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Psychology

Science in the Media

Tweet about repelling mosquitosHow does the media distort scientific research?

There are several reasons why the stories you read might not be conclusive science:

  • Striking results get more press, encouraging scientists to tweak their methodology until they can produce an experiment with big findings. One example is p-hacking, in which scientists collect a bunch of variables to try to find something that's statistically significant, even if the correlation isn't very strong. Read more about p-hacking from fivethirtyeight.com
  • Replication studies are almost never done. Although replication studies are science's best way to verify findings, they are rarely funded and under appreciated. Read more about science's replication crisis on Wikipedia.
  • Snazzy headlines get more reads. Press releases, even by prestigious schools, often exaggerate study results to make them sound more interesting. One example came in January when the University of Maryland greatly exaggerated findings in some chocolate milk research.
  • The media often blows findings out of proportion. Reporters very rarely go through a study's methodology or explain the caveats because the original study is hard understand or locked behind a paywall.

See the story the tweet is referencing on Bustle.

Watch John Oliver discuss how and why media outlets so often report untrue or incomplete information as science.