It’s a sad truth that science reporting is just plain bad. To meaningfully report on scientific developments, there’s a kind of bare-minimum comprehension of the subject that in many cases is just out of reach for more reporters, and that compounds the problems in reporting fact gleaned from industry press releases. In many cases, analysis is bolstered by merely tracking down anyone with a PHD after their name and asking for comment, regardless of said individual’s area of expertise.
I’m fairly confident the US’s horrid track record on scientific reporting has more than a little to do with our country’s seeming hostility to all things science, but that’s a topic that will send me into an apocalyptic rage.
But while we’re on the subject, STATS (a non-profit dedicated to looking at dubious statistics in media and policy) has a great run down on the Worst Science Stories of the Year, a collection of dubious and just wrong-headed reporting in the realm of science (along with the inevitable reaction). For instance: A Time magazine article in September advanced the claim that inhaling phthalates from air fresheners could “cause cancer, developmental and sex-hormone abnormalities (including decreased testosterone and sperm levels and malformed sex organs) in infants“.
Um…. Time? Infants don’t produce sperm. Further down in the article comes this money quote from Dr. Gina Soloman (of the group that sponsored the study) “We’re not saying that there’s any clear-cut evidence here for health effects.”
Ah, science reporting at it’s best.