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The sort-of transcript:
“Researchers discover that being blond does not make people ditzy,” reads a recent NY Daily News headline. That’s not actually true, but there is evidence to suggest a correlation between lack of intelligence and being a writer for the NY Daily News.
Journalist David Harding goes on to ask, “Is the end of jokes about “blond moments?” I’m not sure, David, IS THE END?
Here’s what actually happened: molecular biologists at Stanford School of Medicine identified a single mutation in the DNA that regulates the KITLG gene that changed the color of the stickleback fish from dark to light.
They found that when they tagged that mutation with a gene that coded for blue fluorescence and inserted it into lab mice, the mice had a fluorescent blue glow only in their hair follicles.
Then, they inserted the human blond hair mutation into the mice, and those mice grew lighter coats and weren’t otherwise affected by the mutation.
It’s cool because it’s a very small, single mutation that only affects the KITLG gene about 20% (as opposed to fully turning it on or off), but it has a very noticeable affect. It’s also cool because that mutation appears to only affect hair color, and not any other trait.
Note that people who have the mutation can still have dark hair, because there are other factors that determine your final hair color.
So how does this one, very specific study about a specific gene mutation, result in a headline like “Researchers discover that being blond does not make people ditzy”? Well, my colleague at Skepchick and talented scientist Mary Brock, noticed that Stanford released a press release that explained the study very well, and then ended with this quotation from the researcher, David Kingsley:
“It’s clear that this hair color change is occurring through a regulatory mechanism that operates only in the hair. This isn’t something that also affects other traits, like intelligence or personality. The change that causes blond hair is, literally, only skin deep.”
So when David Harding went to distill a 1000-word press release into a 150-word “science” article, guess which quote he used and then extrapolated on?
And guess what Sarah Knapton at the Telegraph went with in her article?
And that, my friends, is how your shitty science news gets made.