Bad Science Journalism(tm)

candicecoverAdding to the generally poor science literacy, Bad Science Journalism™ distorts the public understanding of modern science.  It is not just because the journalists themselves aren’t science literate, it is because the very format required by the media requires that the story be badly represented.

It starts with the headline.  It must be ‘click-bait’.  A headline that reads, “New Study Adds Subtle Nuance to Well Established Theory” is not acceptable, even if it is the most accurate possible.  Instead, it must read, “Shocking New Study Overturns Decades Old Theory”, even if it is very far from the truth.  Even worse, the headline may read, “Study Shows Scientists Were Wrong”; which plays into the anti-science myth that science gets things wrong all too often; So why trust any science?

Another requirement of Bad Science Journalism™ is that there must always be a practical purpose to the study, usually one that the Average Person™, can relate to, always.  Science for knowledge sake, with no clear direction where or if such research will lead to anything that the Average Person™ will benefit from, is absolutely forbidden.  To this end, there will always be a paragraph or two, perhaps with a quote from somebody that has no connection to the research, making the most tenuous and labored claim such as, “This may someday lead to a cure for cancer.”

Some of the blame for Bad Science Journalism™ is the laziness of the journalists, the time pressure to push out more copy, and the perverse incentives found in research institutes to create sensationalized stories.  Many universities and institutes rely on grants and donations to fund basic science.  They have professional public relations departments who produce publish ready copy for use by overworked journalists.  The more mentions of pioneering research that they can into press, the more donations and grants they will receive.  Educating the public on the actual import of a given study is not one of their priorities.

This problem needs to be addressed by more than bloggers with pet peeves.  All those who care about science education must hold those responsible to account.  Start by not clicking on obviously hyped headlines.

Further Reading:

Seriously Sad State of Science Education

Examples of Bad Science Journalism™:

https://scitechdaily.com/scientists-were-wrong-about-dna-it-is-actually-held-together-by-hydrophobic-forces/amp/

https://news.rutgers.edu/theory-earth’s-climate-last-15-million-years-wrong/20190920#.XYqIQohlA1J