sensationalism

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...

There's no doubt that Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant scientists to have ever lived. There's also no doubt that he enjoys giving his opinion on topics of which he knows absolutely nothing.

A few years ago, Dr. Hawking got into trouble for claiming, "Philosophy is dead." It was a strange thing for a theoretical physicist to assert, not only because theoretical physics has direct implications for philosophy but because the entire scientific enterprise is predicated upon epistemology. (That's the philosophical discipline that seeks to answer one of the most important questions humanity has ever asked: How do we know what we claim to know?)

Dr. Hawking has also...

When I was learning how to do word problems in elementary school, we were taught to ask ourselves a few questions after arriving at an answer. One of them was, "Does my answer make sense?" For example, if a problem asked how many apples a person can buy if he has $5 and each apple costs 50 cents and your answer is negative 17 million, something has gone horribly wrong.

Does my answer make sense? is such a great question, that every published scientific paper henceforth should be required to answer it explicitly. Perhaps we would avoid seeing papers with titles like this:

...

In a recent documentary, religion scholar Reza Aslan ate a small piece of human brains. That was inadvisable.

The purpose of his six-episode CNN series "Believer," according to the Los Angeles Times, is to explore misunderstood faiths. Of course, given the choice of good journalism or sensationalism, Dr. Aslan chose the latter. In one episode, he hung out with the Aghoris, a small, fringe Hindu cult with extremely bizarre practices that are meant as a rebuke to...

Back when I was editor of RealClearScience, Slate's science page was a daily must-read. Now, I never read it because the quality of its reportage has fallen dramatically and because I grew tired of Phil Plait deceiving readers about science policy and posting selfies with his goat.

There are plenty of other reasons to avoid Slate. Perhaps the best is that the site is enamored with publishing contrarian news articles. Their formula is time-tested: (1) Take a statement that is obviously stupid; (2) Write a headline vigorously...