Saturday, July 12, 2014

There is a difference between bad science and bad reporting. Sometimes good science is badly reported, leading newspaper readers to draw conclusions that the scientists responsible for the reported research did not themselves draw. Of course, sometimes bad science is reported well, helping the reader of the report understand the problems with the science itself.

I would suggest that there are two levels of literacy involved here.

  • I have sometimes been involved in peer review of science and for that purpose one wants a very high degree of scientific literacy. The reviewer should know the field well enough to evaluate hypotheses, methods, data, and conclusions.
  • Like everyone (I hope everyone) I read about scientific results in the media for which I do not have more than normal lay literacy. Still, it is useful to consider the credibility of reports in the media before accepting them as "truth". Even then, it is one thing for the reporter to truthfully report what has been told to him, and another for the reporter to report the truth of a scientific assertion. 
As I have mentioned in previous posts, a lot of scientific results are of interest because they indicate that something which seemed very improbable may not be as unlikely as it seemed. Such results may be, and I suppose often are proven to be incorrect. 

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