Yes, there is a point in phoenixdave’s comment. If the journalists overloaded the scientific facts in publications, many of us would not bother to read those....or at least, would not take the trouble to understand what we read. True.
However, from another point of view, that is one part of the job responsibility of a journalist, i.e., to brew in the facts, the figures and may be the scientific results, and present them in a more digestible manner to the general masses. Therefore, if they do not take trouble to base their opinions on correct facts, it is professional negligence. If they don’t present the facts in a simpler and attractive language, again, they are not doing their job properly. Their is a fine-line where the reports are based on facts and are still attractive and readable. The journalists are there to perform this balancing act.
Rich, I do not want to come across as confrontational but, I beg to differ when it comes to true science, only those really attempting to advance the human knowledge, expose themselves to the challenge of peer-review and analysis in the open domain. Only then, human knowledge can really advance and prosper.
There are absolute truths out there, but is the corruption of the human bias that clouds the basic facts.
In the example that you reference, I argue that medical studies that want to show a correlation or a benefit/harm of a specific substance for example. Tend to by reduce sample and time size due to cost constraints, so out of the gate the outcome has limited value as true research. In addition, even if the study attempted to do a life time impact study, there are so many variables that control and affect test subjects, which is hard to determine the impact and isolate the one variable of interest. Although not impossible, true medical studies define the outcomes as not absolute truths but probabilities.
In regard to the cosmology comment, I hope you realize that you used a term that implies a philosophical view of the nature of reality. A very subjective analysis since it brings along the individual’s cultural luggage.
With present knowledge of science, we now know that time is a forth dimension that is elastic and not absolute. So different time observations need to bring into consideration the fact that both observers do not see the same object! but a different life stage.
I would rather use the term: astronomy, which implies the strict study of the external world outside earth’s atmosphere (for the most part, quantitative). For example, did you know that Saturn is mostly Hydrogen and Helium, and its red spot has been observed since the 17th century?
I guess another point that could be made is lack of comprehension. If journalists in main-stream media actually did provide the scientific facts and data to support their articles, how many people would actually understand the words, the concepts, or let alone finish reading it?? Even though many people have access to a dictionary in the palm of their hand these days, how many would actually take the time to understand what the article says, and how many would just assume it's beyond their comprehension and not even read it?
It's a slippery slope. Good journalism helps communicate facts and data, part of that process includes demonstrative examples. In general people integrate data better with good examples. This template then gets abused by a sloppy or manipulative journalist and it takes an observant reader to notice that an article is based on selected examples and there really wasn't any data.
The problem is not "you" as Vince says, rather it's more due to lack of skills for writing technical/scientific news in mainstream dailies/magazines. Most of them are ordinary reporters who also happen to do some science reporting if they can't come up with good political, social, sports news which are treated as the news.
The problem is not journalism or news networks, it's you. Face it. You’re the problem. If it didn't sell they wouldn't do it. If you buy crap, they will sell you crap. Our parent's demanded integrity and they got Walter Cronkite. We demand entertainment and we get Fox News and mysticism as science. Don't believe? Explain why Fox News is the most popular "news" organization and at the same time the most slanted and biased. Our generation has no interest in facts. Facts are hard and painful. As Jack Nicholson said so eloquently in “A Few Good Men”, “You can’t handle the truth” The truth is as a whole our generation hasn't stepped up to the level of the last few generations; the generations that built this country. We are selfish, short sighted, self absorbed and greedy, and it's reflected in the institutions we sponsor. Name three incidents of self sacrifice for the good of others you've personally performed in the last six months(family doesn't count). I rest my case. It's your fault:)
Bill, I agree with the conclusion of your piece, as a matter of fact,
I admire Nicolaus Copernicus as a great role models of the scientific method, rather than ignore the data that did not fit his early models; he pursued analysis of cosmos observations until he was able to formulate his heliocentric model (and that took almost most of his adult life), with the Sun at the center of the universe. With Mars and Venus doing the funny loop movements that people of his time miss-interpreted as capricious behavior.
In other words, IMHO journalistic ethics should connect the dots with multiple sources and only until there is coherence that the true reporter reports his analysis.
As a consumer of general public news and some polarized views analysis from radical and extreme points of views, I accept as common knowledge only after I have evaluated and rationalized those views or reported facts. Even then there is the possibility that human error may cloud the masses, that is the price we pay as rational humans.
Many examples exist in the past decade that speak to this premise of rush to judgment without proper analysis and review of “intelligence”.
KD, I like the way you think ... and write! In the last 20 years, I've seen MARKETING grow to scary proportions and put a dollar-value on everything (not a square inch is missed as an opportunity to be "in your face"). Even movie theaters run commercials after I pay $10 for a seat (and they wonder why people are staying home in droves!). This, along with the dumbing-down of the public (which serves the greed of marketing), has made real, factual information ever more difficult to find. The world seems to be awash in "anecdata" and "infomercials". What ever happened to our truth-in-advertising laws anyway? And why aren't more people complaining?
Absolutely agree with kdboyce here. I dont think there is any source of information which can claim no influence from business, politics, religious or self interests. And frankly, how many of us really scrutinize the reports? Anecdotal and light-on-facts reports make for a entertaining and popular read. Maybe, if only facts were made the basis of opinions, the news would cease to be interesting! At least, in some part. And media houses want to more readers. Truth was never the motive.
And how about when the news agencies do as you illustrate and add in a sensationalized and misleading headline? "New graphene enhanced super conducting plug-in zero emission hybrid makes the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs." I can't count the number of times I've seen such a headline, only to find that the article basically just discusses some research project in the manner you describe. It makes me feel cheated. Maybe entertained, though. But usually not informed.