In January of this year two political science students, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, at UC Berkeley discovered something interesting when they attempted to reproduce a study based on the data from a UCLA student which had appeared in Science last December.
The study was preformed by gay students at UCLA, who were sent door-to-door in various California neighborhoods. The study reported that after only a brief conversation about marriage equality where the student relayed their own sexual orientation was able to have a lasting impact on the voter’s attitude on the subject of marriage equality.
An article from Berkeley’s California Magazine explains some of the reasons science reporting is often at odds with actual science. Quoting: “Where journalism favors neat story arcs, science progresses jerkily, with false starts and misdirections in a long, uneven path to the truth—or at least to scientific consensus. The types of stories that reporters choose to pursue can also be a problem, says Peter Aldhous, [lecturer and reporter]. ‘As journalists, we tend to gravitate to the counterintuitive, the surprising, the man-bites-dog story,’ he explains. ‘In science, that can lead us into highlighting stuff that’s less likely to be correct.’ If a finding is surprising or anomalous, in other words, there’s a good chance that it’s wrong. On the flip side, when good findings do get published, they’re often not as earth shattering as a writer might hope. … So journalists and their editors might spice up a study’s findings a bit, stick the caveats at the end, and write an eye-catching, snappy headline—not necessarily with the intent to mislead, but making it that much more likely for readers to misinterpret the results.” The article also makes suggestions for both journalists and the scientific community to keep science reporting interesting while being more accurate.
The UC Berkeley report can be read here.
The article goes on to say:
The problem is, you’ve got to realize the way science works—that the new exciting thing possibly, or even probably, in the fullness of time, isn’t going to be right.