How bad is science reporting?

Times Higher Education asks if there is problem with science reporting and if anything can be done to make it better. (link)

  • I am much more positive about science reporting, internationally, than this article is suggesting. While there are bad examples, most coverage is accurate and often very well-expressed. A high number of reports are sourced from refereed Journals (including Annals of Botany) or respected conferences (such as the Society for Experimental Biology), and increasingly broadcasters and publications are checking facts. Somebody from a major UK broadcaster contacted me a couple of weeks ago about a unreferenced figure on my own website saying that 140,000,000 bananas were eaten every week in the UK. Fortunately, I knew the definitive figure came from the DEFRA UK household consumption/Family Food data: in 2008 219g/week of banana, so at 100g/fruit and 62million people, that’s 135 million bananas a week (down from 230g or 142 M/wk in 2007) – see )

    However, there are two areas I think need improving: academics feel a lot of pressure to big-up the ‘impact’ of their research, and you will find even respected Universities issuing press releases or academics giving quotations which go too far beyond the data. Secondly, in news items, many Journalists try to find people with an opposing view – based on no evidence or on hearsay, which often is presented as having equal weight to scientific facts, rather than being an unsubstantiated opinion.