We All Need More Science

scienceI wrote earlier about the irresponsible journalism of the Toronto Star. One quote from the columnist, Heather Mallick’s, statement about the original story rattled my cage. She said, “I’ve been trying to teach myself about statistics and science.” If this wasn’t a serious story, I’d think that quote was a punch line in a blonde joke. It proves my point: we all need more science.

More Science to Get at the Facts

Understanding science goes a long way toward helping you filter out the crap with popular media. Get your shovel because a lot of so-called science reporters don’t get it.

To the plea for more science, I believe all reporters should take a basic statistics class. And that doesn’t just apply to science stories. These days, stats infiltrate everything. Have you listened to the commentary during a football game? Or a baseball game? You’ll soon learn what weather, temperature, and humidity work best for the pitcher. And you’ll know how many rushing yards a running back averages per game by stadium, if it’s outdoor or indoor.

We need more science and statistics to understand the difference between causation and correlation. This is where journalists frequently stumble. Yes, the meaning is nuanced, but that doesn’t give license to misreporting. The verbiage walks a fine line between the two.

As a wacky example, you could say that having a beard is linked to prostate cancer. Or wearing dresses is associated with breast cancer. You get the point. They blur the definition of correlations to imply something causes another thing to happen.

The Value of Understanding

More science knowledge can help you navigate the media better, along with the stories they publish. You can make the logical connections—or not—between what is reported and what is in fact, true. You’ve probably heard the adage about not believing everything you read on the internet. The same advice applies to “news stories.”

Anyone can write a science news story. It’s another thing entirely to be able to understand what you’re writing and its implications. More science can help you. For the journalists, it begins with a responsible headline and not one that sensationalizes for the sake of selling newspapers or generating ad revenue. It’s called integrity. Chris DR

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