They lie to us with science and baffle us with BS

Science journalism, more than even the rest of the legacy media, is in a parlous state. Many so-called science journalists are nothing more than political activists farming content to feed their pre-formed conclusions. Too few seem to have any grounding at all in science that might enable them to make a critical analysis of the partisan doom-mongering regularly served up as alleged “science”.

Short of a grounding in the basics of scientific practice and a rudimentary grasp of maths (especially statistics), there are two books I would recommend to science journalists and the general public: Walter Gratzer’s The Undergrowth of Science, and statisticians Simon Briscoe and Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ Panicology.

Gratzer’s book punctures the conceit that science is never mistaken and that peer-reviewed research is infallible. It also shows how politics infects and distorts science, often with dreadful results. Panicology is a good field guide to understanding how bogus statistics are used to lie to us about pseudo-scientific bogey-men. quote.

Increasingly, in a crowded market for alarm, it becomes necessary to make the scares up. More and more headlines about medical or environmental panics are based on published scientific papers, but ones that are little more than lies laundered into respectability with a little statistical legerdemain. end quote.

As the Wakefield vaccines/autism hoax proved, even a thoroughly-debunked scare story doesn’t stop activists peddling it, ad nauseam. Simply by endless repetition, lies are laundered by the media into unassailable scientific proof. quote.

Three times in the past month, pseudo-science flew around the world before the scientific truth had got its boots on…The shamelessness of the apocaholics is increasingly blatant. They know that even if a story of impending doom is thoroughly debunked, the correction comes too late. The gullible media will have relayed the headline without checking, so the activists have made their fake-news hit, perhaps even raised funds on the back of it, and won. end quote.

A big part of the problem is that the legacy media don’t even have the bullshit-detecting toolbox necessary to begin to understand the lies they’re laundering. quote.

Take the story on 10 February that ‘insects could vanish within a century’…The authors of the study, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys, claimed to have reviewed 73 different studies to reach their conclusion…In fact the pair had started by putting the words ‘insect’ and ‘decline’ into a database, thereby ignoring any papers finding increases in insects, or no change in numbers.

They did not check that their findings were representative enough to draw numerical conclusions from. They even misinterpreted source papers to blame declines on pesticides, when the original paper was non-committal or found contradictory results. end quote.

If that story sounds familiar, it should. This is precisely the sort of deception behind such articles of faith as “97% of scientists”. Anyone who bothers drilling down into such claims quickly discovers how fraudulent they really are. Of course, activists and journalists rarely bother.

After all, why bother checking a claim if you already believe it? Or when there’s a whole lot of money at stake? quote.

[Such as] the claim that exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, increases the incidence of a particular, very rare cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). ‘Exposure to weed-killing products increases risk of cancer by 41 per cent,’ said the Guardian’s headline…‘Predatort’ lawyers have been chasing glyphosate in the hope of tobacco-style payouts. Unluckily for them, however, study after study keeps finding that glyphosate does not cause cancer…The only exception is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a rogue United Nations agency that has been taken over by environmental activists […]

[…] the third inexactitude to fly around the world two days later was the claim by the left-leaning political thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) that, ‘Since 2005, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times’…This was (to borrow a phrase from Sir Nicholas Soames) ocean-going, weapons-grade, château-bottled nonsense. end quote.

Once again, if all this sounds familiar, it should: climate scaremongering is fuelled by exactly the same poisonous combination of big money – the trillions spent on “climate alleviation” and “renewable energy” – and naked power-mongering. quote.

In the old days, investigative journalists would be all over this: a billionaire funding a pressure group that issues a press release that quotes the billionaire making a Horlicks of science but that nonetheless gets amplified, helping the pressure group attract more funds. But journalists’ budgets have been cut, and it’s easier to rewrite press releases. end quote.

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Worse, journalists simply do not have the intellectual toolkit needed to call out obvious scientific bunkum – much less the willpower to contradict scaremongering that panders to their own left-wing prejudices.

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