paul le

Science in News Media and the Responsibility of School

Within news media, journalists often sensationalize headlines in order to gain more readers. This has the unfortunate consequence of information being misrepresented, and a loss of accuracy in what is being reported. This is most strongly felt when topics of science - especially physics and astronomy - are reported on.

Reporters - often with no formal background in science - sometimes misrepresent scientific discoveries, and sensationalize them in order to make a story more appealing. Headlines with titles along the lines of, “Scientists Discover the God Particle”, “Scientists Find Evidence for Advanced Alien Civilization Around Star”, or “Scientists Creating Black Holes at LHC”, are some examples of this. Readers that read these headlines would be lead to an inaccurate idea of what the scientific discovery was actually about, even if they end up reading the whole story.

This doesn’t only just happen to big discoveries. Almost any scientific article can be taken and made sensationalized to the point where the original conclusion of the scientific article is lost. For example, a published journal article, titled, Deformation-assisted fluid percolation in rock salt, talks about how the rock salt surrounding geological storage sites for nuclear waste may not be as water-resistant as once thought. This journal article could easily be interpreted by the news media to read, “Nuclear Waste Storage Sites Not Safe From the Environment”, even though there are many other factors that go into the storage of nuclear waste.

This is unfortunate, because many of these topics and discoveries are already interesting without having to exaggerate them. Topics such as the big bang theory, quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, topics on exoplanets and extraterrestrial life, string theory, the universe, and so on, are interesting in their own right.

School should be about learning how to appreciate the amazing work that goes on in subjects such as the sciences. Often, students take math and physics classes in high school with the preconceived notion that these subjects are difficult and boring, and then avoid these subjects for the rest of their life as a result of that. This happens before ever learning about all of the amazing and interesting discoveries and ideas that resulted from all of that math and physics.

More importantly, they fail to learn how to think critically, to question what they read about, and to only accept things after they have thought through and truly understood what they were reading.

September 3rd , 2019