DailyDirt: Is Mixing Science And Journalism A Bad Recipe?

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Facts aren't always as reliable as they seem -- that's been a consistent theme here. And we're always interested in folks double-checking facts -- especially if it leads to a better understanding of how things work. When the process of verifying experiments or stories is blocked, everyone loses out. The conversation to clarify knowledge should be allowed to evolve, and generally science is pretty good about verifying experiments. But when it fails, it's usually a spectacular failure. Let's hope that arsenic NMR or proper mass spectrometry measurements will prevail in determining whether life can survive without phosphorous around.
  • Rosie Redfield's commentary critiquing the announcement of arsenic-based lifeforms has been widely published and discussed. Peer-review either isn't what it used to be -- or it's never quite as good as people think it should be. url, url, url, url
  • Meanwhile, journalism may be slowly adapting to admitting mistakes with a "report an error" button. And perhaps science journals need to start doing this, too. url
  • The Medill school of journalism votes in favor of changing its name. Is journalism like a rose? url
  • What would happen if everyone had a chance to vote on what science projects were funded by the government? We might find out. url


  • Reader Comments (rss)

    (Flattened / Threaded)

    1.  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 5:24pm

      Your forgot one for arsenic based lifeforms

      http://xkcd.com/829/

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    2.  
      icon
      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 5:32pm

      Re: XKCD

      nice one...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    3.  
      identicon
      Darryl, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:02pm

      Since when do you peer review a discovery?

      at the present time, it is a discovery, discovery is not the time or stage for peer review.

      Peer review is when you write a paper, or conduct a study of your discovery, and the peer review, is a well, review of your work by your peers.

      what are they going to do to peer review your discovery?

      (say,,, "yep, looks like you find what you said").

      Other scientists commenting about a discovery in the media is not peer review, it is just fair comment.

      You're not really 'up' on these things are you Mike !!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    4.  
      icon
      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:28pm

      Re: Since when do you peer review a discovery?

      Hi Darryl,

      This publication WAS peer reviewed... so I'm not sure what you're talking about? In any case, discoveries are also certainly subject to peer review. There are TONS of things that peers can say when they review a discovery -- in fact, many of the critiques that have been published after the arsenic-life announcement mentioned that their suggestions SHOULD have been part of peer review before the paper was published.

      And actually, many papers that don't get anywhere near as much attention are also "discoveries" -- and get peer reviewed before publication. Many "discoveries" are rejected in that process as well....

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    5.  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:55pm

      Re: Since when do you peer review a discovery?

      Congrats Darryl, you've set a new record for having every single..."sentence"...in your rant be entirely incorrect.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    6.  
      icon
      jjmsan (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:55pm

      Peer Review

      The mistake is to think peer review stops after publication.
      The subsequent criticisms are also part of the process.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    7.  
      identicon
      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 10:43pm

      Can I Suggest You Donít Use URL Shorteners?

      Your site can handle proper HTML with proper URLs, Iíve used them myself in comments. So why introduce a needless link, and additional point of failure, into the chain?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    8.  
      identicon
      skeptico, Dec 9th, 2010 @ 6:00am

      "...generally science is pretty good about verifying experiments. But when it fails, it's usually a spectacular failure."

      I'm not sure what you mean by that. It's not science what fails. Science is the best tool we have to evaluate theories. These can be confirmed/discarded as evidence amounts in favour/against. Science has a self-correcting built-in mechanism. Hence, science never fails. Theories do.

      "Peer-review either isn't what it used to be -- or it's never quite as good as people think it should be."

      I think you're missing the point. There have always been different levels of quality when it comes to peer review. It can be a never ending process. The arsenic bacteria research being heavily criticised is absolute standard. These things happen all the time. It's in the nature of the scientific method and it's not a failure. It's the self-correcting mechanism in action. The press likes sensationalistic headlines. Don't fall for it.

      When it comes to science news it might be better to read the headlines and head for the source. Science journalism looks plagued by writers who never took a science class, who mislead and who need sensationalistic headlines to sell. There's a very healthy science blogosphere out there. No need to waste time with the rest of the media.

      Sorry for possible language mistakes.

      A good place to start

      A bit of humour on a sad reality

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    9.  
      icon
      Gwiz (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 7:55am

      Re: Re: Since when do you peer review a discovery?

      That's not a record - that's standard operating procedure.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    10.  
      icon
      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 11:48am

      Re: Can I Suggest You Donít Use URL Shorteners?

      Lawrence... not sure if you've noticed, but I've put the full URLs at the end of each blurb.

      I'm using bitly links because I like to see how many people click-through on the links (so I can get a vague idea of how popular a topic is). The stats will eventually influence what topics I choose for future posts.

      Not sure why people hate bitly links so much... especially when the full URLs are provided. But if people REALLY hate them, we'll try to look for alternatives. (Any suggestions on how to track clicks without using a URL shortener?)

      Thanks for the feedback,

      mikeho

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    11.  
      icon
      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 11:56am

      Re: Never fails?

      Science does have self-correcting mechanisms.. but I still think it can fail at times. I don't think any human endeavor is immune to failure or mistakes.

      In this particular case, I think the standard process of publishing a paper free of "big errors" wasn't exactly followed. It happens all the time, I know. But for articles that have less impact, no one cares too much. For this arsenic lifeform story, the evidence should have been scrutinized a bit more.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    12.  
      identicon
      Dr. Brian Oblivion, Dec 9th, 2010 @ 2:26pm

      Science by press release has become a handy propaganda tool especially in the service of promoting the urgency of public health over individual self autonomy.

      In the area of tobacco control, apparently serious studies are used to generate press releases with a summary of headline generating conclusions. By the time the actual study is released and it is possible to validate or debunk the already publicized result, it's too late to correct the damage done. Corrections don't generally drive headlines.

      Tobacco control in the United States and the UK use this amoral propaganda technique with clear conscience, reasoning that tobacco use is too destructive to merit any real discussion of objective truth. The debate, they claim, is over.

      Public health campaigns in the works to denormalize alcohol use/abuse and food related disorders including the most visible, obesity, can be expected to follow the tobacco control model.

      While there may be some small value in study based reportage, the temptation to propagandize society for its own good and the willingness of the media to incorporate press release science into their own narratives only serve to misinform whether by accident or by intent.

      Science by press release as commonly used today should be discouraged and avoided at every turn. Propaganda should never be used to persuade the public no matter how important the issue is to any given group.

      Tobacco lies may be fine with those who agree with its ultimate removal from society, but the temptation to accept any morals based or flexible truth for convenience leads to more effective lies, such acceptance only serves to further muddy the waters and encourage special pleading. At least that's what I have observed.

      I hope those who create, review and publish studies will resist the poisoning the well one press release at a time. Let the facts fall where they may, and let that, not ideology, drive the conclusion.

      Dr. Brian Oblivion

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    13.  
      identicon
      Dr. Brian Oblivion, Dec 9th, 2010 @ 2:38pm

      Vote based funding for future studies? That's a gag entry, right? Just as the results of a study are not determined by popular vote expressing what the results should have been.

      Vote based funds dispersal, assuming it could even produce the best possible result, would only encourage corruption of the voting process.

      It's something to be considered and debated, and ultimately discarded. Some form of vote based rating system that tracks popularity but does not prioritize or allocate funds could still be a useful organizational tool however.

      But then, who asked me?

      Dr. Brian Obvlivion

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    14.  
      icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 3:32pm

      Re: Re: Re: Since when do you peer review a discovery?

      That's not a record - that's standard operating procedure.

      And that isn't even new...for those of us who remember Dorpus (may he live forever,) he was maintaining this standard operating procedure religiously 5 years ago or so (and for all we know, he may still be here.)

      Darryl is Dorpus for the new generation.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    15.  
      identicon
      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 9th, 2010 @ 6:05pm

      Re: Can I Suggest You Donít Use URL Shorteners?

      OK, I can understand you want to track clicks.

      The trouble with URL shorteners is they introduce another link into the chain that, if it fails, breaks the whole chain.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    16.  
      icon
      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 9:50pm

      Re: Re: Can I Suggest You Donít Use URL Shorteners?

      I understand the URL shorteners introduce an additional point of failure, but bitly says it's going to try to archive is shortened links in a way that even if it goes down, the links will still be accessible... not sure when they'll actually deliver on that goal, but at least they're trying?

      Also, as long as bitly is operational, you can see what the original link is by adding a "+" to the end of the shortened URL.
      http://bit.ly/pages/help#i_3_4

      On top of that, I've included the original URL at the end of each blurb.... and those won't go away either.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


    Add Your Comment

    Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
    Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
    Save me a cookie
    • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
    • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
    Follow Techdirt
    A word from our sponsors...
    Essential Reading
    Techdirt Reading List
    Techdirt Insider Chat
    A word from our sponsors...
    Recent Stories
    A word from our sponsors...

    Close

    Email This