Flawed Reporting on Flawed Studies Impact Public Policy

A number of months ago, maybe more than a year now, a number of articles were published about the scandal in social science research, that researchers in the social sciences were manipulating the factors of their studies to get the results they wanted. Well, remember all those articles about the great scientific breakthroughs in healthcare? We may have to re-think all of that, too.

This is why the public has so little trust in the press, or in the so-called important findings of studies that purport to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t, or what’s good for us and what can harm us. Does anyone take seriously or even pay attention to reports about the latest common food or product that has been found to cause cancer? No? Why? Because so many of them have been contradicted or shown to be flat-out wrong after a while, or based on unrealistic scenarios like drinking twenty sodas a day for fifty years. This is one of the sore points of the climate change debate and why so many people are still skeptical or not buying in to all of the dire predictions of Bill Nye and Al Gore – because so many dire predictions made in the past as reported by the press never happened. After a while, the next dire prediction produces little more than a yawn.

Here’s the money quote:

“… with a proliferation of media outlets competing for readers’ attention and university press offices and academic journals seeking news headlines, accuracy often suffers.”

Accuracy in journalism seems to have become a lost cause. This is especially disconcerting in our time, when people rarely take seriously or even bother to listen to views other than those that confirm their own. Confirmation bias seems to be the goal of so much reporting, rather than challenging pre-conceived notions.

Of course, the problem isn’t only in the reporting of bad studies. If professional scientists (you know, those people Neil deGrasse Tyson keeps telling us we can trust implicitly because science is so above reproach) would re-commit themselves to integrity in their profession rather than chasing the almighty dollar or working to prove what their company demands they prove, then there wouldn’t be so many bad studies for journalists to report.

The closing quote from the article:

“During this unusual moment in history, when politicians seek out whichever facts suit their ideology, the role of good science — and good reporting — could not be more vital.”

Why is this so serious? Because, as the article points out, public policy is being made on the basis of these studies. If these studies are flawed, so will those policies be flawed. Another negative result is that people stop putting their confidence in scientific research, which means that people won’t take serious threats seriously when good research demonstrates that they should be taken seriously.


Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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