning new words has the same effect as sex». So did Pablo Ripollés Vidal, and from then on he started his own particular David-against-Goliath battle. In this case the giant he was facing were the mass media, and his weapons the Internet and the support of the people. Pablo Ripollés is a PhD student at the Cognition and Brain Plasticity Group of the University of Barcelona and author of the study «The Role of Reward in Word-learning and Its Implications for Language Acquisition» published by Current Biology. This is the same study La Vanguardia referred to. «So why publish an article with such a sensationalist and out of reality headline?» Pablo Ripollés wondered in the opening lines to his new blog «La ciencia somos todos» (We All Play our Part in Science). In this text, the researcher showed his anger, caused by the distortion of his study to the point of nonsense. We talked to him about this specific controversy, but also aboout the tense relationship between science and the mass media in general.
You mention your «anger» on your post «Sex, Words and Rock & Roll?». What is causing this anger?
|«Learning words has not the same effect as sex. Just ask anyone what they prefer to do»
La Vanguardia was the first medium that published the news with the following headline: «Learning new words has the same effect as sex». Together with the picture shown above.
Sometimes press releases themselves are the ones that highlight a striking part of the research in order to get the attention of the media. Did this happen in this case?
|«We hope that our results open new paths for research on language learning more focused on reward circuits»
To test the project we used a contextual learning paradigm where participants could learn new words autonomously. In the picture, a diagram of the experiment conducted by researchers.
So, what conclusions can we draw from this?
But it actually was «Learning new words has the same effect as sex» what went viral. Was it then when you decided to start your blog «La ciencia somos todos» (We All Play our Part in Science)?
In addition to the note published on your blog, did you directly contact La Vanguardia?
But La Vanguardia has finally answered.
«Seeing that my work was being used to provide a trivial and basic perspective of science infuriated me very much and that is why I decided to do everything I could to amend the situation»
From this experience, will you change the way you handle the diffusion of your future research?
Let’s talk about the relationship between science and journalism. Do you think it is a «difficult but necessary balance»?
What is your advice, from researcher to journalist, to avoid cases like the one we are talking about?
Íngrid Lafita. Journalist. Mètode, University of Valencia.
«If we want popular science to work well we have to understand each other»