It’s true there is a lot of bad science that gets reported (especially in nutrition and wellness), and it pains me that the whole enterprise suffers as a result. You know that science is in big trouble when its validity gets made fun of on even the most liberal of outlets (e.g., John Oliver, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Harpers). If the Right doesn’t believe in facts, and the Left is led to think that all science is silly, there’s no escaping a post-factual world.
The thing I love about science is the philosophy underlying it: There’s a requirement that you change your conclusions in the face of new, conflicting information. And for it to be useful, you have to place your new, conflicting information in the context of studies that came before. Science isn’t about being good at math, or having special skills; it’s a way of approaching and evaluating information.
I agree there can be perverse incentives in academia to publish sensational things. That is exacerbated by journalists who only want to report the most sensational implication, so even a thoughtful study is frequently misrepresented in the media. (I have personal experience with this.) But I have also had very good experiences in academia, where I or my colleagues are rewarded for doing thoughtful work, not for doing flashy, sensational work. I think it depends on the culture of the field and institution that you’re in.
I can’t decide whether I liked or hated the article. I support the rooting out of bad science, but as bad science gets more press, I worry that there is not enough science literacy for people to understand what that means, and that all of science gets tarnished as a result.
Thank you, Phoebe, for your thoughtful response! I welcome reader annotations, so when you feel moved, please press R to reply to this email digest, and you can send me your thoughts. (I won’t publish anything without your consent.)