Propped up by the specious authority of their jargon and, most of all, by their cheapness to report — which stands in stark contrast to proper investigations of issues such as public corruption, corporate maleficence or industrial health and safety — essentially silly stories about science continue to fill newspapers and news broadcasts.
Bad science stories basically write themselves, because the research has already been written up, published, and packaged into a university press release.
The result is
A system that disguises the very human process of scientific discovery as a seamless stream of ingenious and barely disputed 'breakthroughs'.
Macilwain makes an unusual suggestion:
In a small way, a more probing and intelligent approach to science journalism could help bridge that credibility gap. There is a need for dedicated newspaper sections, radio and TV programmes, more akin to existing sports coverage, that can provide detailed, critical assessment of the scientific enterprise for people who really like science. Reporters and editors could then engage with sets of findings and associated issues of real societal importance in the news pages, asking the hard questions about money, influence and human frailty that much of today's science journalism sadly ignores.
He's got a point. Sports coverage can be amazingly good, in part because many sports reporters really know their stuff. But I suspect sports reporting is also kept at a higher level than some other reporting because many of the readers know their stuff, and so the pressure for quality is high.
Critiquing sports isn't simple, but science is a broader and more complex enterprise. A single biomedical science reporter will have a much harder time staying on top of the diverse developments in biology than a basketball reporter will have keeping up with the latest basketball news.
Still, a more engaged science reporting process, with more give and take between competent science journalists and public-minded researchers, will do both the science and science journalism community some good.
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