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Why is science reporting so bad?


Neurologist Steven Novella offers some suggestions:

In the science communication world, perhaps especially in the subset that we self-identify as “scientific skepticism”, there is a lot of criticism of bad science reporting. The media often gets a lot of this criticism, and much of that is deserved. But various studies over the last decade or so have shown that journalists, while all too eager to participate, are often not the source of misreporting of science news. Much of it can be traced back to the press release, and even to study authors themselves.

Steven Novella, “The Causes of Bad Science Reporting” at Science-Based Medicine (June 16, 2021)

He focuses on whether studies of Alzheimer disease make clear that mouse models were used. Why that matters? Because, we are told, only humans “go Alz” = get Alzheimer disease (AD), though animals do get plaques in the brain, which are considered a model for the plight of humans. The plaques are related to dementia in humans.

Whether all that turns out to be true or not, as stated, if it is a conventional assumption, properly described rodent studies might be useful. But are they properly described?

What the authors of the new study looked at, therefore, was AD research on mouse models and whether the fact that they involved mice was mentioned in the title of the paper itself. They report:

“To this end, we analyzed a sample of 623 open-access scientific papers indexed in PubMed in 2018 and 2019 that used mice either as models or as the biological source for experimental studies in AD research. We found a significant association (p < 0.01) between articles’ titles and news stories’ headlines, revealing that when authors omit the species in the paper’s title, writers of news stories tend to follow suit.”

Specifically, if the article title declared that the study involved mice, than 46.2% of news headlines did also. If the title did not mention mice, then only 10.4% did. This is a very large difference that traces directly back to the published science article itself. This is also an extremely easy fix – journals should require that animal research declare the focus of their research in the title. But also notice that these results do not let journalists off the hook – in less than half of the news reporting about AD research in mice, the headlines failed to disclose this. Of course, journalists often don’t write their headlines, so much of the blame is on the headline writers, but this is all part of the news reporting and the outlet has ultimate responsibility.

Steven Novella, “The Causes of Bad Science Reporting” at Science-Based Medicine (June 16, 2021) The paper is open access.

Fair enough. But, if anything, media tend to be too deferential to science sources and are most likely to just follow their lead, in time for the 6:00 am deadline. If you are in media, you must publish something, and soon.

A question remains: Is it true that no other life form gets Alzheimer? Wild animals would simply be eaten and tame ones would likely be euthanized. It’s only humans who find their way to care homes where the disease flourishes, largely uncontested. Let’s not be too hasty about assuming no other life form “gets” it.

Anyway, Novella’s general point is well taken.

Note: Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, who writes at Mind Matters News, has often clashed with neurologist Steven Novella on many issues. See, for example,

Has neuroscience “proved” that the mind is just the brain? This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions. Can a study of mice really prove that? I challenge materialist neuroscientist Steven Novella to disprove dualism rigorously!


Why the mind can’t just be the brain Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn’t even make sense. It turns out that even a committed materialist like neuroscientist Steven Novella doesn’t really believe that.

In Science today, the public cant learn the truth. In practical terms, its impossible. As we have seen the leaders of Science, (such as Dr Michael Mann and Dr Peter Daszak) lie to the public to advance their agendas on matters of huge importance in the most prestigious journals, (such as the UNIPCC Report, and Lancet) with their lies repeated and uncorrected in the most prestigious press outlets, (such as the New York Times and NPR), and are covered up and the Scientists promoted by top universities, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization. With that going on, how is the public to be informed? We cant listen only to iconoclasts (such as Nicolas Wade) and gadflies,(such as Tucker Carlson) Such sources, although more likely honest, are often erroneous, and seldom agree with one another. Moreover, the public doesn't have the time, resources, expertise to dig deeper. Nor does it have the motive. If tammy haynes discovers the truth, what use is that to anyone. I dont have the soapbox to pass on what Ive learned to others. The public cant rationally follow the science when the concensus is corrupt, and it has no Plan B. Sorry, the essential ethic in Science is this The truth must ALWAYS be told. When Science lies with impunity, Science becomes impossible. TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
I have known science journalists for whom I had the greatest respect. They clearly cared very much about the subject and, so far as i could tell, did their best to report it fairly and accurately. I have also read some atrocious science coverage in the tabloids and even in what used to be respectable broadsheets. I get that newspapers are in a fierce circulation war with each other and online media, that stories have to earn their place on the page or on the screen. I get that press officers have to earn their keep by placing stories in the media even if it means making them sound more groundbreaking than perhaps they really are. I get that scientists, while wanting first and foremost to be published in academic journals, can still be seduced by the glamor of appearing in popular media. That's the way people are and we have to live with it. What does it mean? It means we have to bear all this in mind when we read such stories. It doesn't mean they are all wrong any more than they are all right. I means that if we are at all interested in getting near the truth rather than just accepting what fits our prejudices, we might have to dig a little further. If we're interested. Seversky
You can't just blame journalists. You can blame them, but they are just 1/3 of the real story. I haven't followed science closely in all areas, but I can tell you in Climate Science, it's a pile of dung all the way through and the scientists stink worse than everybody else. Andrew asauber
Can't blame scientists for this. And in my experience the press releases are usually excellent, often more insightful than the original article. The editors in university publicity offices truly understand science, if not the specific details. This is all on the "journalists". polistra
Here is an article summing up why science reporting is so bad
Scientists are supposed to follow the scientific method, observing natural phenomena, collecting data, forming a hypothesis to explain these observations, then refining the hypotheses as new data emerges. Instead, with both climate science and COVID the process has been reversed, ignoring or jiggering the data to conform with a predetermined hypothesis, rejecting new or contrary data simply because scientists did not like or approve of the source of the contrary data.
But as Forest Gump would say, “just like that,”
scientists are now curious over the lab leak hypothesis, after adamantly denying it for well over a year, and want to investigate further,
https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2021/06/following_the_scientists_who_were_destroying_america_just_to_spite_trump.html jerry
If you are in media, you must publish something, and soon.
There is always something to publish but if it does support the dictated narrative, it will be rejected. The real objective in the OP is not bad science reporting but the brain/consciousness connection. jerry

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