Dodgy science in tabloids shocker

Reuters: Dodgy science is destroying science’s credibility, say scientists

A flood of ”dodgy science” risks submerging the public’s trust in science, according to new research. Professor Henri Mensonge of the University of Watermouth, claims that businesses and public relations firms are paying “labcoats for hire” to create newsworthy ‘factoids’ for newspapers desperate for cheap and “funny” science stories. “These commuter McNuggets may seem harmless, but the fear is that such a diet – especially when regurgitated during pub conversations to prove right-wing myths about women’s smaller brains and racism being ‘natural’ – threaten the appetite for real peer-reviewed science.” 76% of those surveyed by Professor Mensonge’s team were able to recall flawed studies being cited by a drunken relative after Christmas dinner 2010 as evidence for their batshit crazy views. All but two recalled being told that James Delingpole had single-handedly destroyed the “so-called” consensus on climate change in his latest Telegraph column.

The research, funded by the Journalistic Explainers of Research Knowledge Society, was conducted in the Newton’s Apple pub after one of the group’s regular monthly meetings (either January or February – the paperwork got a bit beer-soaked). Approximately 50 members of the pubic were randomly selected and asked randomly selected questions about science and journalism. It is recalled that Professor Mensonge is reported to have said “Our study, while not quite at peer-review standard, shows a definite trend in the direction that the funders of the research were hoping for. Can I have my fee now, cos it’s my round?”

OK, this wasn’t as funny or witty as I had it in my head (what ever is?). And I may have complicated matters by NOT keeping the satire focused on to the “create-factoids-and-get-them-into-the-press” industry. But the Point I Am Trying To Make is this – there is so much bollocks pseudo-science out there, and Joe and Jane Public don’t have the time (and training) to go back and see whether the science is “real” or has been bought and paid for by some company wanting to push an agenda, and waved through onto the pages of a ‘newspaper’ that wants to keep everything light and funny

Other Dwight Towers posts on relatively similar themes
It makes my brain ache
On the Reality of Nature and the Nature of Reality
The “Nature” of the “Beast”
Matey Capitalism (pdf) – I will post it at some point…

See also
This is a news website article about a scientific paper by Martin Robbins, the Guardian 27 September 2010

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies

Confirmation bias – we accept stories that we like, that help us to bolster the way we see the world.


About dwighttowers

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4 Responses to Dodgy science in tabloids shocker

  1. The amazing thing is that people accept their flawed version of a story even when faced with the reality of it.

    I remember someone arguing that the NHS is a bad thing because Americans pay less for their healthcare and live longer than British people. I showed him statistics from government and WHO websites that said the exact opposite, and he bit my head off for bringing up biased left-wing sources of information. Then he re-asserted his main argument.

    I guess people go to secondary sources of information in order to get reports based on primary sources. But often these secondary sources distort facts or flat out lie. The problem is, people don’t interact with the primary sources, so they don’t end up building up trust for them.

    This creates a situation where if the Daily Mail says that a report says one thing and the report says another, people are more comfortable going with the Daily Mail’s report about the report.

    I hope I’m slightly better. But I’m probably not. How can we ever know?

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Yep, you’ve just nailed it. Your NHS-hater selected only sources to support their views, and disparaged anything that might punch holes in the wall of reality. You do it, I do it too, but we at least have the awareness of it and the cognitive flexibility and humility to know it. What do we do? I guess checklists, (how reliable is this study. What do the critics of its methodology say? What is there in it that I WANT to be true? What are the alternative explanations, do they have similar power? How would I DISPROVE this hypothesis), and trying to see what the ‘quality’ (cough) press is saying. I think people like Ben Goldacre and Real Climate do a pretty good job. There’s also the question of what exactly we expect “science” to tell us and supply. I wonder if sometimes we expect it to provide the sorts of certainty and moral “clarity” (cough) that religion used to. If you come back in a couple of days, I will have finished reading “Mistakes were made (but not by me)” and will have reviewed it. It has a LOT on how we shape the facts to fit our needs (especially around our autobiographical memories). I guess for that the best we can do is to keep a diary and re-read it occasionally?

    What do other readers think?

    Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, and glad I am still providing some useful thought-fodder for you!!

  3. Pingback: Churnalism exposed! Oh Yes!!! «

  4. Pingback: The way we see the world «

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