Friday, August 24, 2007

Science Journalism Critics

Just ran into an interesting website,, that analyzes science journalism and critiques use and abuse of data in mainstream media articles. Some really good articles are on the website and it seems to me after reading a few articles that their reporting is unbiased and fair. Although, of course, they probably feel they have an obligation to be highly critical to pretty much all science reporting since they provide service to journalists writing scientific stories. They also have some books for sale that actually sound interesting for those who care about how science ends up being digested by the general public.
The one that most attracted my attention was the article entitled "Anatomy of a health scare: PCBs in Salmon." Basically I'm going to pig out on wild salmon before it's all gone.


Bayman said...

Nice site. This kind of stuff is needed. But when you think about it, isn't it kind of ironic that scientists have to critically analyze and fact-check stories written by journalists who are supposed to be critically analyzing and fact-checking the latest research of other scientists? I can just imagine a scenario where a scientist is interviewed about his/her work, reads about it in the paper, and then has to go blog just to try and correct the misconceptions the newspaper printed. If journalists don't start doing some thinking for themselves, they might soon find they have become useless information middle-men.

Oh well. Just one more thing for an unemployed PhD to do...

kamel said...

Ha ha. Kind of like a technical adviser for a TV show.

There are two parts to the problem, I think. First, as we've discussed before, the media sensationalizes to sell papers and so facts are often exaggerated (eg. touting things as cures for cancer, when it's only been shown to work in vitro) or only reported on from one side. It's not just mainstream media though. As scientists, we're always critically analyzing 'stories' that are supposed to have been peer-reviewed, which leads to the second factor: People reporting on science for the local paper probably aren't as well equipped to critically analyze and fact check the latest research (and in some cases, understand it beyond the most basic level). That and the fact that some scientists can be pretty ineloquent when describing their work can easily lead to slanted or inaccurate reporting.

Obviously this is less than ideal, and does little to help public understanding of science.