Last week on Twitter I promoted the “new organ” story much too uncritically, because it seemed neat and I was in a hurry:
Seemingly solid layers of connective tissue turn out to be chock-a-block with a previously unknown but extensive system of lymphatic “spaces.” Many implications for pathology. How was this missed? It’s wrecked by way we prepare tissue for microscopes! https://t.co/QOezp6IXnI— Paul Ingraham (@PainSci) April 3, 2018
That tweet was a mistake, because the story and the science was seriously flawed. I did have some doubts at the time, but I was just too swamped with other work to listen to that little voice. Here’s a detailed critical analysis.
So what seems to be the trouble? Basically:
- The system of lymphatic “spaces” described was not so obscure after all. Anatomists already knew about it.
- Its clinical significance was dramatically overstated.
- Declaring ”new organ” was press release hyperbole to make it sound (much) more important that it was. Devious.
And the pseudoscientific cherry on top? The researcher primarily responsible speculated that this “discovery” is important because it might explain how acupuncture works. Alas, acupuncture does not work, so it doesn’t need any such explanation (and even if it did, this explanation would be more imaginative than helpful). This story was also yet another fine example of people getting all overheated about the alleged biological importance of fascia. We’ll be seeing the study referenced by cranks for years to come. If a scientific study plays a tune people want to hear, it will never die, no matter how hard it’s debunked.