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This Is a News Website Article About a Scientific Paper 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the turning-the-scientific-world-on-its-head-or-maybe-not dept.
jamie passes along a humorous article at The Guardian which pokes fun at the shallow and formulaic science journalism typical of many mainstream news outlets. Quoting: In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of 'scare quotes' to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever. ... If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims. This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like 'the scientists say' to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist. ... 'Basically, this is a brief soundbite,' the scientist will say, from a department and university that I will give brief credit to. 'The existing science is a bit dodgy, whereas my conclusion seems bang on,' she or he will continue."
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This Is a News Website Article About a Scientific Paper

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  • The first of many identical to this one that will follow in these Slashdot comments.

    First of all, who edited this article? This is where I viciously attack the Slashdot editor for punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. Once we clear your elementary faux pas, we can move on.

    I recall some of the very basics of this in college but I just skimmed the Wikipedia article on this research and now I'm an expert ready to rip this paper to shreds.

    I'm also handy with Google and just found out that their quoted researcher is viewed as a charlatan by another camp of peers in his field. Character assassination and ad hominem attacks follow.

    If there was a survey, I question the sample size, method of the survey and diversity. If this is correlation and not causation, I state the obvious and take potshots at my country's shitty educational system. If this is a classification I question the recall rate. If there's any political or monetary incentive for this research to be published then I state it and have immediately won the argument. At that point I can decide who lives and who dies. My comments have leveled whole cities!

    The small part of this research that I cannot disprove was already known to me. My Google Fu provides you another link to an article here where this was preliminarily discussed in 2004. And I assure you I was already on top of that this whole time. At this point, I resubtitle Slashdot in a derogatory manner for having stale news. I might even threaten to move on to a superior news aggregator but in reality will spend the rest of my life on Slashdot.

    I interpreted my standoffish attitude and tone as asserting my superiority when in actuality I'm a psychologist's wet dream. Done with my post I consider the final word spoken save for one thing. I spin a wheel on my desk and it lands on an internet meme somewhere between "In Soviet Russia" and "All Your Base." I modify a noun or verb to make it potentially funny and insert it at the end.

    Since I'm the expert, I might come back and read your responses -- if you're lucky. But the odds are high that I said something incredibly stupid or shortsighted (what with me being outside of my fucking element and all) so I'll probably just ignore you.
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday September 27, 2010 @03:53PM (#33715664)
    No, it's not a humorous article, given that it's exactly how mainstream science reporting looks like [badscience.net].
    • No, it's not a humorous article, given that it's exactly how mainstream science reporting looks like.

      No, it's sad and ironic (which will give rise to several more replies concerning the etymology of 'ironic', one of which will include the concept of an ironing board, which, ironically, no one on Slashdot has ever seen.

      Then somebody is going to get upset about my use of commas. And short sentences.

      This could get ugly.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        No, it's not a humorous article, given that it's exactly how mainstream science reporting looks like.

        No, it's sad and ironic (which will give rise to several more replies concerning the etymology of 'ironic', one of which will include the concept of an ironing board, which, ironically, no one on Slashdot has ever seen.

        You're both wrong: it's a template for all of the science articles he ever needs to write.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        ironing board, which, ironically, no one on Slashdot has ever seen.

        That's not ironic; I have seen an ironing board. That's not ironic, either. What'd be ironic is if there was an ironing board in my office right now.

        But if I was like many slashdotters in that I, the laundry room, and the ironing board were sharing my parents' basement, that wouldn't be ironic. It would just be sad.

  • Yet for some reason it doesn't seem to be. Slashdot posts a lot of links to news articles about published scientific articles, when they rightfully should be linking to the original articles instead.
    • by vlm (69642)

      The original articles usually are PDFs without advertisements.

    • by Soulskill (1459) Works for Slashdot on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:05PM (#33716504) Homepage

      Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. I agree that we should do it more, but I don't think we should do it "instead," as you say. I prefer linking to both. The vast majority of people do not want to download a PDF and spend an hour reading through an academic paper when there's a (reasonably well-informed) news article available. But, for those who do, it should be an option.

      The other big problem is that many of these scientific papers are paywalled -- and we're not talking about a mickey-mouse Rupert Murdoch paywall. A 1-year subscription to Nature, for example, is $200. Reading only an abstract doesn't tell you much about the quality of the research or potential applications.

      As always, if you read something linked from here and think coverage is better elsewhere, you're more than welcome to hit us with an email saying so.

      • As always, if you read something linked from here and think coverage is better elsewhere, you're more than welcome to hit us with an email saying so.

        And, as always, if you hit them with an email saying so, they're more than likely to route it to /dev/null.

        (We'll leave aside for the moment the fact that 99% of such emails are pointless whines in the first place...)

      • Thank you for replying. I can tell you that more than once I have written comments specifically trying to get the attention of the slashdot editor who posted a story, and received no response.

        The vast majority of people do not want to download a PDF and spend an hour reading through an academic paper when there's a (reasonably well-informed) news article available

        However I hope we agree that there are also a lot of very poorly informed news articles on scientific work that get through as well. Sadly enough some of those have made the slashdot front page.

        The other big problem is that many of these scientific papers are paywalled

        Although that is becoming less of an issue as time moves forward for many reasons:

        • A lot of very good research is published
      • by blair1q (305137)

        it might help if there were an explicit tag in the Firehose for "not the best link", instead of the ambiguous "not the best" to catch all of the possibilities

        it also might help if the /. editors actually acted as editors, selecting what's "news" based on content instead of what's "popular" based on voting in the Firehose...

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Monday September 27, 2010 @03:55PM (#33715706)

    There are plenty of reasons to mock news coverage of scientific papers; but how exactly do you have a complaint when a journalist clearly states that someone else (not the journalist) is making an assertion when that is, in fact, true?

    Yeah, let's mock them for that until they start omitting the "according to so-and-so" qualifications, and then we can mock them for pretending to be in a position to make definitive claims about topics they don't understand.

    Give me a break.

    • by twidarkling (1537077) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:05PM (#33715816)

      It's not that the journalist is making it clear that so-and-so is making the assertion, it's the complete lack of personal engagement in a piece, to the point where the article is taking a neutral stance to the detriment of the experts and researchers making the assertions. I don't know about you, but I, and most non-reporting uses I've seen, use "according to" as a means of saying "well, this really might not be true, but this one guy is saying it, totally." A reporter who is more engaged in the story, if he personally interviewed the subject, could say "So-and-so told me", and if it was second-hand, "So-and-so has found," which is much more engaging, active, and doesn't carry the self-distancing aspect of "according to."

      • by mea37 (1201159)

        Let's test that... If I say "According to the dictionary, an ostrich is a flightless bird", do you suspect I'm disparaging the dictionary's authority on the subject?

        Perhaps the problem is that you're blaming journalists for what you've brought to the conversation. Beyond that, it's a question of style. You may favor "so-and-so told me..."; but while bloggers and columnists may be comfortable using the first person, I think it's appropriate that reporters generally remove themselves from the story.

        • by vlm (69642)

          Let's test that...

          Yes, lets test that. I haven't watched the infotainment agitprop "news" in quite awhile. But lets test that.

          "allegedly, according to the scoreboard, the red sox might have lost 0 to 6, although some fans disagree".

          "According to the US Govt national weather service report, the local airport air traffic controller claims it is raining outside, although further research funding is necessary, and other scientists have a completely different conclusion about this 'water from the sky' phenomenon."

          I'm not seeing

      • by vlm (69642) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:19PM (#33716008)

        it's the complete lack of personal engagement in a piece,

        Its also a complete lack of judgment, to the point of appearing moronic, especially when giving equal coverage to all parties.

        "According the geology professor Ms Blah, the earth might be round, although more study grants are necessary. However, Mr. SoAndSo, the president of the flat earth society, disagrees."

        Second only to my favorite, trying to "middle school drama up" something professional or irrelevant.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        I don't even think that's the point. The point is the use of the ad verecundiam quote to pretend that something innocuous or unlikely is valuable or likely. It can all be true, but the implicit or explicit invitation to extrapolate a scientifically verified mote into some sort of technological revolution is sleazy journalism.

    • There are plenty of reasons to mock news coverage of scientific papers; but how exactly do you have a complaint when a journalist clearly states that someone else (not the journalist) is making an assertion when that is, in fact, true?

      True does not mean useful. If you aren't competent to assess the research beyond simply reporting what other people claim its import is, you aren't competent to report on it at all.

    • Yeah, let's mock them for that until they start omitting the "according to so-and-so" qualifications, and then we can mock them for pretending to be in a position to make definitive claims about topics they don't understand.

      My major concern would be with the reporters who are so clearly scientifically illiterate or utterly innumerate that they rely solely on quote-mining to support even the most inane statements of fact. There are writers who are so fearful of basic science and mathematics that they publi

  • Simpsons did it. (Score:5, Informative)

    by MaggieL (10193) on Monday September 27, 2010 @03:56PM (#33715712)

    No, wait, it was actually http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174 [phdcomics.com]

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Nooooo... that's not the same thing at all. That comic covers the entire life cycle of science reporting, from initial discovery, through to broadcast on the nightly news. This article, OTOH, is parody of a single stage in that cycle (the breathless science article).

    • by dcollins (135727)

      p = 0.56? Good grief, that means that there's some (very small) evidence that the exact opposite is true.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by acheron12 (1268924)
      So did Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal [smbc-comics.com].
  • "This paragraph contained useful information or context, but was removed by the sub-editor to keep the article within an arbitrary word limit in case the internet runs out of space." The snark is strong with this one.
    • Truly. He even put up a Rick Roll.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Happens a lot, ever see news article editing? That's exactly what happens to keep things inside an arbitrary limit. If a sub editor doesn't understand the topic, or point. Poof, useful information that puts something in context is gone.

      Seriously, go and write an opinion piece, and have it published. I have, mine has appeared in the national post(canada), The Globe and Mail, and posted by the CBC on their site. I was limited to 700 words.

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:00PM (#33715750)
    Begins with unwarranted boast as to the timeliness of submitting comment before prior posters, claiming victory for failing to achieve first place. Follows a more or less to-the-point observation aided by unrelated metaphore substanciated with a red herring logical fallacy. Additional straw man fallacy regarding possible critical replies. Conclusion with attempted witty signature line cleverly "borrowed" from another more obscure forum user's better post.
  • I think the reporting industry has changed. I am not experienced in that area, but I am seeing a glut of ex-reporters coming into my work. Junior manager positions are common, and the reason seems to be that employers like the fact these people have the ability to be their own integrated comms dept.

    From discussions with these people, it seems reporting used to be almost a craft or trade. Today, a young person with a degree is likely a new reporter. These people seem to be at odds with each other, The old
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:10PM (#33715884)

    This reminds me of how news networks, after bombarding the public with stories about unimportant or sensationalized garbage, will air a navel-gazing piece where they raise the question whether or not they went to far. Not that it keeps them from doing the same thing over and over again.

  • This is the theme to Garry's Show,
    The theme to Garry's show.
    Garry called me up and asked if I would right his theme song.
    I'm almost halfway finished,
    How do you like it so far,
    How do you like the theme to Garry's Show.

    This is the theme to Garry's Show,
    The opening theme to Garry's show.
    This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits.
    We're almost to the part of where I start to whistle.
    Then we'll watch "It's Garry Shandling's Show".

    This was the theme to Garry Shandling's show.
    ---

    It was sorta funny at

  • ... the source code for spew handy?
  • by Dancindan84 (1056246) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:20PM (#33716016)
    INSULT
  • by JackSpratts (660957) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:39PM (#33716236) Homepage

    and so am I, it's a funny article and an easy target. But when the science being reported on turns out to be dodgy (sugar causes diabetes, salt causes high blood pressure, high fructose corn syrup causes etc), the write-by-numbers approach with its rote opposing opinions and seemingly spineless journalistic waffling can remind readers not to get too caught up in the latest theory du jour.

    Sure, I love the exuberant decisiveness and manic clarity of the Weekly World News (who doesn't?) but all in all I think major us newspapers do a pretty good job in presenting this admittedly complicated and theoretical stuff, particularly when read with a bit of skepticism.

    - js.

    • by plover (150551) *

      , high fructose corn syrup causes etc),

      Hey, I'm suffering from stage 4 etc, you insensitive clod!

    • and so am I, it's a funny article and an easy target. But when the science being reported on turns out to be dodgy (sugar causes diabetes, salt causes high blood pressure, high fructose corn syrup causes etc), the write-by-numbers approach with its rote opposing opinions and seemingly spineless journalistic waffling can remind readers not to get too caught up in the latest theory du jour.

      Actual competent reporting could do that far better.

      For that matter, just not reporting on the stuff that the outlet does

    • but all in all I think major us newspapers do a pretty good job in presenting this admittedly complicated and theoretical stuff, particularly when read with a bit of skepticism.

      All in all I think that they mostly waste space. The only useful information in most major media on any scientific issue is that something was published, the general subject matter, and the identification of the research team that allows someone who cares to use the internet or other research sources to find actual useful information

    • by Kirijini (214824)

      the write-by-numbers approach with its rote opposing opinions and seemingly spineless journalistic waffling can remind readers not to get too caught up in the latest theory du jour.

      Yes, god forbid that the public suddenly become interested in science. It might one day break their hearts.

  • This story reminds me of the Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer [youtube.com] that Cracked put out recently. Pretty well done and captures the same type of spirit as the Guardian article.

  • by osgeek (239988) on Monday September 27, 2010 @04:44PM (#33716292) Homepage Journal

    They forgot to add that treatments/products/services using this fantastic discovery should be commercially available within 5 years.

  • ...against "skeptics" and "deniers" who are obviously motivated by payments from "big industry" which will justly be impacted by the righteous and necessary political policy which the new scientific consensus demands.

  • That's not a humorous article at all. Someone has leaked the instruction manual that those cheesy word weasels use when they have to do something more than simply rewrite a press release.

    I suspect there's an addendum that says "Get someone to chop out a chunk of your main point, add a title that makes it sound like the hypothetical being tested by the research has already been proven and then some. For instance, if a physicist posits a theory that the space-time continuum is comprised of many dimensions wit

  • Not only is the article dead on, but the author managed to get a Rick-Roll link included in the official post-article link block.

    Could these be a good argument for dedicated science journalists for big websites? And by dedicated, I mean *interested* in science.
  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Monday September 27, 2010 @08:13PM (#33718096)
    Slashdot Posting Form v0.4 BETA. Automatically creates typical slashdot post.

    [ ] IANAL but ____
    [ ] Obligatory XKCD ___
    [ ] In soviet russia the _____'s YOU
    [ ] There, fixed that for you
    [ ] link to /. dupe from last year
    [ ] sudo _____ > /dev/null
    [ ] Queue _____ in 3.. 2..
    [ ] Bitch about /.'s modding system
    [ ] Get off my lawn
    [ ] You insensitive clod!
    [ ] RTFM
    [ ] RTTFA

    [x] Reuse my posting form joke
    [x] Don't hide "Reuse my posting form joke" checkbox

    Invoke:
    [ ] Cory Doctrow
    [ ] Richard Stallman
    [ ] kdawson
    [ ] Steve Jobs
    [ ] Natalie Portman

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