# Why I Hate Science Journalism

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by BenTheMan, Feb 28, 2008.

1. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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http://discovermagazine.com/2008/mar/13-e-nste-n/

You know, sometimes I wonder if the people who write these articles have any clue about physics other than what they read on Wikipedia?

Lisi's Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything'' is exceptionally incomplete and doesn't look like it can describe nature, Hawking hasn't done any physics for at least ten years, and I've never even HEARD of the rest of these people (except Witten), and I work in a closely related field.

I don't know who comes up with these lists, but if Witten isn't at the top (no matter whether string theory is right or wrong) of the list, it showcases the fact that Discover magazine seems to be hiring journalists instead of scientists.

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3. ### draqonBannedBanned

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you seem to be forgetting the type of country you are in...capitalistic or all for money. Journalism and making money is priority...than comes everything else like science

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5. ### draqonBannedBanned

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I do agree with you that Garrett Lisi is not the 1st one there on the list...more like the last on any list to do with physics/mathematics

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7. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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I fail to see how this has anything to do with anything. It's more about people not knowing anything about science.

8. ### zarlokBannedBanned

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You should see how bad it is in fields that have "cultural signifigance", Genetics is a complete joke. Any article you read is going to be complete garbage if the writer so much as once chooses to make a point without directly quoting the scientist who knows what he/she is talking about. For, like, uhh, 10 years we had this bogus claim of humans of all humans being essentially identical to each other(ie. 99.9% the same). Of course, the idea was completely bogus and debunked within a year of it first appearing as pseudo-science, yet even today people still believe that nonsense because it fits into their political paradigm. And why do you think? Leftist journalism have vested interest in claiming "all humans are essentially the same"-- it's nurture, not nature idiot! Ridiculous. The recent hunan origins in Africa is another steaming pile of BS that gets shoveled up daily. Sadly, in this case, the "scientists" are the ones causing the problem.

9. ### phlogisticianBannedBanned

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I reckon most Wikipedia articles would have journalists scratching their heads!

When I worked with a bunch of astronomers, one was getting interviewed by the local press over a discovery he'd made. The first thing the interviewer said was 'Right, and it's Astronomy, not Astrology, yes?' Despite having walked through a foyer, with a sign 'Department of Astronomy' in foot high letters, showing no common knowledge, no research, and no observation.

10. ### QuarkHeadRemedial Math StudentValued Senior Member

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Off-topic; I suppose the journalist in question missed the rather nice play on words in this title? Lisi's paper deals with the Lie group $\text{E_8}$, which is an exceptional Lie group (meaning it can't be classified), with a simple algebra (meaning it has no non-trivial ideals). Geddit?

I have to say, though, that the few (2) direct dealings I have had with what one might call the "heavyweight" press here (UK), I was hugely impressed by their science correspondent's ability quickly to grasp and distill what I told them of fairly complex science.

So I guess it's patchy.

11. ### iceauraValued Senior Member

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There is also the factor of scientists dismissing as trivial non-technical explanation - such as metaphor and analogy and the various techniques of rhetoric in communicating with the ignorant and the general public.

This seems to me to have fairly deep roots, affecting not only pop science but the basics of science education in early schooling, etc.

Granted the top researchers in a field don't have time, but a little more simple respect for (and cooperation with) the retired or the second tier who do take the trouble to straighten out the local media - an onerous task involving much patience, and no little rhetorical skill - might help.

I recall an account of Los Alamos (the Bomb) in which the journalist assigned by the NY Times proved incapable - and was marginalized, not seriously replaced. No one called the boss and got a better one sent out, as they would have with any other significant jobholder proven incapable. They just parceled out the communication tasks to whomever was available - people who had no journalism experience, and other things to do.

12. ### shalaykaCows are special too.Registered Senior Member

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Milgrom's MOND and Bekenstein's relativistic version TeVeS are both well known amongst those studying gravitation.

What's rather ridiculous about the article is that MOND is non-relativistic, and does not explain lensing by dark matter. Furthermore, more modern models such as MOG by Moffat (and Brownstein) do include lensing. As well, MOND does not provide any physical justification other than it makes the math add up in terms of galactic rotation curves. So really, to compare MOND to GR is a sure sign of pure ignorance on the part of the journalist. Perhaps they were running on the idea that anyone who comes up with something new is Einstein. However, that fails to be logical considering that all published manuscripts are something new (to some degree larger than none).

Markopoulou-Kalamara works with Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute. Not as famous as Smolin, but she's well-known in the Loop Quantum * field.

Amelino-Camelia's work is a launching pad for some of Smolin's work as well. I only knew of their work because of this relation with those at the Perimeter Institute.

Last edited: Feb 28, 2008
13. ### sowhatifit'sdarkValued Senior Member

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Well, he does have a point. You are expecting the focus to be on accurate information. Discovery is a profit making enterprise and accuracy is on the list of priorities, but only in so far as it makes money. What makes money and increases subscriptions is the goal.

This doesn't mean that communist journals will be better. But we do need to face the weaknesses of each system. Out of these a better system may develop.

The very small % of the people who know more than that journalist about the topic are probably not reading Discovery and have little impact on sales. And one can easily silence them by printing one of their letters to the editor next to another that disagrees.

14. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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Yes I agree. There are those who make this a priority (Brain Green) and those who do not (Witten). But I have met very few physicsts who would not talk to someone about physics, given the opportunity.

So I don't know. I see sensationalistic magazine articles (just look at the media circus surrounding Garret Lisi's E8 model), and I know that (for example) Lisi is excited about his own work, but no one else is. For example, the specific types of embeddings that Lisi NEEDS to get a realistic spectrum out of his model just don't exist. See Jaques Distler, U Texas String theorist (very technical) : http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/001505.html#c013271.

The same is true for MOND---which I HAD heard of, but only from people saying it was wrong. Most astrophysicsts (that I know) point to the fact that even MOND enthusiasts acknowledge the need for some dark matter to account for their observations, even though MOND was supposed to REPLACE dark matter. And (as shalayka mentioned) it doesn't explain gravitational lensing. (http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/08/21/dark-matter-exists/)

And Loop Quantum Gravity still hasn't really caught on. I have read a few of their papers out of interest, but find the whole thing to be a tad contrived. To be fair, I work on a class of models from String Theory that are extremely contrived, but the underlying physics of string theory is very beautiful and natural. (This can be debated elsewhere, but not here please!) Despite being a major research program for 10-15 years, the community is still very small, and the discoveries aren't that compelling.

I think, in retrospect, you are correct. Consumers of science information are ignorant, so you can afford to give them a bad product. Apologies to draqon for this.

15. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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Moved by popular demand

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16. ### cosmictravelerBe kind to yourself always.Valued Senior Member

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I'm trying to find out who this person by the name of "popular demand " is.

17. ### draqonBannedBanned

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& even if the Gods did lie to us, it is all the same to us.

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19. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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Well, she is quite popular with some people here, but quite unpopular with others.

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20. ### S.A.M.uniquely dreadfulValued Senior Member

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To be lexicocratic, since you moved it, you are popular demand.

Does anyone else feel that the role of science journalism in reviewing and critiquing the direction of research, including ethics, is sorely underutitlised?

21. ### cosmictravelerBe kind to yourself always.Valued Senior Member

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Not any longer!

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22. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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Why should we base our research programs on public opinion?

23. ### S.A.M.uniquely dreadfulValued Senior Member

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As an example, does the fact that several thousand farmers commit suicide every year due to crop failure from GM crops be a factor in future research on crops?

Similarly, does the fact that weapons are used to kill people be a factor in developing weapons that can kill larger and larger numbers of people?

Should it be a concern that vastly more amounts of money is spent on the latter than on the former?

Also, at what point does one distinguish the research conducted for getting grants from the research conducted for social benefit?

And in fact, considering the last point, who decides what research is more socially relevant and requires greater investment?