The Lancet is a highly respected biomedical journal that's taken an odd turn toward sensationalism and clickbait. That is troubling. Here's what we've been noticing.
Why on Earth does the media print sensationalist nonsense over and over again? We know of at least three reasons: (1) It cares more about internet traffic (and $$$) than anything else; (2) science journalists often have no formal education in the field; and (3) university press offices purposefully exaggerate their research.
A few weeks ago, a paper claimed that an extra glass of wine will shorten your life. The story circled the globe in minutes. A new paper, with better methodology, concluded what we all knew: Moderate alcohol consumption can be integrated into a healthy lifestyle. It, however, won't receive nearly as much attention as the sensationalist report. Such is the power of the academic PR hype machine combined with a gullible, sensationalist press.
Carey Gillam is a well-known anti-GMO activist who rejects the scientific consensus, regularly reports easily provable lies, and works for an organization that gets most of its money from 9/11 truthers.
A study published in The Lancet concludes that one additional drink per day increases a person's risk of stroke, coronary disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm. Alcohol may not be to blame, but we can't determine this because the authors didn't even bother to collect data on it.
The authors had a clear strategy in mind: (1) Do a study on a common household object; (2) Produce boring data that doesn't surprise any microbiologist; (3) Write a provocative, fear-mongering headline; (4) Market it to a gullible, clickbait-hungry press, exhibiting no critical thinking; and (5) Watch the grant dollars roll in.
A complete hoax was circulated among Russian state-controlled media as legitimate news, and then the Western media fell for it. Sure, some of them provided "caveats." But the point is that Russian propaganda has so infiltrated the public discourse that it appears regularly in mainstream Western media outlets. And that's shocking.
While brilliant, Stephen Hawking states uninformed opinions, like when the theoretical physicist claimed a few years ago that "philosophy is dead." In an upcoming documentary, Dr. Hawking says humans must flee from the planet because of "climate change, asteroid strikes, epidemics and overpopulation." But he's wrong on every single count.
Every scientific paper should be required to answer a simple question before it's published. So prior to considering whether ingesting too many polyunsaturated fats (e.g., fish and foods cooked with vegetable oil) will make women lazy, TV-watching diabetics, an elementary-school query must first be asked: Does that even make sense?
In a recent documentary, the religion scholar ate a small piece of human brains. That was inadvisable. Given the choice of good journalism or sensationalism, Dr. Aslan chose the latter. And from a health standpoint the decision carried risks.
Besides deceiving readers about science policy, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid Slate. Perhaps best is that the online site loves posting contrarian articles using a time-tested formula to attract readers: Take an obviously-stupid statement and add a headline vigorously defending it. Whether the article is accurate, compelling or well-conceived is an afterthought.