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Old 30th June 2019, 12:51 PM   #1
Swordfishtrombone
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Incompetent science reporting

Today I encountered some engregiously bad science reporting. The article is on the Finnish news site YLE, that usually has pretty good standards, and has even published some articles that have clearly been written by a skeptic, promoting critical thinking.

However, this time, the reporter that wrote the article clearly understood nothing of the subject.

It won't help you, because it's in Finnish, but the article I'm referring to is here:
https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2019/0...ti-tieteilijat

The title is: "Your future may soon be predictable scientifically - scientists created a predictive quantum computer"

And it essentially says that this discovery will allow the quantum computer to predict the futures of individual humans.

Fortunately, they did link the original article, published in Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08951-2

This sounded SOOOOOOO fishy to me that I actually read the article (and understood enough of it to get the gist of what was done and discovered), and I wrote comment to that article, essentially explaining that it got everything wrong. They closed the commenting shortly after, so my comment is the only one visible there.

But this is what annoys me -media essentialy inventing flashy titles out of whole cloth, based on scientific publications that they didn't really understand at all.

Then people who believe those articles, think that their outrageous conclusions come from the scientists, and not from the incompetence of the reporter, will get jaded and distrustful of the actual science, after their false-reporting-based expectations are shown to be without foundation.

The site (YLE) is usually very good when it comes to science, but somehow they let this piece of excrement thorough.
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Old 30th June 2019, 01:35 PM   #2
Hans
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That very common when dealing with media reports on archaeology subjects. Its almost become routine.

Here an example:

Ancient Europeans lived alongside a half-ton bird nearly 12 feet tall

https://www.livescience.com/41048-fa...o-erectus.html
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Old 30th June 2019, 01:55 PM   #3
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Journalists who can remain precise on all the nuances on a subject and covey that to the reader are a rare breed indeed.
Even more frustrating is the readers who almost always misinterpret what they've read.
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Old 30th June 2019, 02:30 PM   #4
Robin
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Originally Posted by Swordfishtrombone View Post
Today I encountered some engregiously bad science reporting. The article is on the Finnish news site YLE, that usually has pretty good standards, and has even published some articles that have clearly been written by a skeptic, promoting critical thinking.

However, this time, the reporter that wrote the article clearly understood nothing of the subject.

It won't help you, because it's in Finnish, but the article I'm referring to is here:
https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2019/0...ti-tieteilijat

The title is: "Your future may soon be predictable scientifically - scientists created a predictive quantum computer"

And it essentially says that this discovery will allow the quantum computer to predict the futures of individual humans.

Fortunately, they did link the original article, published in Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08951-2

This sounded SOOOOOOO fishy to me that I actually read the article (and understood enough of it to get the gist of what was done and discovered), and I wrote comment to that article, essentially explaining that it got everything wrong. They closed the commenting shortly after, so my comment is the only one visible there.

But this is what annoys me -media essentialy inventing flashy titles out of whole cloth, based on scientific publications that they didn't really understand at all.

Then people who believe those articles, think that their outrageous conclusions come from the scientists, and not from the incompetence of the reporter, will get jaded and distrustful of the actual science, after their false-reporting-based expectations are shown to be without foundation.

The site (YLE) is usually very good when it comes to science, but somehow they let this piece of excrement thorough.
Not uncommon, for example that is pretty much the business model of the New Scientist.

The headline will say something like "The Standard Model is Dead", then the contents page will be a little more circumspect with something like "The days of the Standard Model may well be numbered", then in the actual article will be about something written on the back of a napkin by a couple of lecturers in the University of Little Piddling-on-the-Sea and right at the end of the article some other scientist is roped in to point out that, while it might be an interesting theory, it creates way more problems than it solves.
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Last edited by Robin; 30th June 2019 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 1st July 2019, 05:35 AM   #5
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I have my Google News feed set up to give me a variety of science articles. Some are very good, some have lurid headlines... Usually predicting “possible” asteroid strikes impending....
This morning, the headline was “Four Asteroids on Collision Course With Earth!”

The actual article was about the UN designating 6-30-19 as “International Asteroid Day” to raise awareness... This being the anniversary date of the Tunguska event.

The asteroids mentioned are all in “near Earth” orbits.
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Old 1st July 2019, 07:51 AM   #6
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I believe the common practice is that headlines aren't written by the author of the article. Back when newspapers were a thing they didn't write the bolded subheaders either, that appear in mid-article to grab attention.
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Old 1st July 2019, 01:57 PM   #7
MEequalsIxR
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Originally Posted by TragicMonkey View Post
I believe the common practice is that headlines aren't written by the author of the article. Back when newspapers were a thing they didn't write the bolded subheaders either, that appear in mid-article to grab attention.
Yes when someone actually checked grammar and spelling and took the time to proof read things.
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Old 1st July 2019, 02:35 PM   #8
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Only the dead have seen the end of bad science reporting.

- Plato, probably
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Old 1st July 2019, 03:18 PM   #9
Minoosh
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Originally Posted by MEequalsIxR View Post
Yes when someone actually checked grammar and spelling and took the time to proof read things.
And I had a paying job doing that. I also reported on science, and did fine with planetary science - Newtonian physics. I had to report on a cosmology finding and my editor claimed he had no idea what I was saying. I wasn't too sure myself, just featured a local astronomer who was getting a lot of national attention for his theory that the universe was moving too fast and in the wrong direction per previous theories. This was in the 1990s; someone more competent than I am may remember it.

When it came to relativity or quantum anything I was totally out of my depth, but in other areas I was adequate.
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Old 1st July 2019, 08:53 PM   #10
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Kids are growing horns because of cellphone use.

Sorry, I should correct that. I'll cross out all of the words that aren't factually correct.

Kids are growing horns because of cellphone use
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Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiarii?
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Old 2nd July 2019, 12:35 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
Kids are growing horns because of cellphone use.

Sorry, I should correct that. I'll cross out all of the words that aren't factually correct.

Kids are growing horns because of cellphone use
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Old 2nd July 2019, 12:41 AM   #12
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I've provided that link myself on another forum
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Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiarii?
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Old 2nd July 2019, 03:07 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Only the dead have seen the end of bad science reporting.

- Plato, probably
"The problem with internet quotes is that you can't always depend on their accuracy" ~Abraham Lincoln, 1864.
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Old 2nd July 2019, 07:59 AM   #14
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Part of the problem arises from the financial difficulties many traditional news sources are experiencing: they have much reduced staffs and they no longer hire dedicated science reporters. A science article may be written by someone with no training in the field and who also covers sports and local politics.

But it always has been difficult for all but the very best science writers to translate a technically subtle or complex scientific finding into a story that can be understood by even an educated "lay" readership. Remember that many average, but intelligent people think of proteins as good things to eat. How does one explain to them a discovery how an antibody against an immune checkpoint protein can aid in the treatment of some cancers? I often find myself reading a story in a newspaper and wondering: hey, are they talking about the same discovery I just read in the Journal of Biological Chemistry? It seems to be the same topic and from the same researcher, but given the newspaper description I'm just not sure...

And of course there is a higher than ever premium on writing lurid, click-bait headlines to attract on-line readers.
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Old 3rd July 2019, 10:45 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Hans View Post
That very common when dealing with media reports on archaeology subjects. Its almost become routine.

Here an example:

Ancient Europeans lived alongside a half-ton bird nearly 12 feet tall

https://www.livescience.com/41048-fa...o-erectus.html
Europeans used to commute to work on the backs of 12 foot tall birds? I can't wait to write a blog all about it!
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Old 5th July 2019, 05:28 AM   #16
Swordfishtrombone
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Originally Posted by Giordano View Post
Part of the problem arises from the financial difficulties many traditional news sources are experiencing: they have much reduced staffs and they no longer hire dedicated science reporters. A science article may be written by someone with no training in the field and who also covers sports and local politics.
That is, unfortunately, true.

Why this particular piece of poor science reporting stood out to me (the one in the OP) though was because the news site it was on is generally good about these things. I've been impressed by several articles they've published - including some that were clearly written by a skeptic. So since they have good science journalism too, this felt really out of place.

Maybe, given that nearly everybody's on vacation in Finland at this time of year, all the science reporters were lying on a beach somewhere, and somebody clearly unsuited to the task had to fill in for them.
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