Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science and The News Media

Yesterday I had one of those ever so nerve racking events where new media took a science story and ran up the walls with it. This was in relation to the possibility of a large planet in the Oort cloud region of the solar system, tentatively named Tyche (a good name if it does exist BTW). But that's the problem, the evidence is weak for the claims the articles make. Even worse, the articles on news sites take the researchers words to far and claim the planet all but exists, it just needs the images found from a database. I won't really go much more into it, as Phil Plait already did an excellent job. Also, the most recent paper from the two researchers this is focused around is HERE. There is no way to really either confirm or deny the existence of such a planet at this point.

So, what I do want to talk about is how utterly ridiculous news media is, and by proxy making scientists look bad. The amount of damage control people like Phil do shouldn't have to happen. I know I was up late last night arguing on the internet (an ever futile event) to try to educate people about what was really going on. I quit by the time I got to HuffPo. It is a bit annoying, but I guess it keeps me busy.

My guess is that the reasons why the news likes to latch on the most ridiculous versions of science news is because it causes controversy. They want to shake things up and get some readers interested. However, often times it just provides people with inaccurate information and disbelief in science. I'm not sure if this is just because the science... well tech writers for news just have a poor understanding of science or not. That was another thing I just thought of. There are no more 'Science' sections in the news, it's all under Tech. However there is a big difference between the two. Tech is your gadgets and gizmos, your iWhats and 3DHD1080PTV. Science is that actual work that goes into making that stuff possible. Example: 'Biologists may have discovered a new protein that effects depression, if so this could lead to technical advances in treatment of depression.' TADA, not that hard to see the difference.

Anyways, through some poor understanding and need for sensationalism, science is often distorted in the news. Hypothesizes often become made into facts with distorted applications. Example: 'You will never be sad again! Scientists have discovered proteins that eliminate depression!' And unfortunately, this sort of reporting goes on way more often then I am comfortable with. Especially when it comes to things like vaccines and the future of space science. Misinforming people can cost lives and our future.

It's also a disservice to scientists. They aren't some elite cabal of white lab coat wearing guys in labs all the time. They are people just like everyone else, and most of them are actually pretty cool, and a lot of them are girls too. And if you actually represent the science and the scientists, the story might actually be more interesting then the shake up that the news is trying to create. It might actually get people excited and intrigued. If represented correctly, the story of Tyche could have spurred and entire group of kids to become astronomers searching for the next big thing in the outer solar system. The story as told just suggests that Tyche would prove astronomers jerks for taking away Pluto or something like that.

Plus the original story in the Independent ends with the line "So if it is real, Tyche may not only be disrupting the orbits of comets, it may also overturn an established scientific theory." As far as I know, there is no established scientific theory being overturned. It has long been thought possible that planets could be slung out from their parent star and picked up by another. If anything, it would just add detail to our understanding of the working of the Oort cloud, for which the only evidence that exists right now is that that is where most long period comets seem to be the furthest out at. The Oort cloud probably exists, there is strong evidence for it, but we have yet to observe it ourselves.

Anyways, I am going to wrap this up. Final words being: Wouldn't it better to actually educate and inspire people with scientific discoveries that are accurately reported, humanized the scientists, and gives people the hope that if they were dedicated enough, they could help out too? Rather then portraying things as a big mess were scientists are always trying to one up one another and there is no room for outsides and inaccuracies that will confuse people and make them distrustful of science.


18 comments:

AnthropoSeptic said...

"ZOMG! It's Nibiru! The Anunnaki are returning!"
Yeah, I know what you mean. My scientific understanding is limited, therefore I appreciate news coverage that boils down the important info to me in an understandable way. There need to be more reliable and sober scientific news sources.

jeffersaurus said...

very interesting

Bring_Napkins said...

Good point, its all about educating the masses so they can think for themselves.

mmmpieohyeah said...

well the news media have a certain way of appealing more easily to the masses. Since its simpler to understand, most get intoxicated with what they have and stop searching for the truth

Dr. Grim said...

the media today barely cares about it consequences, all that matters is high rating, "so what if a few people won't understand what this new development really means?"

MrKnife333 said...

Thanks for that post.

seamagpie said...

I see what you mean, the media does distort scientifical discoverys merely to sell more issues

bbmike15 said...

i like your articles especially this one

Stuff that matters, stuff that don't said...

The media do like to exaggerate a story as much as possible and this is exacerbated in scientific reporting by the lack of understanding of simple scientific concepts by many reporters.

metalpark_73192 said...

The media is whats covering up the real science. Like the Earth is the center of the solar system.

Quasar green said...

Yeah I think mainstream media needs to do a better job at portraying science. One way would be to get credible scientific guests but w/e

Kazon said...

Very well written.

thatguy said...

word to the wise: compare stories between major news companies, and the truth is where the stories overlap.

AuditorAwakening said...

I enjoyed reading your article. The news media will always try to hype up anything to bring in more viewers. Our nation has a very short attention span, so exaggerated news will bring in more viewers. It will only get worse in the future.

Bear_Shark said...

I think if the media had some legitimate sources instead of phony whack job journalists, we'd have a better idea of what was really going on in the scientific community.

Lost.in.Idaho said...

Media = Drama. They needed to inject some pot-stirring into the piece, thus fucking it up.

Joe Somebody said...

Problem with education in the US system is that its bi partial. you dont learn both sides.

├ćOURA said...

finally, a blogger with credentials. Finally, someone who takes time to write these articles. Thank you for your contribution to the internet. I'll be following you, and you are on my morning coffee extension! hope you do the same :)

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