I’m fascinated by the recent study in Science that argues the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s prohibitions against incest were crucial in laying the foundation for “individualism, nonconformity, and the inclination to trust and help strangers,” traits the authors associate with the evolution of “WEIRD” societies — western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.…Read More
My blood runs cold every time I hear researchers say: “We hope our study won’t be interpreted as saying (insert horrible unintended conclusion not warranted by the study’s findings).”
Because it means a) they don’t have clear messaging for their study, b) they’ve overframed their study, or c) they have clear messaging but haven’t enforced it.…Read More
I haven’t paid much attention to astronomy since the onset of puberty — but of course this piece caught my eye on Friday: BBC science reporter Pallab Ghosh writing for Undark on “Exoplanets, Life, and the Danger of a Single Study,” prompted by the uncritical media coverage (then walked back) of two papers published last month announcing the discovery of water vapor on a exoplanet called K2-18b.…Read More
Ecologist Manu Saunders (who helpfully poked holes in the “insect apocalypse” narrative) now asks: “How damaging is sexy soundbite scicomm?”
Wait: first, what is “sexy soundbite scicomm”? As best I can tell from Saunders’ post, it’s comms or reporting that
- Hypes Big Data as the master key to all problems;
- Lionizes individual researchers; and/or
- Promotes single-study findings (like the insect apocalypse or the “we’ve lost 3 billion birds in North America” ones) over what she terms “scientific context.”
Sexy soundbite scicomm, Saunders argues, is toxic — not just for public understanding of what science actually is (not glamorous, not hero-based, not about sudden discoveries); but also for early career researchers who think they have to strive for stardom rather than just do good research.…Read More
Researchers: just passive participants in those terribly misleading media campaigns for their papers?
Michael Schulson writes in Undark about the hyping of that big bird-decline Science magazine study I wrote about last week. In Schulson’s retelling, it was
- A) Overenthusiastic science communicators +
- B) A big journal hungry for media that offers very little space to the paper itself (hence, for scientific nuance) that led to
- C) a sensationalist media storyline to take advantage of a growing public taste for apocalypse.
Two reasons, says science communicator (and former reporter) Matt Shipman: 1) it’s unfair to the other sources, and 2) the changes you request after your review might make the story “certainly more obfuscatory.”
Let me translate #2 for you: your review and suggestions are going to make the story worse.…Read More
In lots of headlines, certainly. And in alarming social media posts.
In your inbox as well, probably, and on your reading lists, and (increasingly) in your casual conversations with people as you signal to each other your deep concern about the planet’s dire trajectory.…Read More