Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cleaning up after sloppy science journalism

SciAm's John Horgan interviews the Bee physics blogger:
Horgan: Nice! You recently said on your blog: “The biggest task of science bloggers -- like Peter Woit, Ethan Siegel and myself -- has become to clean up after sloppy science journalism.” Please elaborate.

Hossenfelder: I often find myself having to correct articles that mislead the reader about some recent research. The way much science journalism appears today, it is impossible for someone with no background in the field to tell how serious to take claims. Like, that new research shows black holes don’t exist, or that we will make contact with parallel universes, will soon test quantum gravity, or string theory, or that the information loss paradox has been solved (again!). And so on.

People don’t learn from this, they just get confused, doubt the trustworthiness of science, and it’s no good. I recently went to visit my mom and first thing she says after she opens the door is that she’s read the LHC proved we live in a multiverse and if I could please tell her what that is supposed to mean.
She does not mention Lubos Motl, as he is probably the leading physics blogger cleaning up sloppy journalism, even if he is also the most annoying.

I have criticized her several times, most recently on free will.

I don't really attack sloppy science journalism much. I can hardly blames the journalists for taking the wacky ideas from big-shot physicists seriously. I blame the big-shot physicists for spewing nonsense. And I also blame other scientists and philosophers with high-status jobs.

1 comment:

  1. While I do agree that science journalism has basically become sensationalism designed to drum up for support for funding and blatant political purposes, I also think it is science itself that has become 'sloppy'. Relativity, Quantum (insert blank here), Big Bangy evidence, etc. aren't understood in any consistent way, they are 'interpreted', and that basically has left the barn door wide open to ...well, anything goes.

    Too many scientists are now chasing too few dollars in a global economy going into a recession, and as desperation for funding and grants continues to mount, more an more outlandish claims are going to be made about how terribly important x, y, or z project is and how 'vital' it is, how it will revolutionize yada- yada-yada for the future of humanity, and, and, and, oh goodness, think of the children!!

    The LHC was one such 'vital' project. It was oversold, overpromised, and over-budgeted by a considerable margin making it one of the worlds most expensive make-work projects ever for underemployed clever people. We were repetitively assured the secrets of the universe were going to be peeled back, certain pin heads even claimed this would open the door to alternate dimensions, new physics, and fundamentally change how we look at the world. So what happened? What was produced from this 'monumental' project? A bunch of fantastically overpriced, 'Meh'. After billions of dollars and countless hype, they have a questionable Monte Carlo graph to show for it, no new physics, no insight whatsoever into the actual source of mass, and, oh well, I guess we now need an even bigger accelerator...
    I think a bigger word than 'sloppy' is called for.