Insert [Mindblowing sounding claim from ‘Science’ with a hint of something more sinister] Here.

‘Scientists have found’, is my least favourite opening to any newspaper report about recent findings, or proposed research plans. This very sentence just sets my mind a whir, which scientists? who are they? where are they? why? and you can usually guarantee that they will get little mention by first name, unless they’re mothers all called them ‘Researchers’. You can also be pretty sure that if the wild claim in the headline has the words ‘brain scans reveal’… there will undoubtedly be a generic image of a brain scan showing nothing at all but random activations. Sometimes these images from scans don’t even match the method being used, for example a random PET scan image is used when the article is about fMRI! This infuriates me beyond belief. Why also do they insist on always asking for the opinion  of ‘an expert’ who is just some other random researcher from a completely different University who doesn’t know the study being reported or hasn’t even heard of the people conducting it.

Also a lot of the time the results of graduate/nae even some undergraduates studies are used and written about as if they are real actual science. I don’t know about anyone else and their experience of undergraduate research projects but they are far from the stringent approach you’d get with say a PHd or actual researchers work. Half the time we rely on our mates to be test subjects and when they run out, its not unheard of to just re test the same people, or even yourself! Also you can’t always guarantee that another undergrad student taking your test is of sound mind and body that morning, particularly if it’s following a heavy union night! I know of at least one case where a girl turned up to do a sensory based experiment and admitted after she was high! Cause that won’t impede the results at all… sure.

Not to mention the fact that these projects are far from the peer reviewed quality you’d see in any journal.

And one final gripe I have about the way the news report scientific findings is that it is nearly impossible to find the original source of the information because they don’t include any references to the paper they are reporting, and sometimes won’t even mention the researchers names!

Just something to try to rectify I guess, but I fear it means changing the public perception of what is a newsworthy scientific finding, cause if it’s not going to make me rich, live longer, cure cancer, cause cancer, read my mind or invade my privacy, apparently I don’t want to know about it.



Filed under Sciencey

3 responses to “Insert [Mindblowing sounding claim from ‘Science’ with a hint of something more sinister] Here.

  1. Laird Chris Lilly

    All very true. I think it’s largely down to the media ‘dumbing’ down stories and patronising society. Simplifying things won’t help us believe what we are being told. Personally i’m going to keep doing all those things that apparently ‘scientists’ have linked to a premature death because at the end of the day I’m more likely to be ironically run over by a speeding ambulance.

  2. Tom

    I mentioned a couple of examples of this related to animal psychology on my blog a couple of days ago.
    I suppose on one hand, the general public aren’t interested in the minutiae of scientific papers, but on the other hand the journalists reporting on them should make more of an effort to present the findings accurately, because “Scientists have found…” is a phrase that people trust, which makes it potentially very dangerous.

    Nice post 🙂

  3. Thanks Tom and you too Chris, for your comments. I wrote this straight out of bed this morning. Must have had a dream that made me wake up annoyed with a particular broadcasting agency that has a news website that insists on writing this format of ‘science news’, naming no BnaBmeCs. I feel I could have maybe formulated my ideas better but I think the gist of what I find most irritating/concerning did come across.
    And yes, ‘Scientists have found’ is a phrase people trust far too much. If the public had ever met a real scientist they might start to rethink this conception. 😉
    But on a serious note, I think it is a matter of some concern, particularly that we would be repremanded for not citing a paper from which we quoted in an essay/article, yet newspapers are allowed to get away with it. I want to see origininal papers referenced in any news article they are mentioned in, so that can be found by everyone, even my Mom if the mood was to take her!
    Thanks for the supportive comments. Might try to make more posts in this sort of vein. 🙂

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