Incredibly bad science journalism!

  • Thread starter Rach3
  • Start date
  • #1
Rach3

Main Question or Discussion Point

I've been inadvertently running into some truly abysmal science writing recently. The purpose of this thread is to highlight the most egregious, or hilarious, examples. A "wall of shame". Anyone can contribute! Let's try to enjoy this as much as possible... and not dwell on the depressing reprecussions this has on the public's awareness of science...

Here's exhibit A: an excerpt from an article about biotech at Harvard.

During his 5-year tenure as the university's president, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers worked to put Harvard at the forefront of research on how the human cell works, a question the school's founders and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Puritan leaders would have kept in the province of religion alone.
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=inDepthNews&storyID=2006-06-02T145110Z_01_N31211645_RTRUKOC_0_US-HARVARD.xml
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,989
15
I feel like im going to laugh at the wrong things....
 
  • #3
11
0
Great idea for a post, and I do agree that science coverage in the media is abysmal (and I say that being ex-media) but it is also abysmal in everything not featuring a movie star or "musician".
 
  • #4
LURCH
Science Advisor
2,549
118
"The human cell"? Is he reffering to the planet on which we are imprisoned?!

Gives me a whole new image of NASA and the ESA;

- "Yeah, me n' Mugsy, we're goin' over da wall, see?"
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
Gold Member
18,605
2,065
On my local TV station, they reported about Global Warming and the Arctic Ice Sheets.

According to them, snow - being white - reflects sunlight, while open water - being dark ... apparently "attracts" sunlight.


(Yes, I remember going to the ocean when I was a boy, standing on the beach and watching all the sunlight bend away from land toward the water...)
 
  • #6
Evo
Mentor
23,112
2,464
DaveC426913 said:
(Yes, I remember going to the ocean when I was a boy, standing on the beach and watching all the sunlight bend away from land toward the water...)
You too? :biggrin:
 
  • #7
Rach3
From a feel-good AP article about ethanol:
The 40-acre distillery turns corn into alcohol in quantities that would make a moonshiner drool. Instead of white lightnin', the brew is converted to ethanol, a fuel that makes money for farmers and is seen as a possible solution to today's high oil and gas prices.
 
  • #8
Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
11,490
51
Rach3 said:
From a feel-good AP article about ethanol:
I've heard a number of reports about ethanol as a fuel for vehicles that have similarly come across as if the reporter was clueless that ethanol is the drinkable alcohol, because of course we don't have other ethanol production facilities in the US, right? :rofl: They also have come across sounding like nobody has ever thought of using ethanol as a fuel before, that it's something brand new. I guess they get confused because the idea was originally presented to the consumer market as "gasohol" and now it's called "ethanol." Gosh, and I thought the lesson on alcohols was the one chemistry class everyone actually paid attention to. :rolleyes:
 
  • #9
Rach3
This one isn't science writing as much as statistics, oh well. A US General tries to look on the bright side of the Haditha killings:

"Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, 99.9 percent of the servicemen and service women are doing what we expect them to do," he said.
(http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060604/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_iraq_haditha_2;_ylt=AoUWAyrUOmkcnZOXTBcQdphX6GMA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl [Broken])

I have no idea what that's supposed to mean... :confused:
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #10
Rach3
I'm a bit late on this one - here's an atrocity from the New York Times last August, by Kenneth Chang. In which a very lazy science writer does his version of a "balanced" presentation of Intelligent Design, balanced in the moronic sense of throwing together equal numbers of quotes from either side, and letting the reader choose:

In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash

Note the use of the word "Darwinists" in the title. :bugeye: Here's an illustrative excerpt from page 4:
Dr. Axe calculated that of the plausible amino acid sequences, only one in 100,000 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion - a number written as 1 followed by 77 zeroes - would provide resistance to penicillin.

In other words, the probability was essentially zero.

Dr. Axe's research appeared last year in The Journal of Molecular Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific publication.

Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and a frequent sparring partner of design proponents, said that in his study, Dr. Axe did not look at penicillinase "the way evolution looks at the protein."

Natural selection, he said, is not random. A small number of mutations, sometimes just one, can change the function of a protein, allowing it to diverge along new evolutionary paths and eventually form a new shape or fold.
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

(uncovered by Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #11
Rach3
DaveC426913 said:
On my local TV station, they reported about Global Warming and the Arctic Ice Sheets.
These things are much funnier when it's the New York Times screwing up, rather than some two-bit local station. It's understandable that small-town writers are often illiterate dolts. But when the editors at the NYTimes or BBC let something like pass, it's totally bizzare and inexucsable. I find it amusing. Others prefer to cry.
 
  • #12
siddharth
Homework Helper
Gold Member
1,127
0
About a year ago, this article was published in the Educational Express, a supplement of the Indian Express newspaper

Scientists are finally finding clues to the unlimited source of alternate energy. It is not hydrogen, not solar, not nuclear and not something that you hear from alternate energy source specailists. It is something that runs the universe, causes gravitation and so on. It is the continous generation and emmision of electromagnetic waves that requires continous supply of energy. And the galaxies supply that energy all the time. If this energy can be captured and used, it will solve our energy needs forever.

The energy is all around us. We just need to learn to capture and use it. The energy source is the galactic bodies all around the universe. However, the conversion of planetary bodies into pure energy is an inevitable event at the inner region of galatic spiral, because sooner or later masses travelling closer and closer with increasing gravitation and acceleration towards each other must crash together. Only in the galactic center, they will be ground, milled as well, until all atomic binding energies, ie, Strong and Weak forces are completly released or decoupled from atomic bondage.

Spiralling pure energy flux through the angular divisions of force field symmetry from the outer region of galactic fields towards the inner center, therefore, generates a seamless spectrum of energy waves. And because there is a continous conversion of galactic mass to energy, this is the enormus steady force that repel the galaxies to recede from each other, a phenomenon called the expansion of the universe. Scientists and Engineers are working on harnessing this energy that will solve the alternate energy needs forever. It will also make bending space and time. Interestingly, with a proper breakthrough it may move our human civilisation by thousands of years.
(http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/2843.asp")

They even put a picture with the article.
http://img273.imageshack.us/img273/5290/bull1tb.jpg [Broken]

Can't get worse than that :biggrin:
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #13
DaveC426913
Gold Member
18,605
2,065
Rach3 said:
These things are much funnier when it's the New York Times screwing up, rather than some two-bit local station. It's understandable that small-town writers are often illiterate dolts. But when the editors at the NYTimes or BBC let something like pass, it's totally bizzare and inexucsable. I find it amusing. Others prefer to cry.
Sorry, not two-bit local. CTV News - Toronto's main news station.
 
  • #14
Rach3
siddharth - That's not journalism, that's crackpottery!
 
  • #15
Rach3
DaveC426913 said:
Sorry, not two-bit local. CTV News - Toronto's main news station.
Yes, that's what "local" means.
 
  • #16
DaveC426913
Gold Member
18,605
2,065
siddharth said:
About a year ago, this article was published in the Educational Express, a supplement of the Indian Express newspaper


...

Can't get worse than that :biggrin:
I see the technical writers for Star Trek have found new jobs...

Did the article mention the Crimson Force Field too? :rofl:
 
  • #17
siddharth
Homework Helper
Gold Member
1,127
0
Rach3 said:
siddharth - That's not journalism, that's crackpottery!
It's crackpottery, but it was published in a national newspaper!
 
  • #18
1,414
4
siddharth said:
About a year ago, this article was published in the Educational Express, a supplement of the Indian Express newspaper



(http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/2843.asp")

They even put a picture with the article.


Can't get worse than that :biggrin:

I truly feel dumber having read that. I'm pretty sure they just drew words out of a hat and hoped for the best. I need advil now. :grumpy:
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #19
Pengwuino
Gold Member
4,989
15
franznietzsche said:
I truly feel dumber having read that. I'm pretty sure they just drew words out of a hat and hoped for the best. I need advil now. :grumpy:
I wonder who these "scientists" are and what does htis "technology team" smoke?
 
  • #20
Gokul43201
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,051
17
From post#10 by Rach:

NYTimes said:
In other words, the probability was essentially zero.
With this one, I hope it's just bad science journalism. If that line is the journalist's addition, then it's okay that a mistake in assuming that the underlying probability distribution be uniform is made. However, if he was merely repeating something said by Dr. Axe, that line becomes truly criminal.
 
  • #21
Rach3
Gokul43201 said:
However, if he was merely repeating something said by Dr. Axe, that line becomes truly criminal.
That's exactly what he does, throughout the article. This is shockingly lazy 'journalism' indeed.
 
  • #22
Rach3
Here's a bizarre statement from some other planet with one-tenth our gravity:

Big-leaf mahogany, grown in Central and South America is listed under the CITES treaty as endangered, requiring regulation through export permits. But the lawsuit contends Peruvian authorities have not been able to control illegal harvesting of the huge trees that grow to 500 feet or more and take 60 years to mature.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060606/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/peruvian_mahogany [Broken]

With a bit of careful reading and research, I figured out that this [utterly irresponsible] journalist lifted this factoid, unchecked, from an environmental "action organization":

http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/habitat/esa/international03p.asp [Broken]

Who knows why they needed to make up unreasonable, physically impossible numbers. Who knows why some journalists (an AP writer, no less!) don't know a 'source' from a hole in the ground. Anyway, actual numbers are - 30-35m or 100-110 feet is an upper end for macrophylla, numbers which our journalist's uncorroborated source multiplied by a factor of five.

http://www.dfsc.dk/pdf/Seedleaflets/Swietenia%20macrophylla_int.pdf [Broken]
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #23
Rach3
Shame on the AP for hiring this dolt!
 
  • #24
Rach3
PF members - be on the lookout for irresponsible science journalism! Post it here.
 

Related Threads for: Incredibly bad science journalism!

Replies
51
Views
7K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
30
Views
7K
  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
4K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
36
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
11
Views
23K
Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
9K
Top