Sociologists and psychologists know how to get attention - make a crazy claim based on correlations in population data or surveys of college students, use terms like factor analysis and p-value and statistical significance
, and it will get into a journal. Since mainstream media love weak observational studies over science
, it will be in the New York Times
So we have been treated to "just so" science-y claims like:
Alchemy, which most people have at least heard of, along the lines of 'the quest to turn lead into gold', is getting rehabilitated. In one paper, anyway.
Alchemy, like chemistry, had 'chem' at its core. Chem derives from Khem ('black land'), which was the name for what we call Egypt, due to the dark alluvial soil provided by the flooding Nile each year. Egypt was well known to Greeks and Romans but it wasn't until the 8th century that Arab Muslims, having conquered it in the previous century, re-introduced the science from their new state to Europe, a state which they called Al-Khem. This science believed that metals were composed of sulfur and mercury. Gold was the perfect metal and a Philosopher's Stone could transmute baser metals into it.
In the early part of the 20th century, after we had entered the Age of Flight, a strange phenomenon in Arabia was sighted.
Air travel had become more common and thus so did air delivery. British pilots flying from Cairo to Baghdad reported seeing ruins that no one had ever noticed before.
If you care about what is in your food, you have no greater sympathetic intellect than me.
But if you are an anti-science activist, you may not understand the distinction between what is in your food and what it simply is - and there we part company. A genetic modification (GMO) is your food, for example, it is no different than any other food from a health perspective. Cataloging the numerous ways agriculture has genetically engineered food for as long as food has been grown is outside the scope of this piece, but GMOs don't bother me and that science shouldn't bother you either. (1)
Twice a day I get an email from someone offering me the outstanding opportunity to carry their infographic, press release or puff-piece interview with someone who has invented a new Miracle Cure and if it seems like it was written by a real person, I will usually tell them I decline.
No one has ever written back and asked why.
A new analysis has affirmed what many in the science audience already knew; mainstream media prefer weak observational studies. It's why you're reading this article here instead of the New York Times.
And that is not just in regards to social psychology correlations made using surveys of college students or sociology mysticism, it happens in medical coverage too. The examination found that observational studies get far better coverage than actual randomized controlled trials, which are what should really be important to most people.