The Media Think You Are Morons

August 27, 2008 at 1:39 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , , , , )

Recently, I wrote about the media covering stories about science, health and academic papers without providing references. I wrote to several newspapers and the BBC to complain about this. What I’ve found is that not only do the media not bother to give references to the academic work they are writing about, but they don’t bother to respond promptly to enquiries about their policy of keeping this information from us. The most likely conclusion is, I think, that they consider the general public to be morons incapable of understanding references – and they don’t think they need to explain themselves to their readers either. I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly insulting. They will tell you what the story is, because they don’t just report the news – oh no, they make the news. Fair enough – I won’t keep badgering them about it (well, except perhaps for a brief reminder email to make sure they haven’t simply forgotten). I’ll just leave them to continue reporting on the science and bringing us valuable news like “MMR Causes Autism” [1] and “Red Wine May Prevent Cancer” [2]. After all, with a mainstream media like ours providing us with the truth behind these stories and writing responsible, accurate pieces like these… why would we need references in order to check out the papers ourselves? We have the Great British Media to tell us what’s what.

[1] Bad Science on MMR, Measles outbreak, Wakefield scapegoated by the media

[2] Dangerous Media Nutribollocks

6 Comments

  1. dvnutrix said,

    Steve Novella has a post on a related point: Attitudes and Public Health.

    A new global survey reveals that the public is indeed largely misinformed about the risk factors for cancer, which is a reasonable marker for overall health care attitudes. Further, the survey shows that high-income countries are often more misinformed than low income countries. This might reflect the effect of marketing efforts made in higher-income countries.

    I blame the media reporting – a lot of it is conflicting and over-dramatic and it rarely fits into an over-arching or sensible framework. No – they don’t want you (us) to have direct access. Ben Goldacre has a good discussion of this: The price is wrong.

    I suspect newspapers like to fantasise that they are mediators between specialist tricky knowledge and the wider public, but I wouldn’t be so flattering. In fact, if you have access to the original journals, you can see just how rubbish things can get.

  2. jdc325 said,

    “I suspect newspapers like to fantasise that they are mediators between specialist tricky knowledge and the wider public, but I wouldn’t be so flattering.”
    God, that’s well put.

    Thanks for the comment dvnutrix – some excellent links too.

  3. migg said,

    I’m always soo frustrated when I spend hours trying to find an original article. It’s always “american scientists discovered…”
    To understand the extent of my frustration when reading science news sections in my favorite papers try to imagine what happens to the often already poorly written press release when it’s being translated into Polish by journalists who have no clue on science. Although sometimes the results are hilarious. For example the conclusion of the article concerning antibodies of 1918 flu pandemic surivors was “this research has proved that immune system can last for years, maybe even for a lifetime”.

  4. jdc325 said,

    “try to imagine what happens to the often already poorly written press release when it’s being translated into Polish by journalists who have no clue on science.”
    Ouch! That must be incredibly frustrating migg. I never make sweeping statements, but the media are complete bastards.

  5. The BBC mislead, for a laugh « gimpy’s blog said,

    […] really think of the intellectual capacity of their audience. jdc325 recently claimed that ‘The Media Think You Are Morons‘ because of their refusal to reference scientific papers whose findings they are reporting. […]

  6. Looking Out To Sea » Statistically insignificant amount of truth in science reporting said,

    […] Bad Science blogger recently suggested that The Media Think You Are Morons, or more […]

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