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Scientifically Illiterate media = Scientifically Illiterate Public
Posted: 31 May 2013 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This report is just a minor example of how the media in general dumbs down the public. It may be a minor issue in this particular story, but it shows how even the biggest news outlets no longer use reporters with any science background to report on science stories so you end up with stupid mistakes like this. In referring to a large asteroid which will be passing relatively close to the earth the reporter commented..

“Amateur astronomers with telescopes as small as 10 inches long may just barely be able to eyeball it in the southern skies. But the devices should be computer controlled because locating it otherwise will be difficult, NASA advises. ”  So now every parent or kid with a little telescope wil think they can see the asteroid when in fact the correct statement would have been telescopes with mirrors as small as 10 inches in diameter would be able to see the asteroid. It sounds picky but its the difference between this: galileostelescope.jpg and this: Atlas10wManAtEyepc353500.jpg

Then when referring to the risk that smaller objects pose to the earth he makes another common mistake.

“But NASA has not yet done much work on the meteors one class lower, known as the “potential city killers”

When these objects are in space ( which is where we are looking for them) they are referred to as asteroids. A meteor is what we call the object as it streaks through the atmosphere. Its picky I agree but how hard would it be to find a person with a science degree who can write?

[ Edited: 31 May 2013 09:25 AM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 31 May 2013 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Indeed. The journalistic agencies in general seem to have a distressing disregard for hiring people who are actually knowledgeable in the field they are reporting in.

I’m sure you see the same thing with medical reporting.

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Posted: 31 May 2013 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 31 May 2013 09:23 AM

Indeed. The journalistic agencies in general seem to have a distressing disregard for hiring people who are actually knowledgeable in the field they are reporting in.

I’m sure you see the same thing with medical reporting.

Constantly. The words Virus and Bacteria are used interchangeably only adding to the issues we have when trying to explain to a patient why their infection is caused by a virus and therefor does not require antibiotics. There are lots of other examples as well. The thing is I see kids every day with science degrees and no job who would do a much better job reporting on these stories and can;t help wondering why news agencies don;t make use of all this untapped and relatively inexpensive talent. They could have these science majors team up with someone who has writing skills and actually produce a story that was accurate.

I think the problem is that the people at the news organization and their readers are generally not knowledgeable enough to realize there is a problem and so they just go on misinforming the public. Ignorance breeds more ignorance

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Posted: 31 May 2013 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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macgyver - 31 May 2013 09:31 AM

The thing is I see kids every day with science degrees and no job who would do a much better job reporting on these stories and can;t help wondering why news agencies don;t make use of all this untapped and relatively inexpensive talent. They could have these science majors team up with someone who has writing skills and actually produce a story that was accurate.

Not even that. Science majors should be able to write well. Even if not all of them can, there are certainly enough who can.

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Posted: 31 May 2013 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 31 May 2013 09:23 AM

Indeed. The journalistic agencies in general seem to have a distressing disregard for hiring people who are actually knowledgeable in the field they are reporting in.

I’m sure you see the same thing with medical reporting.

You’re assuming the goal is to inform the public. That used to be the case. Now the goal is profits. Educated journalists cost more, which cuts into profits. Infotainment OTOH can have a very low bar, and therefore not require much in the way of journalism. Just another in a long list of effects of a fascist/corporatist society.

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Posted: 31 May 2013 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 31 May 2013 09:35 AM
macgyver - 31 May 2013 09:31 AM

The thing is I see kids every day with science degrees and no job who would do a much better job reporting on these stories and can;t help wondering why news agencies don;t make use of all this untapped and relatively inexpensive talent. They could have these science majors team up with someone who has writing skills and actually produce a story that was accurate.

Not even that. Science majors should be able to write well. Even if not all of them can, there are certainly enough who can.

You’re correct. Most science majors are required to take several writing courses to complete their major since writing is such an important part of publishing papers and getting grants and is critical in most science related jobs these days. It wouldn’t really be an expensive investment for the media outlets either if they hired one or two interns with science backgrounds to just proof read the articles before they were published. I think they just don’t care. Reporting has become a sloppy business in many respects.

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Posted: 31 May 2013 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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“But NASA has not yet done much work on the meteors one class lower, known as the “potential city killers”

When these objects are in space ( which is where we are looking for them) they are referred to as asteroids. A meteor is what we call the object as it streaks through the atmosphere. Its picky I agree but how hard would it be to find a person with a science degree who can write?

Or any layman with the ability to google can easily find the pertinent info. They could also read the facts on Phil Plait’s blog “bad science” or read his book with full explanations on what constitutes an asteroid, a meteor or a meteorite or why the sky is blue for that matter. Reporters just don’t take the time to delve a little deeper into the facts; they hurry the stories onto the media and head for the next sensational scoop. Right now it’s the tornado tearing it’s way across Ok. and every news service is carrying it. Remember the song “dirty laundry”?


Cap’t Jack

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Posted: 31 May 2013 08:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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A 10” ‘telescope’ is one half of a ‘binocular’  LOL

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Posted: 31 May 2013 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I was hoping to be able to see it at the observatory down the street, but it turned into a cloudy evening. :(

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Posted: 31 May 2013 11:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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CuthbertJ - 31 May 2013 10:06 AM
TromboneAndrew - 31 May 2013 09:23 AM

Indeed. The journalistic agencies in general seem to have a distressing disregard for hiring people who are actually knowledgeable in the field they are reporting in.

I’m sure you see the same thing with medical reporting.

You’re assuming the goal is to inform the public. That used to be the case. Now the goal is profits. Educated journalists cost more, which cuts into profits. Infotainment OTOH can have a very low bar, and therefore not require much in the way of journalism. Just another in a long list of effects of a fascist/corporatist society.

Agreed. CNN is not concerned with scientific literacy at all - nor is any major media.

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Posted: 01 June 2013 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If people like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who can speak on technical issues in a way that is accurate AND still understandable to laypersons AND KEEP IT ENTERTAINING at the same time) were a dime a dozen, they could be hired for reporting the science news.  Paramount in our “news” industry, these days, is ENTERTAINMENT rather than information or instruction.  If it doesn’t much contribute to ratings, it’s unlikely to be a priority that it be technically accurate.

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Posted: 01 June 2013 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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While the major news outlets do not really seem to care much about the accuracy of their technical reporting, smaller news outlets sometimes do, and much like a small restaurant develops unique dishes as a way to get attention and compete with larger chains, smaller news outlets use better reporting to gain a competitive advantage. For example, I enjoy this for my astronomy news: http://www.universetoday.com/ But that’s the system that we have. Large entities do not have much competitive advantage in producing better quality, but smaller entities do.

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Posted: 01 June 2013 08:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The media dumbs down the people, the people dumb down the media.  It’s not any ones interest in having a smart, curious public.
Except our interest. Those of us here in this forum for example.  But we have confirmation bias(that’s not the right term-what’s the term for this?).
The vast majority of people don’t see a problem with a dumb downed media.

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Posted: 02 June 2013 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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VYAZMA - 01 June 2013 08:35 PM

The vast majority of people don’t see a problem with a dumb downed media.

Yeah, this is sad but true.

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Posted: 02 June 2013 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mid atlantic - 02 June 2013 05:08 AM
VYAZMA - 01 June 2013 08:35 PM

The vast majority of people don’t see a problem with a dumb downed media.

Yeah, this is sad but true.

It’s not that they don’t see it, they demand it. Why should, say, Fox News change anything since they attract more viewers than any other news station? I don’t really mind. There is a lot of garbage out there these days, but there is also enough of good stuff to choose from for everyone else. One just has to know where to find it. If you are a douche, by all means, stick to CNN to learn about asteroids. If, OTOH, you care to learn something, you can always go to Phil Plait’s blog.

If the average IQ of a country is below average, then also most of the reporting will be below average. I guess memetics does work just like genetics.

[ Edited: 02 June 2013 06:36 AM by George ]
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Posted: 02 June 2013 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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George - 02 June 2013 05:59 AM
mid atlantic - 02 June 2013 05:08 AM
VYAZMA - 01 June 2013 08:35 PM

The vast majority of people don’t see a problem with a dumb downed media.

Yeah, this is sad but true.

It’s not that they don’t see it, they demand it. Why should, say, Fox News change anything since they attract more viewers than any other news station? I don’t really mind. There is a lot of garbage out there these days, but there is also enough of good stuff to choose from for everyone else. One just has to know where to find it. If you are a douche, by all means, stick to CNN to learn about asteroids. If, OTOH, you care to learn something, you can always go to Phil Plait’s blog.

If the average IQ of a country is below average, then also most of the reporting will be below average. I guess memetics does work just like genetics.

I think you are correct George. If you are intelligent enough to go looking for good reporting you can find it. The problem I see is that the vast majority of the information most people get is from the main stream media and its the majority that rules. If we let the media dumb them down then the decisions we make as a country will be dumb. For anyone who cares about better decisions and making a better future for our descendants it is important to recognize the power that the media has and demand that they do better. I’m not sure how the minority of us who recognize the problem get private industry or the government to make a change but perhaps making the public aware of the garbage they are being fed would help.

We need some real out of the box idea to fix this problem since the media wont do it alone for all the reasons already outlined above by everyone. I really think there should be a requirement that anyone reporting on science stories have at least a BS in science. After all I can’t practice medicine without a medical degree and lawyers can’t practice law without a law degree. Why should a reporter be allowed to do their job when they don’t have any credentials that would make them competent to report on the subject of their story? In some ways they have the ability to do far more harm then a single incompetent doctor or lawyer.

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