There are reasons why science journalists can’t usually be skeptical in the way that other journalists can. Here are some of them:
In her usual forthright manner, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder asks, by blog post and Youtube video, “Why does science news suck so much? It’s hardly an original question but among her suggested answers are some thoughtful reflections, includingNews, “Why science news sucks — a response to a disgusted physicist” at Mind Matters News
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9. Don’t forget that science is fallible
A lot of media coverage on science policy remembers that science is fallible only when it’s convenient for them. When they’ve proclaimed something as fact that later turns out to be wrong, then they’ll blame science. Because science is fallible. Facemasks? Yeah, well, we lacked the data. Alright.
But that’d be more convincing if science news acknowledged that their information might be wrong in the first place. The population bomb? Peak oil? The new ice age? Yeah, maybe if they’d made it clearer at the time that those stories might not pan out the way they said then we wouldn’t today have to cope with climate change deniers who think the media can’t tell fact from fiction.Sabine Hossenfelder, “Why does science news suck so much?” at BackRe(Action) (June 18, 2022)
The difficulty, of course, is that a great many people read science news looking for certainty — certainty of a specific type. People who worry about a rising human population, for example, want to be told that their fears are real and Something Should Be Done. They don’t want to be told that the birth rate in most places has been slowing for decades or that a key contributor to rising population is the fact that humans are not dying as young as they used to. That’s a big change but it’s not a panic.
Maybe we all feel the need for a bit of existential panic now and then. Science news is often carefully crafted to provide that fix. People who don’t need the fix can get as annoyed as Hossenfelder:
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Takehome: Science writers, and their readers, often seek a certainty from science that it can’t really provide. They graft it in — so, of COURSE, they find it…
You may also wish to read: Flailing news chain Gannett cuts back on opinion pages. Younger readers say they can’t tell the difference between news and opinion. Readers say they can get opinions anywhere online these days and op-ed pages have become dead space — among the least-read pages in the newspaper.
Have newspapers simply lost touch with the mainstream public? The depressing stats tell a tale that’s a bit more complex: Readers tolerate out-of-touch media less now because they we need them so much less. Some journalists, says the New York Times’s top editor, see Twitter as the public that matters. That’s why their news medium is doomed.