“When to shoot down… bad work and when to ignore it.”

Andrew Gelman recounts a call he got from a journalist about a pretty shoddy looking study, examines the dilemma that journalists face in deciding what to write about, and then nicely ties this to the dilemma that editors face in deciding what studies to publish:

“The problem, as I see it, is when a claim presented with (essentially) no evidence is taken as truth and then treated as a stylized fact. And the norms of scientific publication, as well as the norms of science journalism, push toward this. If you act too uncertain in your scientific report, I think it becomes harder to get it published in a top journal (after all, they want to present ‘discoveries,’ not ‘speculations’). And science journalism often seems to follow the researcher-as-Galileo mold.”

How many journalists call up a respected skeptical scientist to get a take on a potential story before writing the story?  How many ignore the skeptic because it takes the fun or the fear out of the story?

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