Media Misrepresenting Science April 18, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Ethics, Science.
Tags: journalism, journalism ethics, Media
Here is an interesting assessment by Ars Technica of two recent science stories that received lots of attention in the press but were seriously distorted by the press reports.
One study was about the alleged correlation between the use of Facebook and lower grades. The other study was about the effect of new communications technology on the emotional processing of moral behavior.
In both cases, the media sensationalized the results and drew conclusions not warranted by the data. The report is interesting in that it doesn’t point fingers at journalists only but at the whole system of science reporting that introduces perverse incentives.
Journalists are the most frequent targets of complaints about the state of science reporting, but it’s important to emphasize that all of these problems occur before they even get involved. In Karpinski’s case, most of the journalists that handled her story seem to have described it in ways that she was comfortable with. Even in the one case where she felt things went seriously off course, it appeared that the writers had done a good job in the initial draft she’d seen, suggesting problems arose later in the process.
In other words, editors and marketing experts are shaping the reporting in ways that mislead readers.
Incompetence and willful misrepresentation in the media, especially regarding science, are an important issue. As a society we are utterly dependent on science and on the public’s understanding of it. We routinely make personal decisions about what to buy and what activities to engage in based on science reported in the media.
We cannot afford a media that distorts science in order to sell newspapers.