A recent Sift item on Culinate highlighted a problem with reports of scientific studies, especially, perhaps, ones about food and nutrition: Often we — journalists and lay people alike — lack the ability to interpret a given study’s complicated data. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Writes managing editor Caroline Cummins, who penned the Sift: “And it’s not just the media who simplify and sensationalize the science; it’s the universities, companies, and other organizations that pay for the research in the first place.”
As I read today’s headline from the Cornucopia Institute — “Stanford’s ‘Spin’ on Organics Allegedly Tainted by Biotechnology Funding” — I thought of Caroline’s Sift. Here she quotes a Canadian journalist, Peter McKnight, writing in the Vancouver Sun — and his words rang especially true to me:
“The public is, of course, the loser in this. For when people constantly hear dramatic claims made about virtually everything they eat or do . . . they can very easily become inured to … headlines … But scientists — and more importantly, science — are also losers. For just as the media lose public trust when they present sensationalized stories, so scientists and science risk a similar fate when scientists or their employers sensationalize the results of research. And a tremendously ironic fate that would be, for science doesn’t need to be sensationalized; it’s sensational enough on its own.”