Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Science and science journalism

I was formulating a reply to an f-word article the other day and it turned into an epic so I'm going to post about it here instead.

I want to talk about the difference between science and science journalism.

The thing is, I keep seeing this time and time again on feminist blogs. Someone will read an article in a paper with a ridiculous title and then go to their blog and rant about science and how horribly sexist science is. Now, I'm not saying you can't criticise science, far from it, what I'm saying is that you can't criticise a piece of science based on how it's reported in the media. If you want to complain about science, go read the paper.

See, the thing about science journalism is that it's not always very good, and the actual scientists themselves often have very little input into it. Sure, the primary research might be based on unsafe assumptions, or whatever, but you can't tell that by reading a piece of journalism on the paper. The reporting is only as good as the person who wrote the article, and there's no guarantee they know what they're talking about.

There are many ways in which we can criticise science journalism. We can criticise their understanding of the science, their selection of the science they write about, their reliance on a small range of journals, their fascination when it comes to evolutionary psychology with saying any difference which we think might have an evolutionary basis is morally green lighted and that people who engage in that behaviour in the wider context can't be held responsible for it. None of that is stuff the scientists behind the work have any control over.

Maybe the odds that the primary research was less sexist are low, but they're still there, and unless you've read that research you can't say for sure. You can't criticise science unless you've see the science, criticising the journalism is something else entirely.

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