Science writers should be better skeptics

But then we would need to replace a lot of science journalists. Especially in the hot button areas, like climate change.

From Michael Schulson at Pacific Standard:

Last May, when This American Life acknowledged that it had run a 23-minute-long segment premised on a fraudulent scientific study, America’s most respected radio journalists did something strange: They declined to apologize for the error. “Our original story was based on what was known at the time,” host Ira Glass explained in a blog post. “Obviously the facts have changed.”

It was a funny admission. Journalists typically don’t say that “facts change”; it is a journalist’s job to define and publicize facts. When a reporter gets hoodwinked by a source, she does not imply that something in the fabric of reality has shifted. She explains that she was tricked.

But today, facts don’t matter, only narrative matters. That is why facts can change.

As various commentators have observed, there’s probably no field of journalism that’s less skeptical, less critical, less given to investigative work, and less independent of its sources than science reporting. At even the most respected publications, science journalists tend to position themselves as translators, churning the technical language of scientific papers into summaries that are accessible to the public. The assumption is that the source text they’re translating—the original scientific research—comes to them as unimpeachable fact.

There is little about the scientific method that supports these broadly accepted journalistic assumptions. More.

No, there is little in the scientific method to support that , but there is a lot to support it in metaphysical naturalism, according to which our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth, and political fitness is what matters to these people.

Read the rest, but it’s virtue signaling slopped over with whitewash.

The fraudulent study, by the way, reported on making people change their minds about gay marriage. There should have been a Musical Ride of red flags, given the time, place, and circumstances, but nada.

Science writers can’t change this much because, given the right incentive, they’ll go right out and do it again and feel justified. They are after all mostly naturalists, and don’t really think that there are objective facts, just malleable narratives generated by the buzz of neurons. And their main goal is to be the one who writes the narratives, not the subject of them.

They do need, however, to wring their hands poetically now and then. And it’s smart to note what they say when they do.

Taken seriously (won’t happen any time soon), science writing would not be cheerleading. Lose the pom poms.

See also: Guy carts out bad science writing, along with demolished literary Darwinism


Atheist novelist sears popular science writing

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  • It’s a mess out there, that “Change your mind” study was an eye opener.

  • Thinking From First Principles

    Within the past year I had a manuscript rejected for the most flabbergasting reason I have ever heard of – the sole reviewer thought that my meticulous use of the scientific method made me seem desperate. He did not identify any errors in the work. Just what he felt about my use of the scientific method! I was trying to publish the first proper scientific study on a controversial topic where there has never been any proper use of the scientific method. I laid out a competing hypotheses and made predictions from them, then collected repeatable data, and finally compared the predictions to the data. Science by the book. And the paper was rejected because I did that. Yes, science is broken when we’ve come to this.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      Maybe there was a competing study that gave them government money in the form of kickbacks.

  • JohnfromToronto

    Fooled by a political scientist. There is the problem right there. Political science is not a science. One of the great frauds of the last century and a half is that social sciences are science.