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Misinformation in science news: How the media shapes public understanding

Kakoli Majumder | Jan 27, 2015 | 44,481 views
 Misinformation in science news: How the media shapes public understanding

Despite the scholarly community’s efforts to make research data and publications available to the general public through open access and public access initiatives, much of the public understanding of scientific knowledge is dependent on the media. However, for scientists, mainstream media coverage of science, is at best, uncomfortable to read, and at its worst, a blatant misrepresentation of scientific facts. 

 Let us look at some of the problems media coverage of scientific information at times leads to.

Attention first, facts later

Most scientists blame this on the media’s tendency to sensationalize scientific knowledge. It cannot be denied that popular taste for news can definitely shape the way news is presented. Scientific papers are often written in a dry and technical style, while the journalist’s style is carefully balanced between facts and opinions, and selectively highlights angles that would be interesting to the general public. Moreover, with the emergence of online social media platforms such Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., journalists are under a tremendous pressure to produce news stories that would grab the readers’ attention. These pressures may lead to a preference for sensationalization, at times at the cost of scientific accuracy. For example, a news piece with the headline “New pill to cure cancer.” may fail to report all the related facts such as the pill may be a possible treatment method but with severe side effects.

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