Monday, 28 March 2011

Science. Again.

About a year ago, almost to the day, I wrote an entry saying how much I loved Brian Cox's book. A year later I return to the subject of science. Well I say "science" - but what I'm actually writing about today are the articles which appear in The Metro and pretend to be science.

Every Friday, The Metro has a science column. It's a double-page affair with lots of graphics and lots of snappy little paragraphs talking about science. All good. Except for the fact that it's mostly gibberish.

I love science, and I love popular science. It's possible (but admittedly hard) to take the complexity out of science but maintain both the interest and the integrity of the writing. The Metro certainly manages to remove the complexity, but also seems to disregard any respect for scientific truth in the process.

Almost every Friday I feel the need to take a red pen to the science articles and correct them, but I've got better things to do with my life (*).

Unfortunately, this obsession for pseudo-scientific twaddle seems to be creeping its way insidiously throughout the rest of the paper. No longer is it confined to Fridays and no longer to the science-y bit.

Only the other day, I was idly meandering my way through the pages whilst on my way to work and I came across an article on brown dwarves. Contained in the article was the sentence "brown dwarves are a cross between a planet and a star". No, they are not.

Today, there was an article on page 24 (**) about Darwin's theory of evolution. The article was short - far too short to give the subject matter any sort of justice - but was utter rubbish. But rubbish presented in such a way as to make it seem credible scientific commentary. The assertion of the article was that scientists had found evidence which may throw doubt onto Darwin's theory of evolution. The logic in the article ran along the following lines...

1. Darwin's theory says that the "fittest survive"

2. In a particular place, bacteria had been found which were less suited to the environment than some other bacteria in the same environment

3. That means that some bacteria which weren't "the fittest" had survived

4. Therefore Darwin was wrong

I'm not going to do into details about how and why that's utterly wrong, but the problem is that people who don't fully understand evolution will read it, and think that there's been some marvellous discovery which shatters the fundamental tenets of evolutionary theory.

So just to be clear. There hasn't been any such discovery, and if there were, I'm sure you'd hear about it from some place other than a one paragraph article on page 24 of The Metro...


Phew. I managed to get through a whole blog post about journalism without mentioning the Daily Mail (***)



* Actually that's not true. I simply don't usually have a red pen to hand when reading The Metro

** Yes, on page 24. Go and look it up if you want.

*** I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.