How science reporting works

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The latest from Zach Wiener at SMBC:

(There are four more panels — click on the image to see them all.)

Unfortunately, scientists are often more complicit in the exaggerations and misrepresentations than this narrative suggests.

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7 Comments »

  1. Felix Ahlner said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    Also, take a look at the supplement to this comic, entitled “How it should be”: http://zs1.smbc-comics.com/comics/20090830after.gif

  2. Klaus said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

    Also: this.

    [(myl) Further discussion of that strip here.]

  3. Dan T. said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    Journalists aren't the only group who tends to oversimplify complex issues and ignore nuances. The marketing types whom I have to deal with constantly in work environments will ask things like "How many people went to our web site?", and if I answer something like "Here's the total hit count, but that includes multiple hits for all the different files the user may have requested from our server. If I restrict the hit count to HTML files, that gets you the number of distinct pages requested (ignoring images, stylesheets and other subsidiary stuff), but excludes such things as PDF documents. What you actually seem to want is unique visitors, which can be approximated by counting the number of distinct IP addresses, but this is still somewhat unreliable because of such things as indexing robots (which I try, but don't always succeed, to exclude by user agent identifier), and of providers such as AOL which constantly change the IP address of a user, even within a single session. So here is a possible answer to your query, but it's only approximate." Then they take the number and treat it as gospel truth of how many people came to our site, ignoring all the qualifiers.

  4. Carl said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

    "(There are four more panels — click on the image to see them all.)"

    As Felix says, it's really five.

  5. Robert E. Harris said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    Ph.D. Comics has another take on this at

    http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174

    [(myl) More discussion of that strip here.]

  6. Graeme said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

    My impression is the first two panels are true.

    In the third panel, the original scientist is professionally embarrassed but happy their work has prominence. In the background the Uni or institute's PR hack is beaming.

    In panel four a different group of lab coats declare rival results.

    In panel five a new headline is 'Cancer – no hope for humans'

    In the final panel Citizen Blogs is lamenting 'Everything causes cancer, science is always contradicting itself, why do we bother?'

  7. Lee Morgan said,

    August 31, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    Today's follow up: http://zs1.smbc-comics.com/comics/20090831.gif

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