The article above came across my newsfeed this past week. It sounded very extraordinary, and so it was. The actual research had nothing to do with what that bit of terrible reporting was claiming. In the actual research, some single cell algae was starved and the absence of other available energy sources, ate some left over cell bits nearby. This research obviously as nothing to do with people or “absorbing energy,” like the reporter’s headline claims.
These ridiculous titles and terrible jump-to-conclusion reporting is why Joe Schmoe Public believes terribly ridiculous “science” and not tried and true science.
It doesn’t help that we’re bringing it on ourselves.
The culture of the scientific research community is rotten at the core. Scientists are highly encouraged to publish truly extraordinary findings and to do so often, so that they attract more money to do more research. Which would be fine if the methods were sound, but they’re not. Small sample sizes are running rampant. What does that mean exactly? The scientists are asking their question of a small number of people samples. If you only ask 1 person if they believe that the sky is green, and they answer yes, then you’ve got 100% of people saying the sky is green. Now you’ve got a headline: The Sky is Green! See how ridiculous a conclusion that is? We need a few more people in this study to make it a good sample of the general public’s view on the sky’s color. And hopefully a few of them won’t be bat-shit crazy, forgive the French. Miss Green would be an anomaly in a large study, but something significant in a small study. This is why sample size matters and matters a lot.
Another problem is that because scientists are encouraged to publish the big headlines first, no one is getting rewarded for checking all the research. No one wants to discover something second, so no one will re-do the experiment to make sure it really works the way the original scientists say it does. What kind of field doesn’t fact check itself? Fact checking has been big this election. Fact checking needs to get big the research field too.
That’s how we’ll kick stupid headlines like the one at the top: make our true science more real and believable, so Joe Schmoe Public will believe the real science and know the BS when they see it.