I thought I’d share this article from Popular Science. It’s an amusing look at how the media reports on “science”, and highlights some of the reasons we should be skeptical about which reports we believe.
As someone who grew up with a love of science, I have a habit of fact checking news reports about “scientific breakthroughs” and the results of “scientific studies”. There are several questions I ask, when starting out:
- Is the article from a reputable source?
- Not all sources of media are equal
- Some are biased toward sensationalism
- Some are biased toward certain target audiences
- Many do not present the information accurately
- Some never really fact check their report before presenting it
- Is the original research material available for review?
- Sometimes studies leak out before they have been released
- Some materials haven’t yet undergone peer-review, a critical stage of the scientific process
- What’s the scale of the study?
- Statistics can warp any information gathered, especially when the sample is small
- Is the breakthrough in a theoretical field?
- These can be some of the most exciting areas of science for those of us who watch for such things.
- However, they can also be very misunderstood too.
Keeping abreast of cutting edge science can be very important, especially for science fiction writers, like myself. It not only informs the choices we make about which technologies are current, but it helps to guide us toward educated guesses about what might be around the corner.
However, that also means we have to be careful about how we absorb our scientific information. Sure, some of these wackier studies can produce stories too, but for me, the most exciting science is the stuff that actually has facts behind it.
When the Large Hadron Collider started to ramp up the energy levels of it’s collisions, in the search for the Higgs Boson, it was reported in some media outlets that it would almost certainly generate a black hole that would swallow the Earth.
If you looked at the details that were being published from the theorists, the chances of that actually happening were astronomically small.