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The Media Science

Why Is So Much Reported Science Wrong (berkeley.edu) 294

An anonymous reader writes: An article from Berkeley's California Magazine explains some of the reasons science reporting is often at odds with actual science. Quoting: "Where journalism favors neat story arcs, science progresses jerkily, with false starts and misdirections in a long, uneven path to the truth—or at least to scientific consensus. The types of stories that reporters choose to pursue can also be a problem, says Peter Aldhous, [lecturer and reporter]. 'As journalists, we tend to gravitate to the counterintuitive, the surprising, the man-bites-dog story,' he explains. 'In science, that can lead us into highlighting stuff that's less likely to be correct.' If a finding is surprising or anomalous, in other words, there's a good chance that it's wrong.

On the flip side, when good findings do get published, they're often not as earth shattering as a writer might hope. ... So journalists and their editors might spice up a study's findings a bit, stick the caveats at the end, and write an eye-catching, snappy headline—not necessarily with the intent to mislead, but making it that much more likely for readers to misinterpret the results." The article also makes suggestions for both journalists and the scientific community to keep science reporting interesting while being more accurate.

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Why Is So Much Reported Science Wrong

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  • by surfdaddy ( 930829 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:54PM (#51159339)

    ...our generation has largely given up on science. We all reap the benefits but I find the level of science education to be abysmal. People can't distinguish between fact and fiction in news reporting and our wonderful government (many of them) don't want to believe *actual data* about things like global warming, etc. - because it's not "convenient" for their economic or religious beliefs. And of course some of those people become the reporters that report on these things, and they are ignorant, too.

    It's really quite sad. We got to #1 in this world because of science, but we are turning into a society of cultish freaks who don't wan't to believe anything they don't like, regardless of the actual evidence.

    • by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:05PM (#51159449)

      The science of earlier generations was weird as well. I think, that compared with the past, we live in a golden age of science.

      Think of the racism theories from the beginning of the 20th century. 200 years ago, a large part of the population couldn't even read properly. Slavery was common, the slaves being mostly used for work, without education of course. 500 years ago scientists fought with the church wanting to control science, refuting heliocentrism. And this is only about elites. Science hasn't reached normal people for a long time. We had quite a progress since then.

      • Also consider, that never before, science has been made so much in the open. That's thanks to patent laws, and the fact that we don't live in a cold war anymore. Therefore technical progress was done in.

        And medicine has seen the requirements raise by a very high degree, due to bad experiences with not so well tested therapies. Think of the polio vaccine or the contergan scandals.

        • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:23PM (#51160095)
          Science is in the open, but I pin most of the reporting woes on reporters that really don't understand what they are reporting on. They read a little and think they understand enough to report, but the devil is always in the details. They don't do the research, they can't educate the reader so they try to 'wow' the reader with cool claims. In addition, there is no skepticism when it comes to claims of breakthroughs. And almost never do they take a look at the credentials of those performing the science. Anybody can be a science reporter. Anybody can call them-self a scientist as well.
          • ,

            I pin most of the reporting woes on reporters that really don't understand what they are reporting on

            This. When they were reporting the finding of the Higgs, the reporter and the anchors were joking about how they not only not understood this, but they didn't understand physics at all. They were proud of their ignorance, laughing it up.

            • the reporter and the anchors were joking about how they not only not understood this, but they didn't understand physics at all. They were proud of their ignorance, laughing it up.

              It's extremely difficult for a layperson to understand physics at that level. I have a PhD in biology and I don't understand most of modern physics either; I try not to be proud of my ignorance, but I do try to be completely honest about it. If I were trying to discuss it on a newscast I'm not sure what I could do other than try

              • Good point. I'm not a fan of reporters. Oftentimes it seems they're trying to sensationalize a story and have many in accuracies in even simple facts that don't require advanced education to understand.

                Check this story out as an easy-to-see exampe: http://www.news.com.au/travel/... [news.com.au]

                In the story they say (in the text) the guy in the parachute got entangled at 75 feet. The video clearly shows it was at like 5 feet, maybe 10. That day when it was on the news and several news anchors repeated that 75 feet w
          • by mjwx ( 966435 )

            Science is in the open, but I pin most of the reporting woes on reporters that really don't understand what they are reporting on.

            That isn't really the problem. The problem is that most science is boring, making for boring reports. No-one buys boring newspapers, especially in this day an age. So editors and reporters change key details and make some things up completely just to get eyeballs.

            Every paper who printed the headline "everything is just fine" has gone out of business.

            • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:56PM (#51163221)

              Every paper who printed the headline "everything is just fine" has gone out of business.

              And that's the larger point here: the news distorts EVERTHING, not just science.

              Newspapers sell by sensationalizing everything. It's why public fears are so out of whack with reality -- you read the paper today, and there's a plane crash, a drive-by shooting in another city, and a terrorist attack in another country. Thus the public worries about these things when they could prevent orders of magnitude more deaths by encouraging public officials to target actual everyday common issues that kill lots of people, like car crashes for example. A car crash that kills someone barely makes the back part of the local section, but something rare and weird ("shark bites swimmer!!!") gets the front page.

              The news distorts everything and causes us to take disproportionate notice of rare and misleading stuff. Its distortion of science is no different, so I think it's a bit weird to single out science here. Reporters commonly don't do research, emphasize the rare or weird, and make common errors while burying nuance that would make the story less interesting. It doesn't matter whether the topic is science or crime or accidents or political issues or whatever... the mundane stuff that actually is the most relevant to our lives often isn't newsworthy.

      • by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:12PM (#51159995)

        The science of earlier generations was weird as well. I think, that compared with the past, we live in a golden age of science.

        Any time someone bewails the decline of American intellects, this is usually the correct response. At no point in history has the US or any other nation been populated by a majority of sober, thoughtful, rational individuals. There has always been a large population of idiots, and always will be. We only think it's worse now because mass media makes it much easier for idiots to be heard, and, as this is still a liberal democracy of sorts, even idiots are allowed to speak their mind and vote. (And I wouldn't have it any other way.) Oh, and of course thanks to science-informed advances in medicine and public health, these idiots now have a life expectancy roughly double what it was at the start of the 20th century, so they have more time to complain. At the same time, we (educated Americans) tend to be exposed primarily to domestic idiocy, so we don't have an opportunity to observe how stupid and irrational people in other countries are. I only ever meet exceptionally smart and motivated Indians, for example, but I've read enough about India to know that a large part of the country makes Appalachia look like Marin County.

        In addition, in the last 50 years science has actually had a significant impact on public policy - so, naturally, there is a corporate-sponsored backlash against it that would have been unthinkable in less enlightened times. Many aspects of the popular backlash are related; the creationist movement is essentially reactionary and would not have existed before the courts started ruling that you can't use the public schools to teach religion (a use that had previously been relatively uncontroversial, since no one really gave a shit what the Jews thought and they certainly didn't care about the atheists).

        • The science of earlier generations was weird as well. I think, that compared with the past, we live in a golden age of science.

          Any time someone bewails the decline of American intellects, this is usually the correct response. At no point in history has the US or any other nation been populated by a majority of sober, thoughtful, rational individuals. There has always been a large population of idiots, and always will be. We only think it's worse now because mass media makes it much easier for idiots to be heard, and, as this is still a liberal democracy of sorts, even idiots are allowed to speak their mind and vote.

          The problem is that those same idiots have more politics power right now than any other time in the country's history. Science used to drive industry. Now that industry is trying to control science. Research used to be the domain of dedicated private researchers. Now pretty much all university and lab funding comes from corporations who don't care about the long term health of the country, only today's profits. In an economy where stocks are bought and sold in seconds, there is no way that long term re

      • 500 years ago scientists fought with the church wanting to control science, refuting heliocentrism.

        Oh? That would be why the guy who came up with the notion of heliocentrism was a Catholic Monk, right? Yes, Copernicus was a Dominican.

        You're probably thinking of that Galileo kerfluffle, where Galileo called the Pope an idiot in his book about heliocentrism, and the Pope got in a snit at being called a simpleton? Hint: Galileo got in trouble for calling the Pope an idiot, not for heliocentrism, which ide

        • 500 years ago scientists fought with the church wanting to control science, refuting heliocentrism.

          Oh? That would be why the guy who came up with the notion of heliocentrism was a Catholic Monk, right? Yes, Copernicus was a Dominican.

          You're probably thinking of that Galileo kerfluffle, where Galileo called the Pope an idiot in his book about heliocentrism, and the Pope got in a snit at being called a simpleton? Hint: Galileo got in trouble for calling the Pope an idiot, not for heliocentrism, which idea was developed by that aforementioned Dominican....

          Its interesting to note that this same Pope had defended Galileo long before this book was written, when Galileo was first advocating the notion of heliocentrism. The same Pope who at a later date asked him to write a book about heliocentrism.

          • The problem with Galileo was not heliocentricism which was generally accepted by the church at the time, but by his end run around the pope to publish the work and not going the church bureaucracy route. Also, the big bang was proposed by a Catholic Priest physicist,Georges Lemaître [wikipedia.org].
      • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @05:29PM (#51161525)
        Actually history shows scientists being part of the church for many centuries. Members of the clergy proposed and advanced heliocentrism, genetics, the big bang theory, the scientific method, etc. As another poster pointed out don't get confused by those who were persecuted mainly for political reasons, for mocking the pope. Also keep in mind that the fact that people within the church rejected various scientific discoveries at first is not something unique to religion. Many scientists are political in that they defend their turf, their field, their pet theories, their friends who have a stake in a competing theory. When many of the leading men of science rejected the Big Bang Theory they did so because it "smelled of creationism", the theory was put forward by a catholic priest at a catholic university, it didn't matter that this man was a world class physicist and astronomer trained at some of the most prestigious universities.

        At one time young PhD candidates were being told not to follow their interest and study string theory. That the consensus was against it and you will potentially damage your career.

        Men of science have their biases and politics, both men of science who are religious and men of science who are not religious.
        • Actually history shows scientists being part of the church for many centuries.

          History shows scientists being a subgroup of the people who are literate and have free time. In the past, that meant the clergy, rich people, and people sponsored by rich people. Now, everyone is literate and almost everyone has enough free time to do science if they so wished, and can even get jobs doing science. If your implication is that religion is what was good for science, pray tell what is the current correlation between members of the clergy and scientific advance, and how it compares to non-clergy

      • without education of course...

        I see this "Not Educated" meme all the time. Mostly by nitwits (not accusing you of being one BTW) who think because they are "Well Read/Literate" that means that their "Education" is complete and anyone who is not has "No Education". Nothing could be further from the truth. People who are illiterate are not "Uneducated" for the most part (especially in the past). They had more practical education. Most of the so-called modern, literate, educated populace would quickly starve to death if nearly everything t

        • I see this "Not Educated" meme all the time. Mostly by nitwits (not accusing you of being one BTW) who think because they are "Well Read/Literate" that means that their "Education" is complete and anyone who is not has "No Education". Nothing could be further from the truth. People who are illiterate are not "Uneducated" for the most part (especially in the past).

          These types of statements are usually only made by people who have not had much education, and really don't know what they have missed. Yes, "u

      • Science reporting has always been crap. As a child in the 60's I used to go to the library with my parents where I read "science" books that talked about a jungles on Venus and canals on Mars. Walk into any newsagents, the science section in the magazine stand is overflowing with physics and ufo's. Politics doesn't change the behaviour it just changes the subject, open a conservative newspaper and it will be full of anti-science wacko's denying AGW, open a lefty rag and it will be full of anti-science wacko
        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          A lot of people seem really fond of misremembering the past as if it was somehow better. One of my favorites is about how journalists are biased today and that we used to have a lot more investigative, hard hitting, unbiased journalism that exposed the truth. It's usually from young people who weren't actually there. In the example that I used, the history of yellow journalism would be a good indicator that they may be off in the wrong direction.

          Hell, the first use of a DOS attack or electronic sabotage was

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by roccomaglio ( 520780 )
      People involved in politics have noticed that science can be used to help them advocate for changes they would like. There are many studies that are designed to provide a talking point rather than actually determine if something is really the case. This is unfortunate and leads people to trust science less because they see numerous instance where the science was politicized.
      • The people politicizing science are for the most part not scientists. I'd like to see some examples of studies that you think are designed to provide a talking point rather than doing science.

    • It doesn't help that, for certain theories that are controversial to certain interest groups, vast amounts of deliberate misinformation, not to mention direct attacks on researchers and indeed on science itself, are unleashed.

      Want to know why science is held in such low esteem these days; look to Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Creationists.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by ArhcAngel ( 247594 )
      You are blaming the entire problem on half of those actually responsible. Many scientists today refuse to let facts get in the way of their theories. This stems from many factors. Pressure to produce results, ego, fear of failure. But there is overwhelming evidence [slate.com] the scientific model has been superseded by the trending now model.
      • by DerangedAlchemist ( 995856 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:42PM (#51160241)

        Many scientists today refuse to let facts get in the way of their theories.

        That is a complete myth and would be irrelevant even if it were true. Regardless on what your hypothesis is, in science you present evidence for or against it. Others can verify your claims. That is why, in science, frauds are eventually exposed, unlike virtually anything else. This is also why science has such a strong reputation.

        By the way, you are confusing the difference between a hypothesis, a scientific theory and the layman theory.

    • by methano ( 519830 )
      Hey surfdaddy, Don't beat your generation and yourself up. Science reporting in the popular press has been weak for as long as I've been a scientist (40 years?) and I suspect that it's been weak for a lot longer than that. Science is hard. Writing about science is hard. The few people that might be good at it are probably smart enough to be doing something else. Like investment banking.
    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      I think its more subtle and worst. Its not just a matter of disregarding evidence, there is too much conflicting "evidence" that isn't even going through a first pass filter for sanity. This is ESPECIALLY true of science reporting.

      It happens pretty regularly that studies are touted as saying one thing or another based on what amounts to little more than noise. We have studies being done, cherry picked, and hand fed.

      Let me erase the topic here to avoid bias and lets take an example I ran into earlier today:
      "

    • Bullshit. It's wrong because MOST journalism is wrong. The only difference is that it is EASIEST to check whether hard science reporting is wrong. As such, science reporters regularly get called on their bullshit. The same does not apply to other forms of journalism.

    • No, the populace isn't much to blame for the poor quality of work done by the media. The members of the media are to blame. The media has largely degenerated into a group that just repeats what others tell them. If they can find two people telling them the same thing they are good to go. Learning the subject matter enough to evaluate these people isn't really important anymore, doing their own investigations isn't really done that much anymore. Just get a couple of people to say the same thing, and if you c
      • No, the populace isn't much to blame for the poor quality of work done by the media.

        Yes they are. Advertisers pay based on what people watch. Media companies' income depends on advertisers, so they produce what people watch. Companies produce shit because people watch shit.

        • No, the populace isn't much to blame for the poor quality of work done by the media.

          Yes they are. Advertisers pay based on what people watch. Media companies' income depends on advertisers, so they produce what people watch. Companies produce shit because people watch shit.

          No. Even if your interpretation were accurate the media would be to blame for maximizing profits rather than maximizing information disseminated. Don't forget that people are ignorant in part because the media chooses profits over all else in your hypothesis.

          However contrary to your hypothesis the media is still in the business of disseminating news and information and they take short cuts and do it poorly. They lack journalistic integrity. Whatever fraction of the media is devoted to news and informatio

    • The actual data as you say, isn't really there. NOAA faked their stats to appeal to the people who want to be in Climate change (ie rapid tempature shifts and global sea rise etc) while other who talk to climatologists who are opposed to Climate change because of the data set is only accurate back 50 yrs and the ice cores are most inconclusive (ice cores go back thousands and are the only thing that is accuare and old enough) So if you actually read the dry boring notes and papers you discover that science
    • Which is the 'our' generation? I was in school in the 70's and it was horribly bad. I knew far more about science thingys by the second or third grade than any of my teaches until I got to high school. Because I could read and did, while they didn't.

      And the US got to be #1 thanks to WWII where we imported most of the science from the UK (radar), other parts of Europe (nuclear bomb) and an untapped and undesecrated manufacturing base. Our space program was a 99.8% continuation of the Nazi program under von

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:00PM (#51159401) Homepage Journal

    Also, journalists have become corrupt little trolls, trolls matching exactly the "throw something out there and see if anyone will bite" definition.

    • That's a mistatement. The problem is that controversy and conflict drives page hits and viewership. so their is a strong economic incentive to present sensational headline, not inciteful journalism. Fix the economic incentives, and you'd get better journalism. Like I say about most of the disreputable aspects of our culture: If there was no demand, there would be no supply. We're evolving into creatures with a 15-second attention span; nobody wants to listen to a long, drawn out reasoned debate with ample s
      • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

        That's a mistatement. The problem is that controversy and conflict drives page hits and viewership. so their is a strong economic incentive to present sensational headline, not inciteful journalism.

        Speaking of misstatements, I think you meant "insightful". Inciteful journalism is the problem you are pointing out!

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        That's a mistatement. The problem is that controversy and conflict drives page hits and viewership. so their is a strong economic incentive to present sensational headline, not inciteful journalism.

        Yes, but that was primarily front page news since once you'd bought the newspaper you had it. The rest had to be interesting enough to not appear just as filler, but not really more than that either. And you weren't in a second-to-second competition to bring out the most rushed, poorly fact-checked rumor/story, it came out once a day or at most twice a day. A lot of what you're seeing is exactly like it were, except everything now has to be headline news to get the clicks.

    • Neil Postman has an interesting take on this. It's not so much a concerted effort on the part of trolls, but by the inherent nature of the medium itself. Take television vs newspaper for example. I recently found a newspaper of Kennedy's assassination in a box of old papers. It's pages and pages of dense tiny text and allows for in depth detailed analysis.

      Television, by its very nature cannot do this. No one would listen to three hours of minutia of some guy reading a report and would insead turn the chan

  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:06PM (#51159463)

    Science reporting is bad because reporters are lazy and rewrite press releases.

    If they did simple things, like looked at absolute numbers instead of percentages, or understood absolute and relative risks, or even understood statistics they might do a better job. But that requires math and statistical knowledge, both of which are hard for reporters. If they could do those they wouldn't have been reporters.

    Maybe they could apply some critical thinking skills too? Although a reporter with no credentials probably wouldn't get real far down that path.

    • Ah but there are times when relative numbers make better sense than absolute numbers.

      However both should be given next to each other. Very few people realize we have a 4 trillion dollar budget and then worry about 5 million dollar spendin while ignoring 100 billion in spending.

      That is like counting pennies and then eating out at five star restaurants every night

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:48PM (#51160281) Homepage Journal

      Science reporting is bad because reporters are lazy and rewrite press releases.

      Science reporting is bad because major news outlets have eliminated their budget for people who can do more than this. Thirty years ago many US daily newspapers had dedicated science reporters who put out a weekly "science" section for the paper and covered big science stories as they arose. These reporters had a high degree of familiarity with science topics because this was their beat. The dedicated science journalist and the weekly science supplement are well on their way to becoming extinct [cjr.org].

      This is part of a general shift away from expensive, financially speculative "shoe leather journalism" toward cheap, profitable "opinion journalism". This is why on breaking news stories you'll see broadcast news services filling up time with frank speculation, which is the cheapest to produce kind of "information" there is. The intersection of slashed news-gathering capability and a 7x24 news cycle leaves them in a situation like having a half pat of butter to spread on a whole loaf of bread.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        This is part of a general shift away from expensive, financially speculative "shoe leather journalism" toward cheap, profitable "opinion journalism". This is why on breaking news stories you'll see broadcast news services filling up time with frank speculation, which is the cheapest to produce kind of "information" there is. The intersection of slashed news-gathering capability and a 7x24 news cycle leaves them in a situation like having a half pat of butter to spread on a whole loaf of bread.

        This.

        I know a few journo's, they've all switched careers to marketing (or corporate communications if you prefer) because it was a more honest career.

  • It is often funny to read about any topic as reported by journalists when you actually know a little about the topic.

    The funniest one I can remember is a guy saying on the news that the Oklahoma bomber had just been identified as "John Doe". The poor guy really believed his name was John Doe. That journalist has committed suicide since. Go figure...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:12PM (#51159509)

    When you chase any story for "ratings", you're doing it wrong. Just report the facts and stop trying to write fiction. All we have today are a bunch of short story writers who base their story on some truth but try to sensationalize the story to sell more papers, commercials, etc.

    You write entertainment, not news, which is not the way it used to be. Unfortunately the true news journalists are either dead or retired.

    • "When you chase any story for "ratings", you're doing it wrong"

      The paycheck I get by the end of the week begs to differ.

  • by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:21PM (#51159583) Homepage

    It is unfortunate that in this day and age, it is necessary to explain how science works, and why it is different from other belief systems.

    First science is a belief system. The fundamental axiom of science is that an objective reality exists, is independent of the observer, and that by investigation, truths about that reality can be discovered.

    What makes it work is that progress in science depends critically on getting it wrong. A couple hundred years ago, people were looking at fire (Fire's Cool), and wondering how it works. Deep thinkers thought deeply about it, and came up with a hypothesis: There was this stuff, phlogiston, that escaped into the air and that was why fire burned, and why stuff that burned mostly disappeared. Good theory.

    Then some pesky scientists - who were trying to put numbers to how much phlogiston was in different things - discovered that if you sealed up stuff, so air couldn't get in or out, and burned something, the weight was exactly the same. Hmm. The scientists first concluded that they had captured phlogiston. Great, let's figure ot what it is. Except that burning different things, led to different kinds of phlogiston. The science was a little wrong.

    New experiments brought new results. Burning magnesium led to a weight gain, not a loss, so maybe it captured phlogiston. If that were true, then the ash (calx) should burn, right? More phlogiston! Except that it would not. More problems.

    To shorten what could be a very long story, in 1774 or thereabouts, two scientists separately and independently came up with a more correct explanation, something to do with oxygen. In 200 years, their explanation has not yet been found to be fundamentally wrong.

    Science moves forward by being wrong. A theory is presented, scientists test it's limits, and if there are things that are wrong, they are made better. The process repeats. Every time a mistake is found, every time science is wrong, it gets better. It's like a fine wine, it improves with age. Also, like a fine wine, it is not democratic. The fact that a whole lot of people seem to prefer that Thunder-stuff wine, does not make it a fine wine. The fact that a lot of people disagree with a scientific principle does not make it wrong, just unpopular.

    Why is so much science wrong? Well, Homer, that's how it works.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      I don't know that there is objective reality, but there is a self consistent set of approximations we can use to predict specific outcomes for certain situations, and when those predictions are met we have created a reliable reality in which we can live. For instance our ability to get from point A to point B in a car depends on the prediction of science being accurate.

      However, as the parent mentioned, science has to move through many iterations before a reality is exposed. Furthermore, in studies li

    • And just how many scientific theories are outright wrong? Yes, there are abandoned claims like phlogiston and phrenology, but I question if you could ever call any of them "scientific". I can think of a few; non-tectonic plate geological models that proved wrong, alternatives to Big Bang cosmology which were demonstrated to be wrong (although elements of the steady state model remain in the form of the Cosmological Constant). In general, elements of theories are shown to be wrong or inadequate, and you are

      • Yes, there are abandoned claims like phlogiston and phrenology, but I question if you could ever call any of them "scientific".

        Why not? They (well, phlogiston, at least) were reasonable hypotheses based on observations, with considerable explanatory power that produced lots of testable predictions. That's exactly what you want in a scientific hypothesis. The fact that phlogiston theory was wrong doesn't mean it wasn't scientific.

        The worst fate seems to be what happened to Newtonian mechanics, which were subsumed in Relativity and ended up becoming a still useful set of calculations for non-relativistic velocities, more than adequate to land probes on Mars or put humans on the Moon.

        But not to operate a Global Positioning System. Newton's theories are wrong. In terms of calculations the degree of wrongness is slight in most circumstances, but in terms of explanations of what's going on

    • It is unfortunate that in this day and age, it is necessary to explain how science works, and why it is different from other belief systems.

      First science is a belief system. The fundamental axiom of science is that an objective reality exists, is independent of the observer, and that by investigation, truths about that reality can be discovered.

      Philosophically incorrect, but a common misconception. To paraphrase Bohr, science is NOT how the universe works. It is what we can say about how the universe works. Repeatability under varying conditions drives science. That does not imply that other conditions and results could not exist, only that we currently do not see them. Think of classical mechanics and a solid sphere, to atomic physics and the atoms that compose that sphere, and particle physics and quantum mechanics that describe the structu

  • My 2c (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:21PM (#51159591)

    I use to have a job editing and translating news pieces from a well-known American newspaper into an Asian language for the local readers. Due to my science background, I was frequently assigned the science news. I didn't need to deal with the journalists directly but I worked with the editors.

    Those guys were good and intelligent people to work with, but most of them lacked a science background. I had to do rounds of push and pull with the scientific bits. Translating the English word "space" as in relativistic space-time was not the same as translating it in the context of flying to the earth orbit, and I needed to tell them about it. And while I sometimes added my tiny clarifications to the originally unclear message (read: journalist crap), I had to write much longer notes for them.

    Also, they were more concerned with the readers' psychological response than scientific rigor. I might have preferred a technically correct way of saying things, but they pointed out that it didn't fit very nicely into the general tone and style of the whole website (not just the article's, but their "overall" style). Very good points, but at first both of us were surprised by each other. We learned to work it out, taking compromises, and I tried to influence them, with limited success.

    The moral was that journalists have vastly different priorities compared with a science/tech writer. They may do a good job of notifying the public, but informing, not so much. They paint an image of what it looks and feels like, in a kinda impressionist way, but reading it for education is like studying Monet's lilyponds for botany. The good ones will provide link to sources so the interested reader can dig deeper and judge by himself. The poor ones sell clickbaits.

  • Part of the problem is that most scientists are not journalists, and most journalists are not scientists. If a journalist takes enough time to become an expert in the scientific field he is reporting on, it isn't likely that he will ever come to market with his product, the reports, in a timely enough fashion to actually make a living on it.

    Part of the problem is that many scientists lack the literary skill to communicate effectively with laypeople, and have to rely too much on journalists who don't have the competence needed to report on the subject material.

    Another problem is that the proletariat crave the truth... the conclusions. As a mathematician, I reject the notion that empirical science determines truth. Yes, you can craft an experiment with reproducible results, but your results will still be just empirical observations. If you do a study, and find out that there is approximately a 78% correlation between wearing blue sweaters and getting hives, and that this result was reproduced three times given blah blah , then report that. Don't report that blue sweaters cause hives. Oh wait, the only thing the public cares about is what caused the hives... they have no appreciation for the results being what they are. The public wants to extrapolate conclusions only.

    I like mathematics. Assuming a few axioms, prove something. What you then have is truth.

  • Why is so much reported _anything_ wrong? The media wants to come across as the trusted expert on everything, but the truth is they don't know squat about anything.
  • Well, at least someone with a loud voice has finally said it.

    Journalists need(ed) to fill column-space, and have to get readers' attention. But although it is difficult to get a high-end concept through to them — they won't come back with a galley proof for you to check — the more common result is the journalist "spicing up" the words, without really understanding that they are changing the meaning.

    That and flying cars. Everyone wants to believe in flying cars.

  • Science Reporting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:44PM (#51159795)

    Short Answer: Obligatory PHD Comics: The Science New Cycle [phdcomics.com]

    Longer Answer: Reporters know "Scientists have found that X is weakly correlated with an increase in Y. More studies will clarify whether this is correlation, causation, or whether the first study was incorrect." won't generate views (or sell papers for the old school newspaper folks in the house). Instead "X found to cause Y" is a much better headline for generating more views. Even better is clickbait like "You won't believe the horrible things X has been found to cause!" So reporters go for the most sensational spin on the scientific study in order to get more views.

    The side effect of this is a mistrust of scientists who "can't make up their minds." After all, today it's being reported that "X directly leads to Y, scientists 100% sure." Tomorrow, though, the reporting says "X shown to have no effect on Y!" The actual details of the studies don't matter. It doesn't matter that this is how science works (someone tests a theory, proves or disproves it, and then others try to replicate it). It doesn't matter that science "changing its mind" isn't a weakness, but a strength of science. All that matters is that the headlines changed so scientists must not know what they're doing. Luckily, the local creationist/anti-vax proponent/homeopath/etc says they know what's what and they insist that they would never change their story.

  • Why pick on science reporting? How much of the media's reporting on other topics is thorough, diligent, balanced, and representative of the real world? I guess lousy science reporting is easier to identify because people who are science literate tend to read it and complain loudly.

  • Really all reporting suffers from the same problems. Do you think the reporting on, say, ISIS is any less sensationalist or distorted. The mechanisms and incentives are the same.

  • by Foobar of Borg ( 690622 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:26PM (#51160113)

    ...is that journalists generally don't know what they are talking about when it comes to science. They live in a world of politics and history, and they often even screw those up. It is generally accepted that, as a journalist, you don't really need to know the details of something, since an expert can explain it to you.

    That said, science journalism, as bad as it is now, is still a lot better than in the 1970s. Then, they really didn't know anything. That's why you get stupid articles in Time and Newsweek about "global cooling" and the "coming ice age", even though actual scientists like Carl Sagan are rolling their eyes at the stupidity of journalists.

    • Fact checking and editing used to be the core of journalism.

      Now editorial staffing is pretty much non-existent in most publications. Even if it does exist, the disproportionate power of the "star" journalist has any rendered editorial oversight limp at best (e.g., Dan Rathers, Jayson Blair).

      Journalists used to cut their teeth with fact checking. Fact checkers were the checks-and-balances built into the historical journalism structure. Now with a publication paths that doesn't require them learning how to fa

  • Most reporting is wrong.
    Reporters often don't care about what they are reporting about, don't do research on the subject, don't do fact checking or anything else that sounds like work.

    The only difference with science reporting is you can often tell how bad the reporters got the story.

  • Reporters get science wrong because reporters get everything wrong. You notice it more when the subject is something you know well.

  • They will report any study no matter how flawed or inapplicable. to justify their position.

    Plus they are idiots who can't tell a black hole from the hole in their ass.

  • Lettuce Produces More Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Bacon Does

    Bacon lovers of the world, rejoice! Or at the least take solace that your beloved pork belly may be better for the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than the lettuce that accompanies it on the classic BLT.

    This is according to a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who found that if Americans were to switch their diets to fall in line with the Agriculture Department's 2010 dietary recommendations, it would result i

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen

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