FemaleScienceProfessor on science journalism

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FemaleScienceProfessor has a recent post on science journalism. You should go read the whole thing, but she makes one very important point that I want to repeat here:

[S]cientists do make discoveries and may reach consensus on important issues, not because we are all sheep who mindlessly believe the prevailing view on a topic but because we make progress in understanding how things work. It is disheartening if the general public is given the impression, via sensational headlines and articles relying on the opinions of lonely dissenters, that in fact we really don't understand some fundamental aspects of the world.

I admire science journalists for the excellent work they do translating sciences to the general public and highlighting what is interesting and important about scientific discoveries. I do think, however, that the practice of seeking contrary views should be done carefully, and choices made based on a broad and objective view of the relevant scientific field. That's a difficult task, but an important one.

I've mentioned the problem of "balanced" coverage before (here and here, for example). One thing we need to do better is to give every all students an appreciation for how science works and why its results are reliable, whether they are likely to become scientists or not. It's important to understand that (a) when a consenus emerges it's because there's been vigorous, heated debate and (b) although the consensus may be wrong, someone lying far outside the mainstream is more likely to be a crackpot than a genius.

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