Today we’re talking about the role of the media in reporting science news. You see, reporting on science can be tricky. Take the controversy over the MMR vaccine which immunizes against measles, mumps, and the German measles.
There is a hypothesis that the vaccine was linked to autism. Though it was disproved and that there is no relationship between the two, the media coverage of the story raises some interesting questions.
You see, researchers in Britain analyzed over two thousand TV, radio, and newspaper stories and conducted public opinion surveys to gauge the public’s response to this and other scientific issues. Where things get thorny is when the media, in the interest of balance, provide equal time to both sides of a science story. This leads the public to assume that both sides are backed by roughly equal bodies of evidence.
For example, after coverage on the MMR story, public confidence in the vaccine dropped dramatically. No one’s arguing that journalists shouldn’t report on new scientific developments in a timely fashion, or that they should ignore voices that challenge prevailing scientific knowledge. Instead, we, as news consumers, need to be more savvy and seek out information from sources that can help us separate the wheat from the chaff.
For example, always make sure to get your information from informed sources, like journalists who specialize in reporting on science for the national media, or internet sites affiliated with universities and credible scientific organizations.