Misleading News


9. Be suspicious of news stories

* Journalists rarely verify the credentials and reliability of their sources.
* More than half their stories are propaganda from PR agencies.


Ex. The British Medical Journal ran a humor issue in which they faked a study that said that shaken (not stirred) martinis have beneficial anti-oxidant properties. Although BMJ repeatedly tried to tell people it was a joke, the “wire services including Reuters, Knight-Ridder, the Associated Press, UPI, and Scripps Howard” all distributed stories which appeared as straight news “in more than 100 publications, including the New York Times, Houston Chronicle, London Financial Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, Seattle Times, Forbes magazine, and, of course, Playboy” (Rampton & Stauber, 308).


Question the "official" version of history... see This horse should have only 3 feet history isn't always as the monuments and textbooks portray it


"Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I've been collecting specimens, making careful observations, and now I'm ready to present my theory. It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science.

"Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and "breakthrough" stories...

"[the bogus stories] help perform a crucial function for the media, which is selling the reader to their advertisers...

"And last, in our brief taxonomy, is the media obsession with "New breakthroughs": a more subtly destructive category of science story. It's quite understandable that newspapers should feel it's their job to write about new stuff. But in the aggregate these stories sell the idea that science, and indeed the whole emperical world view, is only about tenuous, new, hotly contested data. Articles about robustly supported emerging ideas would be more stimulating, of course, than most single experimental results, and these themes are the real developments in science. But they emerge over months and several bits of evidence, not single rejiggable press releases. Often, a front-page science story will emerge from a press release alone, and the formal academic paper may never appear, or appear much later, and then not even show what the press reports claimed it would.

"Scientists never said that tenuous small findings were headline news--journalists did...

"The central theme: there is no useful information in most science stories.

"Remember all those stories about the danger of mobile phones? I must have read 15 newspaper articles on the subject in a single week. Not one told me what the experiment flagging up the danger was. What was the exposure, the measured outcome, was it human or animal data? Figures? Nothing.

"Why? Because papers think you won't understand the "science bit", all stories involving science must be dumbed down...

"Nobody dumbs down the finance pages.

"So how do the media work around their inability to deliver scientific evidence? They use authority figures, the very antithesis of what science is about, as if they were priests, or politicians, or parent figures. And if they want balance, you'll get two scientists disagreeing, although with no explanation of why" (Ben Goldacre. "Don't dumb me down." Guardian Weekly, Sep. 16, 2005: 19).


Colby Glass, MLIS