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When fiction becomes fact: exaggerating host manipulation by parasites

Cite this dataset

Doherty, Jean-François (2020). When fiction becomes fact: exaggerating host manipulation by parasites [Dataset]. Dryad.


In an era where some find fake news around every corner, the use of sensationalism has inevitably found its way into the scientific literature. This is especially the case for host manipulation by parasites, a phenomenon in which a parasite causes remarkable change in the appearance or behaviour of its host. This concept, which has deservedly garnered popular interest throughout the world in recent years, is nearly 50-years old. In the past two decades, the use of scientific metaphors, including anthropomorphisms and science fiction, to describe host manipulation has become more and more prevalent. It is possible that the repeated use of such catchy, yet misleading words in both the popular media and the scientific literature could unintentionally hamper our understanding of the complexity and extent of host manipulation, ultimately shaping its narrative in part or in full. In this commentary, the impacts of exaggerating host manipulation are brought to light by examining trends in the use of embellishing words. By looking at key examples of exaggerated claims from widely reported host-parasite systems found in the recent scientific literature, it would appear that some of the fiction surrounding host manipulation has since become fact.


Document entitled "Doherty_procb_ESM": Electronic supplementary material containing the original data used to make Figure 1. PART A: Online newspaper and magazine articles covering host manipulation that were used to create the word cloud in Figure 1A. METHODS: Online newspapers and magazine articles were searched in the Google search engine using the combinations of the word “parasite” with “manipulation”, “mind”, “hijack”, or “zombie”. Then, articles were randomly selected within the first five pages of results. A text file was created to include the titles and headlines (if any) from all the selected articles. This file was then used to generate a word cloud with packages tm, wordcloud, and RColorBrewer in R version 3.6.3 (R Core Team, 2020). PART B: Scientific papers that were used to create the graph in Figure 1B. For each group, the search terms used in Web of Science are provided in parentheses. METHODS: Using the results from the search terms, articles were assessed individually then grouped by year.

Document entitled "figure_1a_media": Text file including all the media titles and headlines (if any) described in the document entitled "Doherty_procb_ESM". The titles and headlines were trimmed down to contain only nouns, verbs, and descriptive words.

Document entitled "figure_1a_rcode": Code used in R to create the word cloud in Figure 1A.


University of Otago

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Award: PGSD3-530445-2019