On Twitter and blogs, we’re having another round of complaints about sensationalism and hype in science stories– Matthew Francis and Gabrielle Rabinowitz are the latest to cross my social media feeds. I’ve also seen some stories recently (that I’m too lazy to dig up) complaining about the latest Higgs Boson stuff, and I’m sure if you wait ten minutes there’ll be a biologist upset about something in Science this week.
The basic form of this is nothing particularly new: the argument is that by representing incremental improvements in science as Revolutionary! Developments! the media are fundamentally distorting the science, and possibly creating unreasonable expectations in the general public. Which is true as far as it goes.
Meanwhile, in the non-science media, we’re a few months out from the Most! Important! Election! EVER! that was going to Determine the Fate of the Nation. We’ve had a round of minor tax increases that were going to completely destroy our economy, the sequester cuts which ditto, and endless weeks of breathless stories about budget “negotiations” between the White House and Congress. And this week, Paul Ryan blew the dust off his budget plan from last year and re-presented it with much fanfare, where it was treated as something Interesting and Important.
You know, as a general matter, I don’t think the way our political media behaves is a Good Thing, but in this one respect, I wonder if it might not be a good idea for scientists and science writers to take a cue from the rest of the media. The problem of grotesquely overhyping non-stories is not remotely unique to science media, and yet there seems to be far more complaining about it from within science.
Maybe the problem isn’t that we need to radically re-think the way science stories are reported in the media, because really, current practice is not at all out of line with how absolutely everything else is presented in the media. Maybe we just need to re-think the amount of time we spend fretting about how science stories are reported in the media, and focus on getting on with our lives.