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science writing

Science Says It, So It Must Be So, Right?….Right?…Right?

Science says it, so it must be so, right?  Well, here we have one of the most famous studies of all time coming under fire for presenting false data and conclusions.  Shocking (pun intended).  Sixty-plus years ago, Yale University professor Stanley Milgram used a fake shock-torture setup to show that people are frighteningly easy to manipulate into doing as they’re told. One researcher described the setup as designed discover whether “ordinary Americans would obey immoral orders, as many Germans had done during the Nazi period.” The answer Milgram gave that question was a disturbing yes. I recall this study well.  One of my jobs in grad school was taking films from the library to show in various classes on the Read More ›

The science-based arguments against Copernicus and Galileo

Pop science writing typically misleads us by portraying the conflict as if the rightness of the Copernican universe were self-evident. For sure not at the time. Read More ›

How “single-study stories” build up science’s Neverland

A longstanding problem is that science writers tend to act as cheerleaders instead of constructive critics. Most of the probing questions that could have been asked about many hyped claims do not require advanced degrees, just a tendency to compare different teams’ findings and ask the tough questions. Read More ›

In case you wondered why so much science journalism sounds like PR

Because science boffins often want it that way. The biggest temptation for science journalists is to be cheerleaders instead of thoughtful and constructive critics. Everybody loves the cheerleader; the critic, however kindly and well-meaning, well — is just not loved so much. So one must be willing to be unpopular at times. Read More ›