New Scientist has just published an article on the dangers of bad science journalism. Irony noted.
Simon Baron-Cohen explains how Media distortion damages both science and journalism .
WHEN media reports state that scientist X of Y university has discovered that A is linked to B, we ought to be able to trust them. Sadly, as many researchers know, we can't.
This has three serious consequences. For starters, every time the media misreports science, it chips away at the credibility of both enterprises. Misreporting can also engender panic, as people start to fear the adverse consequences of the supposed new link between A and B. Lastly, there can be a damaging effect on researchers' behaviour. Funding agencies and science institutions rightly encourage scientists to communicate with the media, to keep the public informed about their research and so foster trust. If their work is misrepresented, they may withdraw into the lab rather than risk having to spend hours setting the record straight.
I work in one of those sensitive areas of research, autism, in which the facts are liable to be misreported or - sometimes worse - misinterpreted.
[Photo Credit: Simon Baron-Cohen: by Brian Harris (GNU Free Documentation License).]