There are two frustrating issues in science journalism today. First, with the decline of newspapers and print media, most science writers for the press have been long sent packing to save money. In their place was stuck… well just about anybody else that could write. This has led to both a decline in the understanding of what is being reported, and an over-sensationalizing of things that end up muddling the story.
The second, and perhaps worse item is the ridiculous notion that ‘both sides’ of a story should be reported on where on one side you get the expert or scientist and on the other side you get the loud wacko. It’s basically akin to doing an interview with a historian of the holocaust and then giving five minutes to a holocaust denier. One has credence, the other has insanity. In the end, this style of reporting does nothing but give delusional people a soapbox and, for the public, give the appearance of there being equal importance of both angles.
So in this spirit I give you a good article from USA Today on vaccines. Here’s another one from the Baltimore Sun on autism. Give it a whirl. Then compare it to this report from ABC News (it’s a video). So if you can spot what I’m talking about.
Not everyone has the time, energy, or desire to chase down this stuff. You’d think you could rely on reporters to… get it right. When they don’t, cranks like Jenny McCarthy take the spotlight and spread misinformation based off of their own anecdotes. But the plural of anecdote is not evidence. Anecdotes do not make studies. Given the fallibility and bias of human memory, using anecdotes in place of good science and studies is plain stupid and, as can be seen by the anti-vax movement, harmful in the least and deadly at the worst.
The only fix I see are real science reporters and journalists calling out bad articles and bad reporting and embarrassing the hell out of the idiots who publish the wharblgarble.