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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

About the "media's inability to deliver scientific evidence"

Ben Goldacre, himself an academic (see here), writes a comment piece in The Guardian about science journalism and the media's inability to cover scientific evidence. (See also his site Bad Science.) Among others, he states that many reporters cannot handle statistics and some even confuse hypothesis and evidence. He asks why "science in the media is often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong". Here are some quotes from his article. The full article can be found at The Guardian (registration required).

"Statistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn't about something being true or not true: that's a humanities graduate parody. It's about the error bar, statistical significance, it's about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it's about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence."

"So how do the media work around their inability to deliver scientific evidence? They use authority figures, the very antithesis of what science is about, as if they were priests, or politicians, or parent figures. 'Scientists today said ... scientists revealed ... scientists warned.' And if they want balance, you'll get two scientists disagreeing, although with no explanation of why ... One scientist will 'reveal' something, and then another will 'challenge' it. A bit like Jedi knights."

"Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely - since they'll be the ones interested in reading the stuff - people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it's edited by a whole team of people who don't understand it. You can be sure that at least one person in any given 'science communication' chain is just juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they've got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk."

Source: The Guardian

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on September 13, 2005 at 02:43 PM in m. Improving editorial quality | Permalink

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