Bad Science and Bad Journalism


Rotten Apple
One rot­ten apple? Photo by Sparrow’s Friend.

In this week’s Bad Science column Ben Goldacre evis­cer­ates sci­ence journ­al­ism in the UK. He lays the blame for poor sci­ence report­ing firmly at the door of human­it­ies gradu­ates in the media. As a Humanities gradu­ate with an interest in sci­ence I’ll say that he is 75% cor­rect +/- 5% error.

There is a prob­lem not simply in the report­ing of sci­ence in the media, but with the atti­tude of many in Humanities to Science. Andrew Ross’s acknow­ledg­ment “This book is ded­ic­ated to all of the sci­ence teach­ers I never had. It could only have been writ­ten without them.” in Strange Weather, Culture, Science, and Technology in the Age of Limits is, with all due respect, one of the most unut­ter­ably mor­onic state­ments of all time.


What would you say of a History depart­ment that insisted that its stu­dents read no books, to pre­vent them from being pre­ju­diced by the evid­ence? My prob­lem is not so much with Ross, who at least is kind enough to broad­cast his book is worth­less at the begin­ning, thus pre­vent­ing many wasted hours. It is with an aca­demic envir­on­ment that con­siders such an aca­demic a cred­ible per­son. You could argue that Ross’s pos­i­tion is more subtle than I paint it, but it’s only the bold strokes that will be seen by mediocre under­gradu­ates and that’s what they’ll take with them when they go into journ­al­ism.
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