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  1. #1
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    This is why I hate science journalists

    Science journalism is well known to have reporting issues. For instance, when they aren't writing books absurdly trying to discredit modern science, or predicting that the LHC is going to cause a black hole that will end the earth, or reporting completely false statements where they misunderstand what mathematical equivalence is, or pretending like they know modern science better than arguably the greatest living physicist, they're often doing their bread-and-butter job of writing articles with either over-inflated importance or articles with transparently false claims, likely because they don't understand what they're writing about.


    Let's take this absolutely horrid failure of journalistic integrity, by scientific correspondent Charles Q. Choi on LiveScience: World's Oldest Stone Tools Predates Humans


    "The oldest handmade stone tools discovered yet predate any known humans and may have been wielded by an as-yet-unknown species, researchers say.

    The 3.3-million-year-old stone artifacts are the first direct evidence that early human ancestors may have possessed the mental abilities needed to figure out how to make razor-sharp stone tools. The discovery also rewrites the book on the kind of environmental and evolutionary pressures that drove the emergence of toolmaking.

    Chimpanzees and monkeys are known to use stones as tools, picking up rocks to hammer open nuts and solve other problems. However, until now, only members of the human lineage — the genus Homo, which includes the modern human species Homo sapiens and extinct humans such as Homo erectus — were thought capable of making stone tools."

    Now, I'm the furthest thing from an expert on anthropology (Well, apparently not, as this article demonstrates), but there was this species called Australopithecus garhi. They held the previous record for the earliest tool usage, and they most definitely were not members of genus homo. They're responsible for the Oldowan stone tools.


    Of course, the article, at the very end, finally admits this:

    "Now, scientists report stone artifacts that date back long before any known human fossils. Until now, the earliest known tools were about 2.8 million years old, the researchers said. The artifacts are by far the oldest handmade stone tools yet discovered — the previous record-holders, known as Oldowan stone tools, were about 2.6 million years old.

    'We were not surprised to find stone tools older than 2.6 million years, because paleoanthropologists have been saying for the last decade that they should be out there somewhere,' Harmand said. 'But we were surprised that the tools we found are so much older than the Oldowan, at 3.3 million years old.' "

    Then why does the beginning of article claim as fact the literal opposite?

    Oh no, we have to lie at the beginning of every article (the only part many people read), and hope that no one will read the fine print. It's okay if the public walks away with completely false information. Who cares about human evolution, anyways? It's not like that's interesting or important.


    It's not like this is even a really, really important scientific issue, but it's just so transparently full of sh*t. And there's no shame, no problems, no fact-checking and consistency within the article.
    Last edited by GoldPhoenix; May 21st, 2015 at 09:59 PM.
    "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." --Voltaire

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  3. #2
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Ya, its especially bad in science journalism. Though headline disease is pretty much endemic in nearly all of journalism these days. What matters is that it catches your attention and gets you to go to the page so they can serve up adds. And it works, and that's the only way they make money these days.

    I feel for them but not enough not to hate the hell out of these crappy headlines. So many articles can be blown out of the water with about 10 minutes of Googling. I'm not sure if it's sadder that the journalist doesn't bother or that most readers don't realize its happens so often.
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  4. #3
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    First a small defense of the author (and I think you know my opinion on the popular scientific press to know that I'm not a fan), he does say that only members of the genus homo were though capable of producing these types of tools. Indicating that he at least thinks these tools are categorically different than earlier non-homo produced tool sets.

    The problem with this defense is that it only shows him to be even less cognizant about what he is writing about than we would have thought given the OP. [Due dilligence note: I too am not an anthropologist, my experience is limited to a couple of undergrad courses.]

    Oldowan tool sets are essentially smoothed stones shapped with a rough edge. They usually have no or extremely little knapping into an edge for scraping.

    But, if we look at the link he provides, he undermines his own case by showing that these tools are indeed of a different type. A less sophisticated type. These tool sets appear to be nothing more than rocks broken for temporary hammer duty. They have little refinement and no edges. They show no flaking for edges or refinement, nor grinding for grip, both characteristics of Oldowan tools. So they certainly aren't of the type that only those of the genus homo produced (refined knapped blades and points with defined grip points).

    He couldn't be bothered apparently, to even look at the photos to realize that these are extremely low complexity tools, which would make sense for an earlier ancestor to produce. These are not blades or points of the Habilus type, they don't even rise to the Oldowan complexity.




    Ok, now that aside, I completely agree with your take on this issue in general GP. Scientific journalism is probably the least reliable category within that industry. Articles often have little to no understanding of the subject, they, as much if not more than political reporters, are usually trying to fit something into an agenda or world view that it may or may not fit (and even when it does, they miss the important point of the find in this process) and have virtually no fact checking staffs to validate the take.

    Side note: LiveScience is one of the worst offenders out there on this imo.


    I think we've discussed this before, but I found this interview with a science journalist very interesting: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/201...n_science.html

    The first half is primarily about replication, but the second half deals heavily with scientific journalism and its problems. What blew my mind is how often reporters will not only not read the actual work (relying on the abstract alone), but ignore any reviewer comments and not talk to the authors!
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
    "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” -G.K. Chesterton
    Also, if you think I've overlooked your post please shoot me a PM, I'm not intentionally ignoring you.


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  6. #4
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Come come gentlemen journalism is for public consumption not to teach us science.Beside some of us may be unable to comprehend the fine points of detailed argument.
    The popular press entertain us and polish up science to make it palatable. That is not to say that professional scientists don't speculate, they love to do so and I love to read thier speculations.
    Long ago humanoids have endless fascination for us as does the big bang. Take for example tg
    he use of fire wow what a free for all that one is.
    The deep Einsteinian mysteries are for the mathematical experts but even they must surface into the real world for eggs and bacon.

  7. #5
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    The only thing which surprises me about this thread is that science journalism is being held as something especially poor in the field of journalism. It seems to me that journalism from cooking to weather is practically non-existent. The news, radio and broadcast is just a series of canned sound bites. Newspapers cannot afford to send journalists out to cover stories so they just pass off editorials and opinion as news. Old magazines like Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report used to be sources of credible information, but now are just pop news and ideological hit pieces. The truth of the matter is that there is no one to blame except ourselves. We buy this stupid crap. Science Magazine has to sell copies. They don't do that by sticking to the facts. Everything must be sensationalized.
    The U.S. is currently enduring a zombie apocalypse. However, in a strange twist, the zombie's are starving.

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  9. #6
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    On principle GP, I don’t think this is worth hating, nothing really is. But, of course, you're free to hate whatever you want. I submit that a broader perspective be considered.

    Science journalism is not a science. It’s journalism about science and science journalists, like all journalists are forced to deal with deadlines and headlines and thus they can become churnalists. In that scientists deal with facts, journalists have to deal with deadlines, and hopefully accurate content. This is not just a science journalism issue, it’s a general media journalism issue and the fast changing environment, driven by new technologies, the blogosphere world, social media, scientists who can now interact with the public directly, the race to be “the first” out with the story and the internet in general often compel short cuts. But it doesn't have to be that way. Journalism, in spite of all this, can remain accurate, fair and balanced. It's really a matter of adapting with integrity.


    How to save science journalism
    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/...nce-journalism

    As journalists face greater pressure to churn out more stories, there is a risk that quality is giving way to what British investigative journalist Nick Davies calls "churnalism". That means relying more on press releases and newswire stories rather than that time-consuming business of original reporting. In his book Flat Earth News, Davies cites a Cardiff University study which found that 80 percent of the stories in Britain's quality press were not original and that only 12 percent of stories were generated by reporters.

    He also quotes the official BBC guidance to online staff: "Your story MUST be accurate, impartial, balanced and uphold the values of BBC News… NEVER publish anything that you do not understand, that is speculation or inadequately sourced." But then the guide continues: "Get the story up as fast as you can… We encourage a sense of urgency- we want to be first." A contradiction there, surely.

    If journalists don't have the time or space to investigate, to tell fresh stories, to pursue curiosity rather than the need to fill space, then that further diminishes the value of mainstream publications in competing with the internet. In the words of Chris Mooney from Princeton and Sheril Kirshenbaum from Duke University in The Nation: "It’s not secret that the newspaper industry is haemorrhaging staff writers and slashing coverage as its business model collapses. But less recognised is how this trend is killing off a breed of journalistic specialists that we need now more than ever, science writers who are uniquely trained for the most difficult stories with a complex technical component that are nevertheless critical to politics and society….”

    The disruption the internet is bringing is going to continue. To survive, you need a fresh mindset, new skills, a need for continuing education in how storytelling works now. It will make you a better science journalist if you engage. But maybe in future you'll tell those stories on iPad apps using film and recorded interviews. Maybe you'll tell them as a two-way conversation using the social networks to analyse data with you.
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  10. #7
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    I mostly blame news consumers. We want free media, and we use it. Free media makes its money from your attention. Dumb stories get your attention. First stories get your attention. So media makes dumb fast stories that grab attention.

    Back when most news was from subscriptions, you committed to a source and expected them to deliver quality. If they did you stuck with them and make them money through advertising and subscription fees but they didn't need your initial attention as you already committed it.

    This is especially true of those who don't have any adds or have minimal advertising. But for that we have to commit money up front. It's why I tend to support NPR and certain magazines who largely live on commuted consumers rather than sheer popularity and spur of the moment purchase decisions.
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  11. #8
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Quote Originally Posted by eye4magic View Post
    Science journalism is not a science. It’s journalism about science and science journalists, like all journalists are forced to deal with deadlines and headlines and thus they can become churnalists. In that scientists deal with facts, journalists have to deal with deadlines, and hopefully accurate content. This is not just a science journalism issue, it’s a general media journalism issue and the fast changing environment, driven by new technologies, the blogosphere world, social media, scientists who can now interact with the public directly, the race to be “the first” out with the story and the internet in general often compel short cuts. But it doesn't have to be that way. Journalism, in spite of all this, can remain accurate, fair and balanced. It's really a matter of adapting with integrity.
    None of that makes me like them any more. Those aren't good things and they certainly are not acceptable reasons to print falsehoods. Fine, they have to deal with deadlines --does this justify violating journalistic ethics? If it does, if we really are supposed to accept that "make many articles, first, and make sure it's true, second", then what the hell is the point of any of this? I cannot imagine any world where news is either useful or informative AND verifying the factual accurateness of the content is not a primary interest. And where do we go from there? Is it fine to make-up a few news articles entirely, so long as it sells news?

    Again, the BBC got the story 100% correct. It's clearly not impossible to prevent oneself from making claims from whole cloth.
    "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." --Voltaire

  12. #9
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Quote Originally Posted by GoldPhoenix View Post
    None of that makes me like them any more. Those aren't good things and they certainly are not acceptable reasons to print falsehoods. Fine, they have to deal with deadlines --does this justify violating journalistic ethics? If it does, if we really are supposed to accept that "make many articles, first, and make sure it's true, second", then what the hell is the point of any of this? I cannot imagine any world where news is either useful or informative AND verifying the factual accurateness of the content is not a primary interest. And where do we go from there? Is it fine to make-up a few news articles entirely, so long as it sells news?

    Again, the BBC got the story 100% correct. It's clearly not impossible to prevent oneself from making claims from whole cloth.
    But they could care less about this contention. "Yellow journalists" are just trying to make a dollar and because such journalism is rampant, I mean just at look at yahoo and a plethora of other ridiculous headlines elsewhere, it is considered more excusable.

    Not to mention that people are no longer charged with libel or sedition any more so with an utter lack of discipline and also the original progression from patronage to independence (this is a key historical process for us to observe), this was inevitable. Earlier in our history journalists working for newspapers or other journals typically had a patron or they funded it themselves out of passion for journalism. In Washington's day, for example, the majority of journalists were not career journalists at all. This is because with the lower literacy rates, the more stringent ethical standards of the day regarding journalism (with harsh treatment by lawmakers and citizens alike against libel), and with a lower population that wasn't willing to pay as much for the product, the media was not so lucrative of a business; you were either independently wealthy or you edited a journal like The Globe, which was patronized by President Andrew Jackson.

    Clearly there were spurious headlines and poor examples of journalism even then, and it's hard to think of a better early example of Yellow Journalism than the coverage of Jay's Treaty by newspapers, primarily out of Boston and New York, with fiercely isolationist editors who despised England. Effigies of the American ambassador to England, John Jay, were burnt, and president Washington was slandered to the point of a Jeffersonian minded minority crying for impeachment and hailing him as "King George". However the real phenomenon here is the growing prevalence, not mere occurrence.

    The modern world has prospered a new breed of journalist, and the more they prosper the less they are marginalized like before. Kant spoke of the Enlightenment as if man had finally "come of age". Folks treasured literacy and mistreatment of books was a grave offense. They had to fight for the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to assert themselves on history regardless of their station. Now that we take such things for granted there is no longer an ethical imperative to go along with learning. It is a casual pursuit little different from buying ice cream.

    Kant's dream is far from realized, because he did not account for the future lack of appreciation of such precious opportunities. We who live in an age with a much smaller infant mortality rate, with technological amenities and easily available education, can never fully appreciate the bleakness of past human existence unless we spend time in third world countries. Existence itself can be a struggle and intellectual development is an inestimable treasure because of their fleeting nature, their primal urge to be someone of consequence because their circumstances forced them to be utterly insecure of the idea that they would be of any consequence. The pursuit of happiness, and the pursuit of enlightenment, are now merely things to be had instead of things fervently prayed for. In a relatively tiny period of time, we've gone from people like my Grandfather who went hungry just to scrape by in college, just for the opportunity to learn, to people who lazily punch something into a phone.

    That is why I hate not only science journalists but the general trajectory of journalism today.
    Last edited by Lukecash12; May 22nd, 2015 at 10:10 PM.
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  14. #10
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Quote Originally Posted by GoldPhoenix View Post
    And where do we go from there? Is it fine to make-up a few news articles entirely, so long as it sells news?

    Here’s some possible solutions for improving science journalism and for that matter journalism in general:

    • External peer review
    • Internal review
    • Promote meta-analytical thinking
    • Self-policing
    • Reward accuracy
    • Punish crankery and unnecessary sensationalism
    • Constructive and adversarial cooperation:
    • Better rules for magazine-associated “personal” blogs
    • Change embargo rules
    • Improve science journalism education
    • Seminars, conferences and training programs
    • Establish grant programs
    • Improve recruitment
    • Think before publishing


    When I was in high school I use to adamantly dislike a small group of snobby students who use to create out of whole cloth false stories about other students they did not like in school. This got my attention when my then boyfriend was one of their victims. They would pass notes with dumb pictures around the school with pure falsehoods. Unfortunately, it worked and some people’s reputation got damaged based on lies. Then a small group of students decided to get together to try and solve the problem instead of being mad and angry about it all the time. We put together a plan; got a little advice from some teachers and implemented the strategy. It worked. Within about a half a year, the snob group disbanded. It was an object lesson, for me at least, on what happens when we focus our efforts on solutions instead of feeding our frustrations with anger and hate. It was also a much more productive use of our time and energy.

    Journalism isn’t going way. It’s gone through lots of change in the last few decades and it will probably go through more change as technology will compel us to absorb information faster. So where do we go from here? One option is that we can support and champion positive solutions and if possible be part of them. Another option is to adapt with integrity.
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  15. #11
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    We must not stand above humanity. Don't our children love superman comics. Whats wrong with crap Ibelsd?
    Crap makes the world go round people love it and I love people. They don't want to read the Times the Sun is far more fun. If you want scientific accuracy
    go to the original published papers. I like to see people enjoying their lives the crying shame is that two thirds of the world is left out.

  16. #12
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    Re: This is why I hate science journalists

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigfried View Post
    I mostly blame news consumers. We want free media, and we use it. Free media makes its money from your attention. Dumb stories get your attention. First stories get your attention. So media makes dumb fast stories that grab attention.

    Back when most news was from subscriptions, you committed to a source and expected them to deliver quality. If they did you stuck with them and make them money through advertising and subscription fees but they didn't need your initial attention as you already committed it.

    This is especially true of those who don't have any adds or have minimal advertising. But for that we have to commit money up front. It's why I tend to support NPR and certain magazines who largely live on commuted consumers rather than sheer popularity and spur of the moment purchase decisions.
    Perhaps, the moral of the story is that the idea of free media is an illusion. If you are not paying for it, then someone else is. Whoever is paying dictates content. So, if the goal is high quality content, then allowing commercial advertisements to provide 100% of the funding is probably an ill fit. There is probably no perfect media model which is why savvy consumers have always taken news from multiple sources. However when all the sources are paid for by commercial advertisements, then the diversity of news from those sources is likely to be constrained.

    We also shouldn't romanticize the news too much. Yellow journalism was not a term coined in the 21st century. The Boer Wars of the late 1800's was started by the British media. What we have seen is that yellow journalism has probably become the norm. Maybe it has always been the norm and newsrooms are just unable to hide it anymore. Perhaps, in the long run this is all a good thing. With media now covering the media, perhaps there is a transparency which never existed before. So, now we see all the yellow stains that remained under the surface. Perhaps, as in Science magazine, we look at it more critically than past readers which could lead to better reporting in the future.
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