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Igenious scientist discovers the formula for the perfect scathing invective against science journalism (12 Sep 2005 at 23:27)
There is a brilliant article in the Guardian today about the woeful state of science journalism. I recommend that all the scientists and science journalists (hah) that read my weblog take a look. The thesis it supports:
... humanities graduates in the media, who suspect themselves to be intellectuals, desperately need to reinforce the idea that science is nonsense: because they've denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of western thought for 200 years, and secretly, deep down, they're angry with themselves over that.
I was particularly happy to see mention (and of course the ultimate dismissal) of the recent popular phenomenon of "Scientist discovers the 'formula' for the perfect X" fluff which is invariably some ridiculous linear combination of underdefined variables. Does anybody really think that anything in the real world is that simple? What the fuck is wrong with these people?

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Max (ce-web3.wesleyan.edu) – 09.13.05 00:24:25
That was pretty good but I couldn't understand it
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Anonymous (cache-dtc-ad03.proxy.aol.com) – 09.13.05 06:12:17
Snap, Crackle, Drop

Everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But when you're watching your weight, that mantra doesn't give you license to gorge on pancakes, bagels and muffins. When it comes to staying slim, cold cereal eaters have the edge.

Not All Created Equal
Two new studies support the notion that a regular morning meal of cereal and milk wards off weight problems. But even though the studies were funded by two major cereal manufacturers, leading nutritionists agree with their findings. "Cereal with milk is quick and easy, and if you chose the right cereal you get calcium, fiber, and plenty of nutrients," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD.

Of course, eating a sugar-laden cereal straight from the box can create a diet disaster. Taub-Dix recommends a cereal with no more than 3 grams of sugar per serving and roughly 5 grams of fiber, topped with skimmed milk and berries. If you can't live without your Cocoa Puffs, which has 13 grams of sugar per serving, try cutting the sugar by mixing it with a low-sugar option like Cheerios or Kix.

Smart Snacking
Cereal is also often touted as a healthy snack. The best choice would be a whole-grain variety that's high in fiber and protein. Again, portion and sugar control are key if you choose this as your between-meals treat. Here are some more tips for smart snacking.
Snacking can be a dietary disadvantage; or a nutritional edge. Here's how to make it work in your favor.
Many nutrition experts often recommend munching between meals to maintain your energy and prevent you from devouring too much at lunch or dinner. But snacking could thwart your ability to manage the size of your middle -- unless, that is, you learn to snack smart.
"Nutrition experts are not wrong about the healthfulness of snacking, but perhaps we haven't been clear that you should have a snack only when your stomach wants it," states Connie Roberts, R.D., a nutritionist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

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Marc (c-24-91-40-167.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 09.13.05 11:20:14
Gosh, those Humanities Graduates sure are a nasty gang! I hear they go around infecting little babies with cholera and stomping on elderly people's gardens, too. Someone needs to stop them...
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Tom 7 (gs82.sp.cs.cmu.edu) – 09.13.05 13:10:08
Well, I certainly don't support the generalization to all "humanities graduates," since I have very many good and intelligent friends who are humanities graduates. I'll definitely stand behind it as respects science journalists who don't understand--nor strive to understand--science, and there are lots of them in the popular press. I do think that the coherence of their bad science points towards not mere bungling but an active (if subconscious) desire to discredit science.

Still, this phenomenon of science-ridicule is popular even among non-journalists. Example: at CMU there is a big red LED sign run by the theatre department, and one of the things it scrolls by every once in a while is, "Art is science made clear." I think this is just a really terrible sentiment. I love art, and even was a "humanities minor," but this statement implies that science is too hard to understand, to the point that it is unclear, and presents art as a (superior) alternative. From my perspective, art absolutely is not an alternative to science; it addresses a totally different thing.
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jcreed (wittgenstein.wv.cc.cmu.edu) – 09.13.05 17:57:50
Yeah, when you put it like that --- science journalists who don't understand science --- I understand your point much better. Nobody expects any less of business journalists to learn all they need to to report faithfully about business, legal journalists about law, etc. It is not only not too much to ask of science reporting that it be accurate concerning the practice of science, it would be irresponsible to demand any less.
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Marc (c-24-91-40-167.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 09.14.05 14:45:06
Heh, that "art is science made clear" sign does sound rather ridiculous.

Well, yeah, I did find some of the article interesting, and the picking apart of the general overriding trends in shitty science journalism in popular media interesting and compelling, but the incessant gripes against "humanities graduates" was just so bizarre and irritating. It made it seem like the issue was more some very personal chip on the author's shoulder being hashed out in journalistic form, like there's some vicious battle that author thinks is being waged between scientists and humanities graduates.

And then the author went so far as to obnoxiously do exactly what he complained HGs have been doing, which is to try to remove all credibility of the discipline, when making that statement about how humanities have contributed nothing in the past 200 years aside from the idea of cultural relativism, which did nothing to contribute to the point of the article and only made the author seem like even more of an ass with some weird personal vendetta. I mean, I have like no investment in humanities academia nor do I pay hardly any attention to it, and I still see what a ridiculous statement that is.

But I did find parts of the article interesting and worthwhile. Again, the analysis of the overall scientific reporting trends, and also the points about how reports and press releases shouldn't be published without anyone with a scientific background checking to see whether the reporters got the basics correct.

I don't really agree with the terrible danger that the author is trying to point out, though. I mean, even if it true that journalists are consciously or unconsciously trying to discredit science on the whole, I just really doubt that it could be working via these means. I mean, I feel that people in general pretty well realize that, so far as useful scientific developments go, they're happening all the time, but that we just don't usually see reporting about the actual scientific process. Instead we see stuff about new developments in the application of those things. And that the specific science reports that get reported on are generally more of the kooky things that non-sciency folks might find amusing, but I doubt that many folks really believe that that's representative of scientific work on the whole. I could be wrong, though. And of course, I'm not saying that there wouldn't be value in better scientific reporting in popular media. And of course I agree that scientific research shouldn't be totally misreported.

But anyway, I guess what I'm getting at is, there were some valid and interesting points I think, but the author also clearly had his head stuck a little too far his up his own ass.
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Tom 7 (gs82.sp.cs.cmu.edu) – 09.14.05 18:08:47
Well, I imagine he does have an actual vendetta since he writes a weekly column about bad science journalism. He is definitely unnecessarily scathing towards the humanities. I find that kind of thing amusing, if I don't take it too seriously.

I on the other hand do see a terrible danger with the media discrediting science like this. For instance, one only needs to look at the popularity of "teaching the controversy" surrounding evolution for a serious example. (There is, of course, no scientific controversy worth mentioning, let alone teaching.) Popular perception of science matters; it drives funding and the acceptance of important ideas, public health, etc.
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Marc (c-24-91-40-167.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 09.14.05 21:32:37
No, I do agree that discrediting science is a problem, I just don't believe that the stuff described begins to succeed at doing that. I mean, I found it kinda amusing at points, too. Though after a while, it got less so, for me. And yeah, the evolution example is a good one, I see your point, I hadn't thought of that sort of example.
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