Recently on his blog, Eisen "rediscovered" two new words that I think capture some important concepts:
The overselling of the impact (beneficial or detrimental or otherwise) of microbiomes without the evidence to support such impact.
The overwhelming and unreasonable fear of microbes (of any kinds).
One example of microbiomania from Eisen's blog is this:
Gut bacteria health may be the key to living longer, disease-free lives, U.S. fruit fly study reveals
...because extending the life span of a fruit fly in a study is a loooooong way off from making humans live "longer, disease-free lives".
One of my favourite examples of microbophobia is the "healthing" campaign of a major cleaning products company (critically analyzed in this blog post) that equates zealous cleaning with being healthy.
The terms zero in on two common mistakes in writing about the microbiome. In both cases, the problem is not sticking to the facts. Microbiomania is going beyond the facts and building up microbiome research to be something it is not, while microbophobia is letting existing fears and preconceptions about bacteria act as a filter through which we see the facts. Neither makes for good science writing.
I want to make sure, however, that no one equates microbiomania with simply getting excited about the microbiome. They are not the same thing.
Say someone reports on a study that found jet-lagged mice have a different gut microbiota and messed-up metabolism compared with normal mice. In microbiomania, there's conjecture: saying that jet lag is the cause of obesity, or that probiotics can cure jet lag. Not okay.
But it is completely okay to just get excited about the jet-lagged mouse study because it's interesting and awesome.
|By Douglas P. Perkins (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
Please don't tell your friends, "There's less than a 0.01% chance that my feeling of inspiration after reading the jet-lagged mouse study was due to chance." If you are inspired by it, tell them straight up. Do show your passion for the topic, as long as you're sticking to the science. The field will advance best if the researchers see that people are enthusiastic about their research.
For more, see this sciencewriters.ca post:
Hail the Gut: Why it’s okay to get excited about the microbiome