Besides coming up with catchy titles or getting the facts, terminology and statistics wrong? Apparently obtaining crappy Excel graphs is pretty tough according to a survey of science reporters. Am I too hard on science reporters? There are some really good ones (this one comes to mind), but there are also some really poorly written science articles. I’m not talking about the actual writing, but the scientific content. Anyway, go read this article about science reporters, deceptive PI’s, and confusing science. Because, as Barbie so famously said, “Science is hard.”

(Via Nobel Intent.)


  1. #1 Ken
    July 17, 2006

    Math is hard! — Barbie

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    July 17, 2006

    Interesting stuff. I’ve never been a working scientist, but I have 1 science degree and 1 math degree. I’ve been reading about science for a long while (although not often in the professional journals). One of the “negatives” mentioned in the linked article caught my eye …

    As part of the survey, reporters and public information officers also were asked to rate factors that may negatively affect public trust in the integrity of science. Reporters were most concerned about … scientific uncertainty or ambiguous findings .. .

    There were other factors, of course, but I often notice this aspect when reading “general-consumption” science articles, particularly those in daily newspapers. I fairly frequently come across articles which exude more of an air of “definitiveness” about some finding or some study than I suspect is warranted. I don’t know how possible root causes stack up here – could be the writer, the editor, the scientist interviewed. Or it could be a shared perception that anything that is appropriately qualified and positioned isn’t “dramatic” enough for the general public.

    However, I note that you (quite properly) point the finger at Carl Zimmer as being one of the Good Guys when it comes to science reporting/writing. One of the aspects of his writing about new discoveries/developments/studies that I like is that he seems to consistently position such things as another data point on a continuum, or perhaps one more point-in-time snapshot of an ongoing process of discovery. In any event, the “new stuff” may be reinforced by future work … or may be overturned. I suggest that his writings on the Flores “hobbits” is a good example of this strength.

    This is a reality that it seems to me is not understood enough, and that is not as obviously present as it should be in “general consumption” science journalism. Sure, there are other examples beyond Carl Zimmer, but if my reading is at all representative, they aren’t as common as they ought to be.

  3. #3 Sarah
    July 17, 2006

    Please consider the source. EurekAlert is a service for universities and other institutions to post press releases and other information for journalists and the public. EurekAlert is trying to sell that service, and their survey is targeted at the universities and institutions they are trying to sell that service to. Thus, the questions are not representative of the concerns of science writers. Rather, they represent the concerns that EurekAlert can help with, or at least help universities to help science writers.

  4. #4 RPM
    July 17, 2006

    You got me Ken (if that’s your real name). I took some artistic liberty with the quote. Does misquoting Barbie count as an academic integrity violation?

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