Lies, fake news and science journalism

Caption: Jihadi ball games can get a little heated.

The state of so-called ?science journalism? in the media is appalling. Not only are many journalists apparently completely ignorant of even the basics of science, but, as they do with everything else, honest reporting is deprecated in favour of propaganda.

It?s so bad that, when a headline claims ?Study shows??, I automatically assume that it doesn?t, until I?ve read the study for myself. Not even that much is frequently necessary: more often than not, the body of a story contradicts the headline. Most likely through ignorance, journalists too often merely parrot press releases that they obviously fail to grasp.

The following tendentious piece from The Guardian is a prime example. Quote:

Brain scans show social exclusion creates jihadists, say researchers. International studies of young Muslim men show that radicalisation follows a sense of isolation from society. End of quote.

You?ll undoubtedly be shocked and surprised to find that the research says no such thing at all. Quote:

Using ethnographic fieldwork and psychological surveys, researchers identified 535 young Muslim men in and around Barcelona, the Spanish city where in 2017 Isis supporters killed 13 and wounded about 100 people in the Las Ramblas district.

Of those identified, 38 second-generation Moroccan-origin men, who had ?expressed a willingness to engage in or facilitate violence associated with jihadist causes?, agreed to have their brains scanned. The results showed a striking effect when they were socially excluded by Spaniards while playing a virtual simulation called Cyberball, a ball toss game with three other players who abruptly stopped throwing them the ball. End of quote.


So, the young men studied were already jihadists. This is not about ?creating jihadists? at all, but about how jihadists react to trivial slights.

What the study better indicates is that extreme commitment to religious ideals isolates people to their ?in-group? and reinforces their extremism. Once religious extremism is inculcated, any trivial slight can trigger fanatical violence. A case in action would be the Lebanese-born man who went on a murderous rampage in Sydney after a routine traffic stop. Muslim, ?known to police?. Quote:

Violent extremism is often explicitly motivated by commitment to abstract ideals such as the nation or divine law ? so-called ?sacred? values that are relatively insensitive to material incentives and define our primary reference groups. Moreover, extreme pro-group behavior seems to intensify after social exclusion. Participants also behaviorally expressed greater willingness to fight and die for sacred versus non-sacred values, consistent with previous studies of combatants and noncombatants. The social exclusion manipulation specifically affected non-sacred values, increasing their similarities with sacred values in terms of heightened left inferior frontal activity and greater expressed willingness to fight and die. End of quote.


The Guardian?s headline is a lie. Its reporter is apparently to ignorant or blinded by ideology to even realise that the abstract that they copied and pasted directly contradicts their own lede.

Mainstream science journalism is too often fake news.