Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Cell Press jumps the shark, royal wedding edition

with 4 comments

With thousands of journalists thronging London to cover the royal wedding tomorrow, there has been no shortage of media coverage leading up the event. And that has meant plenty of strained news pegs. (One was embargoed until just now, which is why I’m blogging about it. More on that later.)

But it’s not just the mainstream outlets who are guilty. Take this piece from Cell that came out on April 15, as Nature‘s Great Beyond noted. Below, find a few choice excerpts:

Although few can relate to William’s particular challenge of searching for a future bride amidst such an overwhelming number of would-be princesses, his problem was reminiscent of a dilemma that confronts transcription factors, which must scan extraordinarily long stretches of DNA to find appropriate targets at which to initiate gene expression.

Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what courtship is like. I remember when I first met the woman who would eventually become my wife that I kept thinking, “why can’t I just find an appropriate target to initiate gene expression?” That’s not even a good euphemism.

By choosing their future queen from amongst the commoners, the Britons are taking a cue from another successful eusocial group: the honeybees (Apis mellifera). When honeybees need a new queen, they select larvae, which would otherwise become ordinary worker bees, and feed them a sustained diet of “royal jelly,” which transforms the larvae into queens.

Feeding Kate Middleton royal jelly. I hope that takes the sting out of this metaphor for her.

Although the biochemical factors underlying monogamous courtships in humans are still quite mysterious, studies in prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) point to vasopressin signaling as a critical player in nuptial harmony.

We’re comparing Kate and Prince William to prairie voles. Moving right along to an even worse comparision:

…her namesakes that reigned in darker days have often not fared well, perhaps most famously Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, who was beheaded after being caught in an adulterous affair with one of the king’s courtiers.

Although we reflexively recoil at the thought of beheading, for some species, it is only an unfortunate mishap. The freshwater polyp Hydra, for example, can regenerate head structures after being cut in half (midgastric bisection).

Beheading, that unfortunate mishap. Ah, the Brits and their penchant for understatement. So if Kate was actually a Hydra, Cell would be suggesting what, exactly?

But Cell Press wasn’t done using the royal wedding to gin up some publicity. The other day brought another royal wedding-themed email, about a study in Current Biology embargoed until this post goes live. The email alert began:

In the days leading up to the royal wedding, many of us are thinking about the significant change in social status for Kate Middleton – a ‘commoner’ turned princess. Will Kate Middleton’s brain response toward others change along with her title? A new paper in Current Biology examines how our social status influences the way our brains respond to others of higher or lower rank.

I actually don’t really care all that much about the answer to the question they pose, but I’ll grant that some others might. As a journalistic news peg, however, it should be considered off-limits. You might say that my brain’s response to it suggests I think I’m of higher rank than anyone who would link the wedding to the paper.

Oh, how British of me.

Update: Don’t miss Ed Yong’s hilarious post on this.

Written by Ivan Oransky

April 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. LOL! Did you see Ed Yong making fun of this?
    http://edyong.posterous.com/not-exactly-royal-wedding-science

    Bora Zivkovic

    April 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

  2. I did, but wrote this post before that was live. Thanks for the reminder, Bora, I added an update!

    ivanoransky

    April 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm

  3. I found the Cell article kind of humorous! I imagine that it is done in a tongue in cheek sort of manner–poking fun at the fact that EVERY news outlet, blog, magazine (and now journal) has a take on the Royal Wedding.
    My reading of it, especially considering the subtitles (“My Fair Larvae”?!), found it to be playful and not at all serious.

    Kelly

    April 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

  4. Luke Jostins over at Genomes Unzipped dug around a bit to come up with quite a scholarly post about the likelihood of new genetic diseases cropping up as a result of the royal wedding: http://www.genomesunzipped.org/2011/04/inbreeding-genetic-disease-and-the-royal-wedding.php

    Hema Bashyam

    May 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm


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