It’s a phenomenon that’s been around for years, and it’s so permeated our culture that on slow news days it’s practically a headline-worthy event. That’s right “scientists have discovered the formula for a perfect…” is so well known that when you hear it you don’t think it’s amazing what scientists are doing. You think ‘oh not those bloody scientists again!’
The reason is that instead of the formula for the perfect democratic process, or the most tricky shot in snooker (and other things which are genuinely useful or interesting), you have this kind of thing. There’s a big difference and I bet you already know why! If you don’t, but think that all scientists are nutcases I suggest you start here for an example of why these things are so ridiculous.
Yes, the main difference is that most of the sciencey headlines you see like this are commissioned as advertising agents by big businesses. Ben Goldacre (check out his blog) calls this a big money making sham, and I have to say it’s hard not to agree. He’s repeatedly used it as an example of bad journalism and a blurring of the lines between advertisement and news. But that’s not my beef with it.
Sure, it’s deplorable that this is the kind of thing is what your everyday man-in-the-street type is shown as ‘science’. What gets my goat is that you have so many (by now well documented) genuinely interesting and useful stories in a similar vein which don’t get even looked at. See, for instance, my earlier example of the snooker shots. It’s just frightening that mental things get in but things that are just as interesting but genuine simply don’t.
If I were the paranoid type, I’d talk about a national conspiracy to undermine science – in fact Ben seems to think it’s something not dissimilar to that (“News Editors love them”). I think that the problem is rather a general problem with the way science is taught in the classroom. I could easily be persuaded that the sheer dullness of the National Curriculum is what’s preparing most young people to accept that all science is boring and either obvious or arbitrary, because I remember thinking similar things when I was a kid. I often found my lessons dull because things were taught and not explained. Perhaps if we reviewed it properly, we might be able to remedy this (but that appears not to be on anyone’s agenda).
This is a perfect opportunity for me to tell everyone about the website ‘How Should We Teach Science?’, which you can find here, whose aim is to try to get some momentum behind the idea that things should be changing to reflect the inadequacies in the current curriculum. It’s wonderful reading all the opinions and ideas on there, and along with its sister site ‘Why is Science Important?’ it deserves some real credit. What I want to see is some more creative ways of changing the Govt’s plans.
I think someone should dress up as Superman, take a condom filled with flour and… oh wait
Maybe we should just hack some popular news websites or something.
Inspired by http://justatheory.co.uk/