Monday, September 12, 2005

Bad Science Writing

Why does the public have a natural distrust of all things scientific? Okay, maybe that's a bit simplistic and over-generalized, but it definitely has an element of truth. We tend not to trust man-made things as much as "all-natural" ones. I've never fully understood it. Anyway, I stumbled upon this article through a link at Instapundit (a good resource, btw), which might explain in part how it happens.

I'd a couple of more reasons in why science stories get a bad wrap in the popular media.
1. Scientist themselves trying to overhype or overplay the importance of their own discovery
2. Misinterpretation of scientific findings by drawing firm conclusions inappropriately (for example, the conclusions of many scientific papers are "correlations" or "increased risk", etc...and these are misconstrued as stone cold fact by too many)
3. Overrepresentation of the importance of a single study/paper/ other words, not holding findings up in the context of all the other work that's been done in the field, and showing how it fits in; sensationalizing.

This is a great point too...

"Last month there was an interesting essay in the journal PLoS Medicine, about how most brand new research findings will turn out to be false ( It predictably generated a small flurry of ecstatic pieces from humanities graduates in the media, along the lines of science is made-up, self-aggrandising, hegemony-maintaining, transient fad nonsense; and this is the perfect example of the parody hypothesis that we'll see later. Scientists know how to read a paper. That's what they do for a living: read papers, pick them apart, pull out what's good and bad."

When it comes right down ot it, reading scientific papers is like reading a different language and too few journalists are interested in doing it right. And the public doesn't know any better, or doesn't care to. Both science journalists and scientists themselves need to a better job of communicating to the masses....


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