Don’t dumb me down

September 8th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, cash-for-"stories", channel 4, channel five, chocolate, dangers, express, gillian mckeith, independent, letters, mail, media, mirror, MMR, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, scare stories, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, weight loss | 85 Comments »

We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics … Ben Goldacre on why writing Bad Science has increased his suspicion of the media by, ooh, a lot of per cents

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 8, 2005
The Guardian

OK, here’s something weird. Every week in Bad Science we either victimise some barking pseudoscientific quack, or a big science story in a national newspaper. Now, tell me, why are these two groups even being mentioned in the same breath? Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I’ve been collecting specimens, making careful observations, and now I’m ready to present my theory.

It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science. This week we take the gloves off and do some serious typing.

Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories. Last year the Independent ran a wacky science story that generated an actual editorial: how many science stories get the lead editorial? It was on research by Dr Kevin Warwick, purporting to show that watching Richard and Judy improved IQ test performance (www.badscience.net/?p=84). Needless to say it was unpublished data, and highly questionable.

Wacky stories don’t end there. They never end. Infidelity is genetic, say scientists. Electricity allergy real, says researcher. I’ve been collecting “scientists have found the formula for” stories since last summer, carefully pinning them into glass specimen cases, in preparation for my debut paper on the subject. So far I have captured the formulae for: the perfect way to eat ice cream (AxTpxTm/FtxAt +VxLTxSpxW/Tt=3d20), the perfect TV sitcom (C=3d[(RxD)+V]xF/A+S), the perfect boiled egg, love, the perfect joke, the most depressing day of the year ([W+(D-d)]xTQ MxNA), and so many more. Enough! Every paper – including this one – covers them: and before anyone bleats excuses on their behalf, these stories are invariably written by the science correspondents, and hotly followed, to universal jubilation, with comment pieces, by humanities graduates, on how bonkers and irrelevant scientists are.

A close relative of the wacky story is the paradoxical health story. Every Christmas and Easter, regular as clockwork, you can read that chocolate is good for you (www.badscience.net/?p=67), just like red wine is, and with the same monotonous regularity, in breathless, greedy tones you will you hear how it’s scientifically possible to eat as much fat and carbohydrate as you like, for some complicated reason, but only if you do it at “the right time of day”. These stories serve one purpose: they promote the reassuring idea that sensible health advice is outmoded and moralising, and that research on it is paradoxical and unreliable.

At the other end of the spectrum, scare stories are – of course – a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform the most crucial function for the media, which is selling you, the reader, to their advertisers. The MMR disaster was a fantasy entirely of the media’s making (www.badscience.net/?p=23), which failed to go away. In fact the Daily Mail is still publishing hysterical anti-immunisation stories, including one calling the pneumococcus vaccine a “triple jab”, presumably because they misunderstood that the meningitis, pneumonia, and septicaemia it protects against are all caused by the same pneumococcus bacteria (www.badscience.net/?p=118).

Now, even though popular belief in the MMR scare is – perhaps – starting to fade, popular understanding of it remains minimal: people periodically come up to me and say, isn’t it funny how that Wakefield MMR paper turned out to be Bad Science after all? And I say: no. The paper always was and still remains a perfectly good small case series report, but it was systematically misrepresented as being more than that, by media that are incapable of interpreting and reporting scientific data.

Once journalists get their teeth into what they think is a scare story, trivial increases in risk are presented, often out of context, but always using one single way of expressing risk, the “relative risk increase”, that makes the danger appear disproportionately large (www.badscience.net/?p=8). This is before we mention the times, such as last week’s Seroxat story, or the ibuprofen and heart attack story last month, when in their eagerness to find a scandal, half the papers got the figures wrong. This error, you can’t help noticing, is always in the same direction.

And last, in our brief taxonomy, is the media obsession with "new breakthroughs": a more subtly destructive category of science story. It’s quite understandable that newspapers should feel it’s their job to write about new stuff. But in the aggregate, these stories sell the idea that science, and indeed the whole empirical world view, is only about tenuous, new, hotly-contested data. Articles about robustly-supported emerging themes and ideas would be more stimulating, of course, than most single experimental results, and these themes are, most people would agree, the real developments in science. But they emerge over months and several bits of evidence, not single rejiggable press releases. Often, a front page science story will emerge from a press release alone, and the formal academic paper may never appear, or appear much later, and then not even show what the press reports claimed it would (www.badscience.net/?p=159).

Last month there was an interesting essay in the journal PLoS Medicine, about how most brand new research findings will turn out to be false (www.tinyurl.com/ceq33). It predictably generated a small flurry of ecstatic pieces from humanities graduates in the media, along the lines of science is made-up, self-aggrandising, hegemony-maintaining, transient fad nonsense; and this is the perfect example of the parody hypothesis that we’ll see later. Scientists know how to read a paper. That’s what they do for a living: read papers, pick them apart, pull out what’s good and bad.

Scientists never said that tenuous small new findings were important headline news – journalists did.

But enough on what they choose to cover. What’s wrong with the coverage itself? The problems here all stem from one central theme: there is no useful information in most science stories. A piece in the Independent on Sunday from January 11 2004 suggested that mail-order Viagra is a rip-off because it does not contain the “correct form” of the drug. I don’t use the stuff, but there were 1,147 words in that piece. Just tell me: was it a different salt, a different preparation, a different isomer, a related molecule, a completely different drug? No idea. No room for that one bit of information.

Remember all those stories about the danger of mobile phones? I was on holiday at the time, and not looking things up obsessively on PubMed; but off in the sunshine I must have read 15 newspaper articles on the subject. Not one told me what the experiment flagging up the danger was. What was the exposure, the measured outcome, was it human or animal data? Figures? Anything? Nothing. I’ve never bothered to look it up for myself, and so I’m still as much in the dark as you.

Why? Because papers think you won’t understand the “science bit”, all stories involving science must be dumbed down, leaving pieces without enough content to stimulate the only people who are actually going to read them – that is, the people who know a bit about science. Compare this with the book review section, in any newspaper. The more obscure references to Russian novelists and French philosophers you can bang in, the better writer everyone thinks you are. Nobody dumbs down the finance pages. Imagine the fuss if I tried to stick the word "biophoton" on a science page without explaining what it meant. I can tell you, it would never get past the subs or the section editor. But use it on a complementary medicine page, incorrectly, and it sails through.

Statistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn’t about something being true or not true: that’s a humanities graduate parody. It’s about the error bar, statistical significance, it’s about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it’s about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence.

But science journalists somehow don’t understand the difference between the evidence and the hypothesis. The Times’s health editor Nigel Hawkes recently covered an experiment which showed that having younger siblings was associated with a lower incidence of multiple sclerosis. MS is caused by the immune system turning on the body. “This is more likely to happen if a child at a key stage of development is not exposed to infections from younger siblings, says the study.” That’s what Hawkes said. Wrong! That’s the “Hygiene Hypothesis”, that’s not what the study showed: the study just found that having younger siblings seemed to be somewhat protective against MS: it didn’t say, couldn’t say, what the mechanism was, like whether it happened through greater exposure to infections. He confused evidence with hypothesis (www.badscience.net/?p=112), and he is a “science communicator”.

So how do the media work around their inability to deliver scientific evidence? They use authority figures, the very antithesis of what science is about, as if they were priests, or politicians, or parent figures. “Scientists today said … scientists revealed … scientists warned”; And if they want balance, you’ll get two scientists disagreeing, although with no explanation of why (an approach at its most dangerous with the myth that scientists were “divided” over the safety of MMR). One scientist will “reveal” something, and then another will “challenge” it. A bit like Jedi knights.

The danger of authority figure coverage, in the absence of real evidence, is that it leaves the field wide open for questionable authority figures to waltz in. Gillian McKeith, Andrew Wakefield, Kevin Warwick and the rest can all get a whole lot further, in an environment where their authority is taken as read, because their reasoning and evidence is rarely publicly examined.

But it also reinforces the humanities graduate journalists’ parody of science, for which we now have all the ingredients: science is about groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures. They are detached from reality: they do work that is either wacky, or dangerous, but either way, everything in science is tenuous, contradictory and, most ridiculously, “hard to understand”.

This misrepresentation of science is a direct descendant of the reaction, in the Romantic movement, against the birth of science and empiricism more than 200 years ago; it’s exactly the same paranoid fantasy as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only not as well written. We say descendant, but of course, the humanities haven’t really moved forward at all, except to invent cultural relativism, which exists largely as a pooh-pooh reaction against science.

And humanities graduates in the media, who suspect themselves to be intellectuals, desperately need to reinforce the idea that science is nonsense: because they’ve denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of western thought for 200 years, and secretly, deep down, they’re angry with themselves over that.

That’s what I’d have said three years ago. But now I’m on the inside, I can add a slightly different element to the story. I’m an all right-looking bloke, I get about: maybe I’m not the most popular bloke at science journalist parties, but I’m certainly talkative. For many months I had a good spirited row with an eminent science journalist, who kept telling me that scientists needed to face up to the fact that they had to get better at communicating to a lay audience. She is a humanities graduate. “Since you describe yourself as a science communicator,” I would invariably say, to the sound of derisory laughter: “isn’t that your job?” But no, for there is a popular and grand idea about, that scientific ignorance is a useful tool: if even they can understand it, they think to themselves, the reader will. What kind of a communicator does that make you?

There is one university PR department in London that I know fairly well – it’s a small middle-class world after all – and I know that until recently, they had never employed a single science graduate. This is not uncommon. Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely – since they’ll be the ones interested in reading the stuff – people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it’s edited by a whole team of people who don’t understand it. You can be sure that at least one person in any given “science communication” chain is just juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they’ve got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk.

Of course a system like that will cock up. The proof is in Bad Science, every week. See you in Berlin.

Bad Science will be continuing in the Guardian next week

[This article won Best Feature (£2,000!) at the Science Writers Awards for 2005]


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85 Responses



  1. Kenza78 said,

    September 27, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Just a thought, but isn’t part of the problem with reporting science distinguishing between opinion and science? I mean, most papers will have a synopsis, aims, methods, results and discussion/conclusions. The science part is contained in the methods (for reproducability and exclusion of interfering factors) and results sections, not the opinions of the people carrying out the research, or their opinions of the data. A scientist might use the discussions or conclusions section to draw his/her attention to parts of the results, but can (perhaps “should”) always form their own opinions.
    The other problems I’ve seen regularly are the confusion of correlations and causes (things can increase or decrease together without causing one another) and, as the initial article states, not including baselines or other relevant data to compare the new findings with.
    I could see why, if all you have is a press release about a forthcoming paper, this sort of thing wouldn’t always be available. That’s probably why it’s such a dangerous thing to report?
    Also, the science doesn’t always say anything particularly clearly or definitely. If you’ve been given the job of communicating something subtle or marginal without the time or column inches to do it justice, what *can* you do but pare down to the “facts” and hope they’re not too wide of the mark?

    As to “Humanities vs. Sciences”, we’ll be stuck with that debate ’till the next Renaissance! At Edinburgh, there was a certain amount of geographical separation involved, most of the science departments being about 40 minutes walk from the humanities departments. A physical metaphor from a far-sighted architect? It certainly didn’t resolve the debate, which is probably why my sister became an English student!

  2. Tom Morris :: links for 2005-09-14 :: September :: 2005 said,

    September 30, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    […] badscience » Don’t dumb me down Wow. How did I miss this? READ IT! (tags: journalism media science bengoldacre guardian badscience) […]

  3. Dean Morrison said,

    October 12, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    I came across this article in the Columbia Journalism review which bemoans the reporting of the Intelligent Design/Darwinism “controversy” in the States. The same problem of scientifically illiterate journalists giving equal credibility to both sides of a “debate”

    Undoing Darwin

    By Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet

    www.cjr.org/issues/2005/5/mooney.asp

    – it does contain this useful advice for editors –

    “So what is a good editor to do about the very real collision between a scientific consensus and a pseudo-scientific movement that opposes the basis of that consensus? At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing “both sides” of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims. As journalism programs across the country systematically review their curriculums and training methods, the evolution “controversy” provides strong evidence in support of the contention that specialization in journalism education can benefit not only public understanding, but also the integrity of the media. For example, at Ohio State, beyond basic skill training in reporting and editing, students focusing on public-affairs journalism are required to take an introductory course in scientific reasoning. Students can then specialize further by taking advanced courses covering the relationships between science, the media, and society. They are also encouraged to minor in a science-related field.

    With training in covering science-related policy disputes on issues ranging from intelligent design to stem-cell research to climate change, journalists are better equipped to make solid independent judgments about credibility, and then pass these interpretations on to readers. The intelligent-design debate is one among a growing number of controversies in which technical complexity, with disputes over “facts,” data, and expertise, has altered the political battleground. The traditional generalist correspondent will be hard-pressed to cover these topics in any other format than the strategy frame, balancing arguments while narrowly focusing on the implications for who’s ahead and who’s behind in the contest to decide policy. If news editors fail to recognize the growing demand for journalists with specialized expertise and backgrounds who can get beyond this form of writing, the news media risk losing their ability to serve as important watchdogs over society’s institutions.”

  4. Lin B said,

    October 14, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    You say
    “isn’t it funny how that Wakefield MMR paper turned out to be Bad Science after all? And I say: no. The paper always was and still remains a perfectly good small case series report, but it was systematically misrepresented as being more than that, by media that are incapable of interpreting and reporting scientific data.”

    I am not sure it was even a good small case series report – the recommendation for single vaccines made in the paper was completely unsupported by anything in the “perfectly good case series report”. And it was that recommendation that has seen loads of anxious parents fleeced unneccessarily for hundreds of pounds. Perhaps you are being over-generous?

  5. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 5, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    It isn’t the point, but I believe the issue with mail order Viagra, particularly “generic Viagra” (no such thing, I believe), is that non-authentic pills can contain nothing or anything… including Viagra, but in much smaller quantities than authentic pills, presumably so that if the product is tested “is this a tablet containing Viagra” then the answer strictly is “yes”. For other drugs not from licensed pharmacies the principle would be the same.

    I perceive a congruity between “herbal Viagra” (that’s another one) and the case of “Ecstasy”, which I think we originally were told was a term referring specifically to the drug MDMA, but when it got so much publicity lots of other back-alley recreational drugs were re-branded by small entrepreneurs as “Ecstasy”, including boring old amphetamines.

    In neither case am I writing from personal experience, and it troubles me that I can’t reproduce the news coverage where I think I must have read or heard about these things, but that’s small-w wikiquette for you :-)

  6. Nate Dray said,

    November 11, 2005 at 8:04 pm

    Certainly, I don’t wish to sound too neurotic, but there seems to me to be a great deal of laziness, corruption and self-perpetuated prejudice against both the media and the sciences, particularly where they interface. It is behind this “fog” of controversy that the beauracrats and University/Academia insiders hide their utter uselessness. Historically, good science comes from people genuinely interested in a problem or question, personally. There can be no “good science” with social and political agendas controlling it. Really, what do people expect when supposed objective empirical exploration of the universe turns into office politics and Nielson ratings? I don’t think Einstein was worried about crapping out some mechanical survey, calling it “a Scientific Experiment,” pleasing his grantor and publishing it in some journal that only exists to grease the wheels of the “Industry of intellect.” Oh aren’t we all so clever! Everyone pat yourself on the back for a job well done, especially me.

  7. Mark said,

    November 14, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    How much longer is the reporting of science in the mainstream media going to be relevant – except perhaps as a stimulus to discussion and righteous indignation? More and more issues, scientific and otherwise, are being discussed and resolved over the Internet via facilities such as this one. E.g. to learn about climate change – look at the realclimate and climateaudit web sites. Most scientific institutions have their own web sites and many science PR departments are beginning to create their own blogs and develop a strategy for using them. Anyone with a modern PC and an internet connection can listen to literally hundreds of lectures from MIT on a wide variety of topical scientific issues.

    If I see an article about a scientific issue in the newspaper I gloss over it, and if the story looks interesting I go on the internet to try and find out what is really happening (and I am a philosophy graduate). Surely this is going to be the way of the future for anyone who actually cares about the science?

  8. Scix said,

    November 15, 2005 at 1:17 am

    Is *that* what cultural relativism is all about? I thought it was something else entirley.

  9. mogstar said,

    March 3, 2006 at 12:34 am

    Ben, two words: Bill Bryson.

    www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=3115

  10. latsot said,

    July 27, 2006 at 5:15 am

    “Just to clarify, Frankenstein was a story about how an intelligent and decent person can be driven to do terrible things when badly treated by other people – people who abuse him and reject him because of his appearance. The scientific element was a conceit to set up the moral tale and add a nice touch of creepiness to the story.”

    Isn’t it also a story about obsession and its consequences? Quite a lot of the story is taken up with Frankenstein’s descent into obsession and irrational behaviour from a previously promising carreer. His horror at what he achieved and the revelation of his obsession is as much a theme of the story as is the ill-treatment of the monster.

    At least part of the story’s message is that there are boundaries we shouldn’t cross – that scientists shouldn’t play god.

    I think this was what Ben was referring to.

  11. latsot said,

    July 27, 2006 at 5:33 am

    “Often times the software is written by programmers, who are often times good techie types capable of writing Shakespeare-ian quality computer code, but as far as writing documentation in plain English goes, they are limited at best.”

    To some extent this is a cliche. In fact, programmers are not usually given time to properly test or document their code. It isn’t seen as valuable in the short-term by management. And even if they do have budget to do this, they are generally writing documentation for other programmers, not for users. Your analogy is interesting though. Why would you expect programmers to write user manuals? Why would you expect scientists to write press releases? Scientists have all sorts of pressures, just like everyone else. They generally don’t set themselves up as communicators of science. They just want to do their job.

    I don’t think we are responsible if the media decides to misrepresent our work.

  12. angelofthenorth said,

    September 15, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    I have a science degree, I’m training as a theologian/ministry student. The one thing I know about this is that the media gets both religion and science wrong. Instead of being flip sides of a coin “How does the world work?” and “What if?” they’re treated as being opposed. Most of the religious people I hang around with have science degrees.
    There appears to be a lot of laziness among journalists for getting heads round difficult concepts, or rather, the world has diversified so much that it’s impossible to get a coherent view.

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  16. Lurkinggherkin said,

    February 14, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Mark said:

    How much longer is the reporting of science in the mainstream media going to be relevant – except perhaps as a stimulus to discussion and righteous indignation?

    It may not be relevant to the readers of this blog, but sadly there are many people who still take stories published in the more established media very seriously indeed. And politicians and other decision makers are either influenced by those stories, or else they are aware of the extent to which others are influenced by them.

    It is tempting to think of all those surfers out there getting their news from the blogosphere or avidly researching things on wikipedia or even reading online scientific journals, but I think a great many people’s online lives consist mainly of shopping on e-bay or amazon. Even people who read news articles on Yahoo! aren’t getting a much better picture than the newspapers offer – since most of those articles originate from the same press agencies, and are just as sensationalist.

  17. TRiG said,

    February 19, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Arrgh! What’s happened to the article? It’s all one nasty block of text. I’m certain it had paragraphs last time I was here.

  18. skeptigirl said,

    April 6, 2007 at 9:53 am

    This blog entry from 2005 is still relevant today and since Trig posted 2/07 I guess it isn’t too late to post today.

    John A said,
    Disseminating knowledge from the scientific community to a scientifically undereducated public requires effort on the part of all those involved. Scientists communicate all the time at conferences, in papers and indeed to anyone who shows the remotest interest (as many have learned to their cost at parties). It is the media’s job to inform and educate the public, not the front-line scientists’. If the media is incapable of understanding scientists and unwilling to employ those who can, it is lazy and unfair to demand that scientists should come to them while they remain resolutely fixed.

    Tom said
    ..it would seem logical that while humanities graduates often have an inadequate grasp of science (not the greatest sin, but as Ben says, one compounded by the pretence of understanding), a possible reason they are given so much influence in science journalism is that scientists often have an equally inadequate grasp of effective, interesting communication.

    What you have here is not a problem with news media and science, it is a problem with news media on the one hand, and media literacy issues on the other. It isn’t just that the reports of science are ‘breakthroughs’, ‘wacky’, or ‘impending doom’ all news in the American market is framed to sell. Everything is dangerous or controversial or the incredibly overused frame, “breaking news”. Is it any wonder then to see science research reported using the same formulas?

    What is needed is for scientists to use their scientific skills to evaluate the problem and find workable solutions, then to disseminate those solutions for all of us to use. This blog entry goes a long way identifying the problem.

    John thinks it isn’t our problem, but it is. I for one, don’t want the neighbor’s kid to go unvaccinated. Nor do I want my health insurance provider to be forced by legislation to cover treatments and medications which are not evidence based. And I would like my government to quit peddling anti-scientific climate change research.

    Media literacy is the first place to start. Educate yourself about the tactics and formulas of the junk news you hear everyday. Get over the no longer valid belief, the goal of the news media is to inform. The goal is to sell the news.

    Recognize the language scientists use that hinder public understanding of science. Some examples are:

    1) do not interchange the terms, ‘theory’ and ‘hypothesis’;
    2) state the weight of the evidence as it is, ‘equivocal’, ‘overwhelming’, ‘suggestive’, because the lay public doesn’t understand why theories are not ‘proven’ and the anti-science promoters take advantage of the language of uncertainty;
    3) when intelligent design/creation supporters try to turn the argument into one about fairness and allowing alternative theories in science, don’t let them, address where ID evidence fails, don’t argue that science doesn’t address gods and designers, the lay public doesn’t understand that argument but they do understand fairness;
    4) don’t assume everything is a knowledge deficit, we need to look at the reasons people choose to believe unsupportable facts like the MMR-autism connection that has been ruled out, it wasn’t one bad science paper that has been solely responsible for the campaign against MMR and other vaccinations, there is a campaign by people who believe conspiracy theories that government and “Big Pharma” are out to make money at the expense of their child, you have to address those beliefs, the facts are not convincing by themselves;
    5) as we investigate these issues, we need to develop tools that other scientists or reporters or health care workers or anti-climate change lobbyists can use to communicate science effectively to the public.

    The anti-science promoters like those who see scientific discoveries interfering with their profits or challenging their religious beliefs happen to be very good at getting their message across to the public. The one area of science they have expertise in is the science of persuasion. And that is the one science that scientists rarely use.

    Don’t expect the news media to get any better. If anything, you can expect them to get worse as more and more, corporate profits becomes the driving force behind the news, not actual news gathering and reporting. But at the same time, the next generation is already getting most of their news and information from the Internet, not the TV and newspapers as my generation did.

    Scientists need to include the science of communication, education, and persuasion in all fields of science. Why not? We are including such fields as computer science into other fields of science. There is a wealth of research in the science of education and the science of marketing we could be taking advantage of. Why should all the research in marketing be ignored by scientists? You might be surprised to know how well the anti-science crowd uses the scientific method researching marketing and communication.

    It isn’t up to reporters, that is unless we don’t care. I care. And persuasion does not require I persuade you to believe something false. I prefer to have scientists persuading the public to accept research supported evidence and conclusions. I prefer to not leave it up to profiteers and religious proselytizers to choose what they would persuade people to believe given the chance. We should be able to use the news media to our advantage. We shouldn’t merely passively lament.

  19. terry-s said,

    October 11, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Only just read this piece, and I enjoyed it. I agree it has a lot of truth.

    Only one thing spoils it a bit for me: the ‘science grad vs humanities grad’ sparring. That’s good slapstick stuff, but it tends to obscure the point that respect for the truth (or lack of it) cuts in a different direction than the divide between scientists and humanities folk.

    I’ve met non-scientists who are very respectful in practice of the truth (but I can’t name any journalists among them!). I’ve also met some numbers of ‘scientists’ who aren’t.

    I wonder where our tolerance for mistakes and outright lies comes from? By contrast, many of us are so sensitive to the tiniest degree of pollution or contamination of our supplies of air, water and food. What a difference it would make, if we were even a fraction as sensitive as that, about contamination of our word supplies! Maybe the reason for the shortage of truth in the media is that ‘there’s no demand for it’?

    terry

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  23. zenoagnew said,

    July 10, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Someone mentioned the BBC educating and informing. Just read the story about the woman with an “electricity allergy”. My question is: Does she feel this “unbearable” pain every time she has a nervous impulse or any thought at all?

  24. zenoagnew said,

    July 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Also, she claims to feel pain when walking over underground electrical cables. Surely that’s an allergy to magnetism at best?

  25. How do we change the world? « Francesca Elston said,

    October 9, 2009 at 8:09 am

    […] obligation to tell the truth, and in particular to report scientific research accurately, and that this obligation is often ignored, and that this is wrong and causes damage. I think it’s wrong to use a personal tragedy to […]

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  28. Science + poetry « said,

    May 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    […] | by shonaghosh Humanities-students-attempting-science-journalism are the bete noire of certain notable commentators (there are 7 jabs at humanities students in that Goldacre piece alone). Unfortunately us arty […]

  29. I’ve been hoping to say this for a while: I was wrong. | RSS Lens said,

    August 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    […] www.badscience.net/2006/11/324/http://www.badscience.net/2005/09/dont-dumb-me-down/http://www.apathysketchpad.com/blog/2008/06/21/the-perfect-formula/ […]

  30. What lies behind the headlines? « Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer said,

    October 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    […] Goldacre, writing in Bad Science, classifies science reporting as falling into three categories – wacky stories, scare stories […]

  31. … « Oblak Tu i Tamo said,

    January 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    […] in itself and the Bad Science Blogs must be doing the right thing by pointing out to all the wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories about science as well as to the pseudo-science and alternative medicine wrong […]

  32. Science journalists and the papers they don’t read « 2012 And All That… The Fight Against Nonsense said,

    March 29, 2012 at 2:05 am

    […] irritating bee in the bonnet for nonsense-worrier Ben Goldacre. It is an issue he returns to time and time again. He comments that they create a parody of science and the fact that this parody has been identified […]

  33. » Button batteries: Threat or menace? How to Spot a Psychopath said,

    June 30, 2012 at 9:01 am

    […] any neuron-connections on what some attractive ignoramus thinks is going on. See also, jazzed-up, dumbed-down reality shows, some of which make a real effort to get things right, and some of which […]

  34. Dumbing Down Science | Dumbing Down Science said,

    October 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    […] public would understand, could it make them over-simplify science and perhaps miss out key points? This article by Ben Goldacre discusses how science in the media can often be simplistic and sometimes […]

  35. Dumbing down science | BMS3016 2013-2014 said,

    October 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    […] public would understand, could it make them over-simplify science and perhaps miss out key points? This article by Ben Goldacre discusses how science in the media can often be simplistic and sometimes […]