Science In The News

leadI’ve been working on this general thought all week. You will find it very rough at first, but follow below for some full context.

The mainstream media has a deeply flawed style of reporting science stories. They take a single scientific study, not a trend in the literature, and reports it as almost indisputable fact. This is a huge problem. To observe this phenomenon just watch your local news. I don’t know if drinking red wine will let me live forever, or kill me tomorrow. They just jump on the latest, single study from a peer reviewed journal and report it as settled science. The public does not know enough about the pillars of the scientific method to understand. They just rely on the reporting of their local information gate-keepers. The news just throws up a tease before a commercial break saying something like, “How eating chocolate may affect your health. Coming up in 30 seconds.” This then is followed by a report that is far too short for even the study’s abstract to be read aloud. This is unbelievably irresponsible.

In light of the above rant I wrote and re-wrote on  my iPhone at work all week, I found on the web today a terrific article in The Atlantic that backs me up. The Thursday piece is about a Pew Research poll  that shows people have no doubt in science’s progress and usefulness, yet they still disagree with some specific findings. These include hot-button issues like global-warming, genetically modified food, and opinions on vaccines’ effectiveness and safety. So let me quote something from the article I found that contributes to my argument:

For their part, scientists in the Pew survey faulted the media and the public itself for the existence of these gaps. The “public doesn’t know much about science” was reported as a major problem by 84 percent of scientists, and 79 percent considered “news reports don’t distinguish well-founded findings” a major problem. About half of scientists said oversimplification by the media and a public that expects solutions too quickly were major problems.

Fair enough. The translating of dense, precise scientific studies into digestible, clickable news stories is a tricky business. When a publication mistakenly says a single study “proves” something, or, heaven forbid, implies causation where there is merely correlation, those who know better are eager to jump in and point out the mistake. And it probably doesn’t help the publications’ reputations as legitimate sources of information. Of course, no matter how careful a writer is to say “associated with,” to transparently point out small sample sizes, to repeat the scientists’ claim that “more research is needed,” you’ll still get commenters crying “pseudoscience.”

So we must be vigilant. The misrepresented news of peer-reviewed publications’ studies and experiments need to be reported as part of a larger conversation. And that includes the work of many researchers over a usually lengthy amount of time, not just a 20-second news bite or Yahoo! article.

 

Climate Change Report Destined to Become Politically Charged

07climate1_now-master675The NYT reports on the National Climate Assessment that was released today which concludes present and future catastrophic weather events in the U.S. are the effects of climate change

The article reports that the NCA reads:

“Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced,” the report continued. “Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”

(Read Here.)

Now what will happen here is that the GOP will wrap this report up in partisan politics and anti-enviornmentalism speech. Just take this quote from the article:

Some Republican members of Congress have contended that the science of global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy of climate scientists, a point of view Mr. Obama has mocked as comparable to belief in a flat earth.

Yet, on the other side, the article reports that Pres. Obama has interest in the NCA’s promulgation:

The administration hopes to use the report to shore up public support for the president’s climate policies as he seeks to put new regulations in place to limit emissions. A major political battle over the rules is expected this summer, with Republicans already accusing Mr. Obama of plotting a “war on coal.”

But notice the wide swathe of scientists and even businessmen who were involved in this Assessment:

The report was supervised and approved by a large committee representing a cross section of American society, including representatives of two oil companies.

Hopefully the press this report is getting will let some of the included information get-through.

And just because the NCA is supported by the White House doesn’t mean that the information is some partisan ploy. This fact is exemplified by the fact that these NCA’s are to be conducted every four years no matter which party is in power.

Now we’ve got to get to the fact that why only three have been conducted (they have been missed by both Pres. Clinton and Bush) when the Congress ordered the NCA be compiled every four years.

 

 

 

 

Take Climate Change Seriously

stock-footage-industrial-factory-building-with-smoke-stacksA U.N. panel (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reported today that it would cost less to prevent climate change today than to deal with it later.

It outlines that it will be cheaper to develop green energy solutions and lower CO2 emissions standards today than to deal with reversing the causes of global warming in the future. And if we wait even later we will have to financially recover from global catastrophes caused by the phenomena, eating into our bottom line.

Maybe this economically-centric argument may give some push against right-wing, business interests opposition.

Read Here.

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