The Audience: Popular vs Scientific and the Future of Stem Cells
Stem cell research have developed quite extensively over the past few years as we have become more knowledgeable about the nature of stem cells and how they work. Certainly stem cell research will be questioned by those who do not understand its uses and people will question the morality of stem cell research on animals, but in terms of pure research data and discoveries we have come quite a ways. Scientists in Japan have shown that the possibilities of stem cells can be remarkable and that from simple cells we can create anything. Researcher Takanori Takabe along with a group of his peers was able to prove this concept by turning pluripotent stem cells into a functioning human liver through transplantation of liver buds. By using mice, the scientists were able to successfully create the liver in order to show that the proof-of-concept was possible. While the liver could not successfully be transplanted into an individual as a result of many different defects and risks, the scientists were at the very least able to prove the concept true.
While this is quite the accomplishment, we should not jump to conclusions. There are still many kinks that come from creating a liver meant for human transplantation. Yet some popular articles are hailing it as a revolutionary discovery and one that will advance the field of stem cell research. Brenda Goodman wrote an article entitled First Organ Grown From Stem Cells Alone and right away you can tell that this article is jumping the gun. The organ was not created by stem cells alone when mice have to be used in order to stimulate the growth of the organ. The organ also went through a lot of different processes which makes it hard to pinpoint whether it was truly created just through stem cells or if the mixture of chemicals used had a positive effect on growth. While the popular article does not completely give all the relevant facts and information, what it does instead is instill a sense of hope that the research is showing positive results. And as a result this popular article gives its audience what it wants to hear and not necessarily the downsides to this research.
Research articles make sure that their audience is not misinformed about the kind of research that they do. From first glance, you would suspect that the research article wants to show the world that stem cell research has created a liver, but they quickly subvert our expectations. They make it clear that the research is focused on one particular goal, which is the proof-of-concept, and not about making a working liver. If they wanted to transplant a liver into another person then the article would have made that clear. Instead they present their findings in a skeptical fashion for others to digest saying, “Although efforts must ensue to translate these techniques to treatments for patients, this proof-of-concept demonstration of organ-bud transplantation provides a promising new approach to study regenerative medicine.” It’s a far cry to say that the research isn’t extraordinary, but the article does not overstep its findings. Like many research articles, this article does not make bold statements, instead sticking to the facts and the statistics. Of course this is not the same with the popular article.
The popular article makes it clear that it wants to show a breakthrough in science has been achieved. It doesn’t try to hide it; the title itself makes it very clear it wants to lure you into its claim. First Organ Grown From Stem Cells Alone, as a title is a bold statement because not only is it saying that this is the first time in history, it also claims that this is a breakthrough in stem cell research. Reading the scientific article we know that this is not the case, but as a consumer the popular article is not aiming for scientifically educated individuals. It caters itself towards the majority of the populous who care a bit about science or about health development.
The key difference between the two articles is audience. It is why the articles are written in a specific tone, quality, speech, and so on and so forth and it is the reason why the articles are made in the first place. The scientific research would not have gotten anywhere if the audience did not express an interest in stem cell research and its possibilities and same goes for the popular article. It’s the way they address the two audiences that we get major differences. So in that sense we should look at the two articles in relation to how they address their audiences. Both are successful in doing so because they accurately convey the message they want to send to their audiences. The scientific journal clearly wants to make it a point to present its evidence for the reader because the audience they are addressing would want evidence and statistics to prove its point. The popular journal wants to make the discovery as exciting as possible and as open as possible so that it is accessible to the majority of the population. At the same time it does not worry about the evidence because the audience does not care so much about evidence as much as it cares about the discovery. While they both make a point in addressing their audience, the popular article does a better job than the scientific journal in the end simply because it is allowed more freedoms to connect with the audience than the scientific journal is allowed.
A scientific journal or article has a certain standard it must uphold. If it does not follow these strict regulations and structure then it can lose credibility from its audience or could start sounding like a popular article. However a popular article does not have the same restrictions, even more so depending on the medium in which the popular article is being sent out. Brenda Goodman is allowed more freedoms in writing her article as are many journalistic, and are allowed to stretch the evidence in any way they see fit. Starting the article by saying, “Japanese scientists report they’ve turned a cocktail of stem cells into the world’s first functioning livers.” By doing that she immediately reels in the audience’s attention with the keyword ‘first’ because it implies that a true breakthrough has occurred in the field. The article also succeeds in selling the audience to the idea with simple language and tone. Appealing to the masses, Brenda is not restricted like Takabe is in language and as a result can simplify the message while Takabe and researchers must specifically explain every step in the research process with specific scientific terms.
This is not to say Takabe is not addressing his audience. The research does accurately reflect its message for the audience, that being other researchers and educated individuals. However scientific articles as a whole are forced and restricted in many ways and as a result it cannot branch itself out to other types of audience. Complex language is a necessity to explain certain points of research, but it isolates much of the populous. Takabe will occasionally address other research in the field of stem cell development, which a general reader will never understand because of a lack of context. What is interesting however is that there is a hint of casual tone in the work they are doing, particularly when they are addressing the point of the research. They may be actively trying to get a newer audience to read in the form of a younger and less informed demographic, but they also risk losing the audience they originally wish to address. However because of the nature of the popular journal, people like Brenda can cater their articles to the audience they wish to address. They are not restricted in what and how they write because of the popular article structure. And this is the main reason why the popular article will be superior in addressing the audience, because it can shift as the audience does while the academic article does not have the same liberty.
In the end we should think of the articles in relation to the audience, and in their own respects they both do their job. It is the freedom that a popular article has that allows it to address the audience better. Forgetting individual skill at writing, the benefits of popular article writing outweigh the possible negatives. A popular article generally does not have the full information and thus must be taken with a grain of salt. A popular article also risks heavy scrutiny and backlash while a scientific article does not have to face such risks with proper evidence. And a popular article does not have the same lasting power that a scientific article does. Still, popular articles do the job of appealing to the audience the best. In this respect, the popular article will always be more effective and more people will be informed by the information it presents than the scientific articles.