science journalism

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...

Last week, international media outlets reported that asparagus causes cancer. It does not.

Like a series of bad sequels, the media is back with yet another terribly botched story. This time, the claim is that using household cleaning sprays is like smoking 20 cigarettes per day. Wrong again.

The study, which used a cohort design, examined lung capacity and function among...

The war on science has at least three fronts.

First, there is the widely reported political war on science, widely and erroneously believed to be waged exclusively by conservatives, when in reality, progressives are just as eager to throw science under the bus when it suits their agenda. (ACSH President Hank Campbell and I wrote an entire book about this topic, called Science Left Behind.) As a general rule, when science and political activists clash, the activists usually win.

Second, there is the legal war on science, in which unscrupulous lawyers use scientific uncertainty against science to score jackpot verdicts and settlements. All a lawyer has...

One of the many problems with academia is that it allows nutcases to flourish.

Consider Columbia University. It employs both Dr. Oz, "America's Quack," and Mark Bittman, a former organic food warrior for the New York Times who was once described as a "scourge on science." UC-Berkeley has Joel Moskowitz on staff, a "wi-fi truther" who thinks that...

The job ad is appalling.

NPR, which to its credit at least attempts to cover science and health, is looking for a new Science Editor. Unfortunately, actually being trained in science is not required for the job.

Under the qualifications section, the ad says, "Education: Bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience." Amazingly, not only is a background in science unnecessary, college itself is optional. Despite such a low bar, whoever gets hired for the job will be responsible for covering "consumer health trends, medicine, public health, biotech and health policy." Seriously?

The only substantive qualification in the ad is "broad and deep experience reporting and...

If a respected scientist endorses a controversial view, should he or she be erased from history? The editors at Wikipedia think so, but only if the controversial opinion is one they personally dislike.

That's precisely what happened to a respected German paleontologist, Günter Bechly. His biography on Wikipedia has been deleted. Poof. Gone. It's like he never existed.

According to German Wikipedia, where a version of Dr. Bechly's page (which appears to have been created in 2012) still exists, he was once an...

One of the biggest problems of our hyperpartisan culture is that everything has been turned into a morbid game show.

Gone are the days when politicians and the media acted in the best interest of the American people. Instead, we have manufactured controversy and faux outrage over the most mundane of events. Instead of world news, we get 24/7 coverage of the President's Twitter feed. And instead of serious analysis, we get programming that resembles some horrifying merger of Family Feud, Hunger Games, and Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Consider CNN's coverage of the government shutdown. They are masters at...