Why does science news suck so much?


I enjoy Dr. Hossenfelders’ posts, as she is always interesting. I don’t agree with everything in her various posts, but this one has no issues for me. The most egregious thing I encounter comes from a web sites that dedicate themselves to science news. One being literally called that - Science News. The pattern is that the various posts are mainly extracted from press releases from this or that university. So you can count on the most mundane articles about trivial discoveries being sold as revolutionary and paradigm shifting, and that can give regular readers the wrong impression about the stability of knowledge.

  1. Show me your uncertainty estimate.


In biology, it’s usually a conclusive proof that Darwin was wrong about something or that there’s no such thing as junk DNA.


If it was an article on viruses that might be true. :wink:

Sadly, poor science journalism is feeding back into the research. We now see papers where the discovery of 100 functional transposons now spells the end of junk DNA in the human genome. We also see the same sloppy category errors, such as actual scientists (who should know better) making the claim that all non-coding DNA was once thought to be junk DNA, or that junk DNA was treated as a synonym for non-coding DNA.

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I think I have to say a little for the science press:

  1. Science reporters are asked to cover many fields, and can’t have expertise in more than a small fraction of them,
  2. They are under a lot of deadline pressure, and usually can’t spend months trying to understand a field of work.
  3. They have to rely a lot on university press releases, and/or on the word of the researcher as to how important and decisive the discovery is. Both of these are very unreliable sources (cf. ENCODE).
  4. There is a lot of pressure from the publication not to publish an article saying “well-conducted study confirms that the standard picture in field X is more or less OK”.

One way that these pressures could be lessened would be to simply have more science reporters so that each one can spend more time understanding what was done and how that fits in to the field. Another would be to have some way to go back, months or even years after the fact, to discuss how a dramatic claim of paradigm-shifting breakthroughs did or did not work out.


All news reporting sucks. We just notice it more in science news, because we are scientists.


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