science journalism

Geopolitical analyst George Friedman wrote in his book The Next 100 Years that cultures go through three phases: barbarism, civilization, and decadence/decline. "Decadents cynically believe that nothing is better than anything else. If they hold anyone in contempt, it is those who believe in anything." I think he's right.

There's a word for "not believing in anything": It's called postmodernism, and one wonders if it might go hand-in-hand with societal decline.

Barring some cataclysmic event, decline doesn't happen overnight. Decline is a choice. Historians disagree exactly why the Roman Empire eventually collapsed, but we do know that...

The online news arm of the journal Science is a solid source of information. However, recently it made a very strange editorial decision that could potentially harm its reputation.

Yesterday, Science reprinted an article that was provided by E&E News, a website that bills itself as "a news organization focusing on energy and the environment." That's true enough, but it also seems to take a particular viewpoint on energy and the environment, specifically that green energy is the way to go and the environment is full of scary chemicals. The reprinted article quoted only Democrats, and E&E seems to have...

The Gray Lady has gotten raunchy in her old age. News has just broken that the New York Times's national security reporter, Ali Watkins, was sleeping with a source who worked as an aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee. That source has now been arrested as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information.

It's long been known that journalism, like the legal profession, attracts its fair share of agenda-driven sleazebags who prioritize half-truths and personal ambition over honor and veracity, perhaps none more so than the New York Times. Back in 2003, Jayson Blair, a reporter for the NYT, resigned because he plagiarized and...

Let's pretend that researchers are investigating acts of violence between players during hockey games. And let's further pretend that they are interested in determining if violent behavior has a racial component.

Would you be surprised to find out that most acts of violence happen between white players? Well, of course not. The National Hockey League (NHL) consists almost exclusively of white people. (A figure from 2011 claims the league is 93% white.) So, if the researchers do not control for the fact that most hockey players are white, they could come to the erroneous conclusion that white hockey players are more likely to be violent.

For this reason,...

A few weeks ago, the media ran wild with an outlandish claim that an extra glass of wine will take 30 minutes off of your life.

Though the media, particularly The Guardian, deserved much of the blame for this fiasco, the journal and the authors themselves deserve an equal share. The study was poorly designed with numerous glaring flaws, and its results were sensationalized. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this was a coordinated publicity stunt.

A new paper in Circulation, a journal published on behalf of the American Heart Association, shows the exact opposite. In fact, it demonstrates that moderate drinking can...

I've been a science writer and editor for nearly eight years. During this time, I've learned a few things.

Perhaps the most important is that science is never enough. It doesn't matter if you have facts, data, and logic on your side, a substantial proportion of people will reject what you say and call you bad names. The reason, usually, is because they have an ideological conflict of interest -- by far, the worst kind of conflict of interest. That is, they are so dedicated to a particular viewpoint, that literally nothing will change their minds. That is anathema to science.

Editors must be aware of that fact. Otherwise, they are likely to be...

Alcohol is bad again. Sometimes, epidemiologists tell us it's good, but today, they're telling us it's bad. What else is bad? The study that arrived at that conclusion.

Published in The Lancet -- a journal that has shown a worrisome trend in sensationalizing unremarkable research -- a new paper concludes (and advertises prominently in its abstract) that consuming an additional 100 grams of alcohol per week (roughly an additional one drink per day) increases a person's risk of stroke, coronary disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm.

The media, as usual, put the results into proper context, discussing the...

I will never be out of a job because literally, every single day, something idiotic is trending either on Google or Twitter. Today, the trending term is "Rubber Duck."

Why? New research shows (gasp!) there are bacteria and fungi on the toy rubber duckies and other plastic toys that your toddler (or spouse) plays with in the bath tub. To create as much terror as possible, the scientists even provocatively titled the paper: "Ugly ducklings—the dark side of plastic materials in contact with potable water."

That's a big red flag. Serious scientists don't write titles for journal papers like that. Instead, a typical headline for a paper like this would be: "A survey of the microbial ecology of...

Of all the ridiculous claims made in the popular science press, one of the biggest is that we have discovered the possibility of alien life on some remote exoplanet.

The story usually goes like this: Astronomers find a star located many light-years away that hosts multiple planets. One of those planets is located in the "Goldilocks Zone," the habitable region around a star. Upon closer examination, that planet appears to have gases in its atmosphere that might indicate life. The authors conclude that given the sheer number of these types of exoplanets, life could be everywhere in the universe.

Oh, that's just too good to resist. So, studies like that tend to lead to...

It's often helpful for journalists who do not have specialized knowledge of complex scientific topics to write about them anyway, because if they can understand them and figure out how to communicate them, they can perform a tremendous public service. However, if journalists don't take the time to understand complex topics and get the very basics wrong, they do the public a massive disservice and end up looking like buffoons.

Which brings us to veteran New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who studied law and fancies himself an expert in chemistry and toxicology. Chemists and toxicologists disagree.

His latest diatribe -- which was easily and thoroughly debunked by my...