Monday, July 18, 2005

Stop the press: Good science!

Because it's instructive -- not to mention E-Z AND FUN! -- to pick on bad science in newspapers, an appearance of actual good science is worth some recognition. Note how much is going on in this tale: What the studies actually say. What the other studies say. Why they might be less conclusive than they appear. Where the money comes from. The difference between what the science says and what commercial interests say it says.

The only flaw in this picture is the +}#%&^*#)$(^* headline, which has you have probably guessed by now reads:
Do milk claims hold water?

I'd much rather we just got to the point, which is summed up in this graf:

Barry Popkin, an obesity expert at UNC Chapel Hill, praised Zemel as a good scientist, but said the dairy industry has overreached. "We have too many contradictions and nobody's decided what the truth is," he says.

If we're going to do service journalism, let's do some damn service journalism:
Science sound, ads are dubious

Then, alas, there's this:
Why many of us don't go to church
Reasons range from desire to relax, to preference for privacy
Sunday morning, when roughly half of us were in church, the other half had their say.

Think "we" made it clear enough to Some People that they aren't welcome in these parts?

(FOOTNOTE: Do any hands at this fount o'knowledge have data bearing on the query posted a few items down?)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the today's Life section (pg. H2, if you're keeping score) of a very, very old newspaper in New England:

"Now, we have not checked out the methods behind this survey, but the details were so delicious they seemed worth sharing.
Dunkin' Donuts -- the company that bills itself as "the No.1 retailer of coffee-by-the-cup in America, selling 2.7 million cups a day, nearly one billion cups a year" -- has a new survey that found that a cup of iced coffee (say, um, the new Turbo Ice) can heat up your love life."

So is the lesson that if we're glib about it, we can get away with publishing bad science...or in this case, thinly veiled PR?

What astonishes me is how newspapers sometimes end up running "surveys" that are little more than free advertising for a company.

Hmm...I think I'm going to run down to the Dunkin' Donuts now.

--Diego Sorbara

12:26 PM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger fev said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:18 PM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger fev said...

Abso-participle-lutely. Doctor up a "survey" that's cute, reader-friendly or (the buzz term in nearly all research on what You Young People read) "edgy," and it's almost certain to get past the gatekeepers.

Your alternative -- bad science or thinly veiled PR? -- is a nice way of posing the question, partly because it allows for the perfectly reasonable answer "Both!"

4:56 PM, July 31, 2005  

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