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Media and Science

Today I will talk about scientific studies and the way media interprets and conveys them to the public. The media here plays the crucial role of a mediator, and I’ve noticed sometimes this mediating layer through which scientific developments reach the public doesn’t do a good job at maintaining transparency and accuracy of information.

P-hacking??
P-hacking??

Okay, now that’s just plain funny. Vegetables cause cancer? Surprisingly – yes! Anything you eat that aids cell division i.e., lets your body grow and repair itself might possibly cause cancer. Cancer cells come about as a result of bad genetic mutations during this repair or growth process. So theoretically, one might as well say vegetables cause cancer – but that’s the media’s perspective! Let’s bring the scientific method into the equation and tackle this rather bold statement, shall we?

Let’s start off with the source i.e., where the media gets their information from. Typically, findings from studies are published as papers in journals. These papers then get interpreted by the media in a multitude of ways. Why? Because the person tasked with penning the report is usually not an expert in the field while the paper he is reading from is written by experts. Here arises our problem,

The person interpreting this information should be one who is familiar with the scientific method and/or have some background in the sciences.

His misinterpretation and the added corporate pressure to attract attention (audience) paves way for sensationalism and inaccurate information being published.

What are the implications one might ask, and I’d say many! For starters, like I’d previously mentioned media as a mediating layer for information to reach out to the public hence, their every statement is read time and again, modified and shared across multiple social media platforms where a bulk of the masses end up getting their information. Any minor lapse in the process of publishing information can have disastrous implications on how that particular story/incident/finding gets distributed and interpreted among the public.

Data dredging: This is something some media outlets use to get your attention on something that’s statistically so insignificant that it’s practically unworthy of consideration and yet they make it convincing to the audience by sensationalizing a very insignificant find concluded as a result of the study.

End of the day, what really matters is where you get your news from – reputed sources like Reuters and AFP who hire specialists to gather news for them responsibly or sources like Geek.com who are hard players in the juvenile game of attention on social media.