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July 8 2015

The Sad State of Science Journalism in America

Julie Gunlock

Washington Examiner reporter T. Becket Adams has an absolute must read piece this week describing the sad state of science reporting in America.

Adams opens his piece with a bit of good news: A recent study showed people who eat chocolate are skinnier than those who pass on chocolate. Yet, as Adams goes on to explain, the study was a hoax, designed by a journalist who wanted to test just how little fact checking there is in science reporting. 

Bohannon and his collaborators purposely falsified some of their data and left crucial details out of their press release to see how many in the media would notice. It turned out to be none.

Not a single person double-checked his research, he said. No one sought comment from independent experts. No one asked him about possible inaccuracies in his work.

"I was kind of shocked at how bad the reporting is," he said. "I didn't realize how bad people who call themselves proper journalists are at covering this beat."

The problem wasn't unique to online publications eager for a few quick clicks, Bohannon said. Even reputable publications that employ fact-checkers skimmed over the details of his research.

"Right now, there's absolutely no accountability," he said. "The bulls--- is just flooding. And it's flooding out of these media venues and no one gets any push back."

Of course, this isn’t limited to small studies focusing on chocolate bars. Adams demonstrates how science reporting is basically nonexistent these days and that consumers are ultimately paying the price for the lack of reliable information. According to Adams, “most reporters aren't interested in the finer points of scientific research. They want a sexy story, and if it can be based on a catch-all authority, even better.”

As I, as well as many other writers at IWF, have explained over and over again, the reason scary and inaccurate stories appear so often in the media is because these are the stories that generate the most traffic and ratings. That’s why fear is profitable and why so many opportunistic activists use fear to make a living. It’s natural that when people see a warning or a story claiming something is harmful that they want to find out what it’s all about. It’s no different than rubber necking a wreck on the interstate. You just can’t help but look.

Adams goes on to examine many of the questionable policies that have derived from bad science and the inaccurate reporting of these issues. He covers genetically engineered food, nutrition hype and diet fads, the anti-vaccination movement, the myth of declining bee numbers, and exaggerated claims that pesticides causing all sorts of deadly diseases.

Read Adam’s whole piece here.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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