Science journalism

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Science journalism is handicapped (or biased) by "the press’s tendency to make a big story out of every individual paper, rather than reporting the picture that emerges out of the findings of a field of science over time. . . . I think science journalism is in a terrible spot right now. Most scientific stories unfurl slowly, in a process that involves many different published papers, but journalists are tied to the news cycle and need to make a news event out of each story. So, to get space in the newspaper, they need to make it seem as if each published paper is a major event and the science is being whiplashed back and forth by each published study. (This is supported by the scientists who do each study and naturally feel the importance of their own study.) As a result, the public gets an exaggerated view of the volatility of scientific understanding. If the journalist[s] do not overemphasize the importance of individual studies, the stories will not get in the paper, and stories on the rising seas will be nowhere in the newspaper. Where is there a place for journalism that focuses on long-term trends?" - Dr. Kenneth Caldeira, a climate researcher for the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University[1]

Another problem is selective quotation, as when a reporter hunts for a scientist who will support a preconceived view:

I have quite literally had journalists phone me up during an unusually warm spell of weather and ask “is this a result of global warming?” When I say “No, not really, it is just weather,” they’ve thanked me very much and then phoned somebody else, and kept trying until they got someone to say yes it was. - Dr. Richard Betts, head of the climate impacts division at Britain’s Met Office.[2]

The media will typically herald a study as "the latest breakthrough", forgetting the fact that:

Scientists believe that one study on its own does not show anything: results are only considered reliable if a number of different studies have replicated them.[3]


  3. Deborah Cameron - The Guardian - 1 October 2007

See also