Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NPR story points to a growing problem

Here is a link to a story on NPR about Tom Mather, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island. His monitoring of black-legged tick populations in Rhode Island suggests that tick-borne diseases are a growing problem.

Mather states that "people really need to become tick literate." I couldn't agree more. Some of the posted comments about the story highlight this need for "tick literacy." There are a lot of studies out there, some better than others, and only a small subset get any coverage in popular media. This is unfortunate because it means that public understanding of ticks and tick-borne disease is based on outdated information or mis-information resulting from oversimplified or simply incorrect coverage in the media. Public discourse can become fixated on a single research finding that may be incomplete, poorly supported, or outdated.

The reality is that we don't know as much about ticks and tick-borne disease as we think we do. Scientific research is all about building evidence and a single study can never be definitive. So in addition to tick literacy, we need a better understanding of the scientific process and better communication between scientists and the media.

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