Monday, December 04, 2006

Science as entertainment

Mark Liberman at the Language Log has been tackling for some time the misinformation in Luanne Brizendine's book The Female Brain. In the latest twist, despite Brizendine's retraction of the material in question, the popular press are still promulgating it as if nothing had happened.

The press appear to rarely bother to check scientific facts before posting something, and may not admit their mistakes (another example, this time with the BBC as the culprit, has been dealt with in depth elsewhere). Mark Liberman suggests that this is because science news is viewed as entertainment, rather than on the same level as current events stories.

In a way, of course, almost all news is entertainment. There's very little in the daily news that directly affects people's everyday lives. Instead, as C.S. Lewis famously had it, 'He reads daily, with unwearied relish, how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn't know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn't know.' And, while scientific discoveries do have the potential to affect everybody's lives, the chance of any individual discovery directly affecting any given individual person is quite small.

On the other hand, that shouldn't stop journalists from checking their facts.

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