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Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Science journalists? Don't make me laugh"

"Science journalists? Don't make me laugh" is the title of an article by Ben Goldacre appearing in The Guardian. Goldacre discusses how British health and science journalists covered the recent papers on testing for prostate cancer.

The bottom line is ...
Journalists insist that we need professionals to mediate and explain science. From today's story, their self-belief seems truly laughable.
Note to science journalists; people are beginning to catch on to your scam. Matt Nisbet helped a lot by making it obvious.

I want science journalists to start policing themselves. It's time to take off the blinders and recognize that many science journalists are not very good at accurately reporting about science. The good ones need to speak out instead of issuing motherhood statements about how good they all are.


  1. It depends on the journalist and whether they restrict themselves to a specialty that they're genuinely knowledgeable about. Unfortunately, it's sensationalism that sells, not accuracy.

  2. This story is about how poorly the British press did in covering this story, as evidenced by the better coverage elsewhere. It is hardly a blanket condemnation of science journalists. Is it surprising that there are some bad stories?

    Health news is a very special and important category of science news, with unique responsibilities to help inform people's health-care decisions.

    By the way, the site Health News Review is policing these stories. On the prostate studies, they include a five-star, a four-star, and a three-star story (and yes, they do rank stories with one star).

  3. I know how most scientists view the act of writing--with dread and complete bafflement. I'm of the mind that scientists who also happen to be good writers are as rare, if not more so, than good science journalists.

    Hey, maybe we should tally the numbers.

  4. gillt says,

    I'm of the mind that scientists who also happen to be good writers are as rare, if not more so, than good science journalists.

    I think you're correct, and so do most scientists.

    Do you have a point?

  5. Scientists discussing research outside their particular area of expertise often make fools of themselves, as Feynman once said; are we surprised science journalists do the same?

    If it's a question of science/critical thinking illiteracy among journalists, I think the word you're looking for is scandal not scam.

    Nisbett, on the other hand, would rather the public remain uneducated and have their irrationality and ignorance stroked instead of challenged. I think the answer is to incorporate critical thinking skills into the classroom early and often.