Science is often reported badly in the press. There a number of reasons for this and it’s a complex topic which I’m not going to cover in this blog post. Part of the problem may be the use of press releases for studies that may have public interest before they have been rigorously reviewed by the scientific community. Typically the public interest angle is enhanced through claims technically but tenuously linked to the study being reported. These press releases are often then reported almost verbatim by the press with little accurate interpretation. This isn’t just a problem with journal or academic institution press releases and can be due to companies performing surveys and then releasing the results masquerading as research to promote their product. Examples of this include the most depressing day of the year “research” performed by Sky Travel and Lloyds Pharmacy and their survey to sell carbon monoxide detectors.
Ultimately this leads to a situation where complex science is reported incorrectly and grouped with non-science copied and pasted from dubious survey results for the overall degradation of the public understanding of science. For example, recently the Mail Online reported a comedic science blog, written with predictions invented with humorous intent as genuine science prediction. Largely this was performed using direct quotations from the piece, rewritten in the third-person to give the impression of reporting. Dave copied this technique for the purposes of making a semi-humorous point about this kind of writing.
Sarah Griffiths, a kind of journalist for the Mail Online Scientist copied some details from the Brain Flapping comedy science blog written by Dr Dean Burnett for The Guardian without noticing it was full of joke predictions in a list of features he predicts humans could evolve. It includes tentacles, colour-changing skin, flexible skeletons and selective hearing. The article notices some humour when they note that the neuroscientist humorously notes that as evolution takes so long no one will be around to see his predictions are right or wrong. Taking inspiration from the chameleon, humans could evolve the ability to consciously change their skin colour; they wrote that he wrote in a blog for The Guardian. They muse that he muses that this could happen if humans evolved chomatophores – pigment-containing and light-reflecting organelles in cells found in reptiles – or even by using technology, but also note that he notes that whatever the case there are numerous evolutionary benefits.
‘Being able to either visually blend in or stand out at will would be a potent advantage in modern society, one that evolutionary pressures could make more common,’ they say that he said. Which he did. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “context” as a noun representing the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.
Sarah Griffiths points out that Dr Burnett points out that humans already have the ability to focus their hearing on certain conversations and noises, but the human ear does not have a physical mechanism for doing this. She believes that he believes that over time selective hearing could become more important – perhaps to filter out increasing noise from social media and other sources of continuous information.
‘Rather than diverting attention to more relevant inputs, humans could develop the ability to actively ‘tune out’ things they don’t want to hear, like closing your eyes to block an unpleasant sight,’ She said that he said. Which he did. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “satire” as a noun representing the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
While this could result in humans taking in less information over all, The Mail Online believes that Dr Burnett believes future humans might be less stressed and angry to live longer, happier lives.
They say that he said that in order for humans to use keyboards and touch screens to communicate with computers more easily, we could evolve more dexterous hands that allow us to make precise movements but are less rigid to help us type faster. Which he did. Actually he typed it using his human fingers and a computer keyboard and checking the words on a computer monitor using his human eyes. All of this was coordinated by Dr Dean Burnett’s human nervous system I can report in a tedious attempt at excess description to make it look like I’ve given the issue some thought.
They could even end up more like ‘tentacles like those on a sea anemone,’ they say he said. Which he did. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “repetition” as a noun representing the action of repeating something that has already been said or written. Repetition can be used to hammer a point home or for humorous effect with varying degrees of success.
While noting that Dr Burnett noted that there might be limited practical reasons for humans to develop tentacles, they recognise humour and report it when they recognise that he humorously suggests that they could be used for sexual selection as an alternative method of arousal.
Humans could also develop more cartilage in their skeletons like sharks, which would have benefits such as being able to give birth more easily, they say he said. As the world gets safer for most of us, there is less need for humans to have rigid and inflexible bones to withstand forceful impacts. While The Mail Online’s suggestions as to what Dr Burnett’s suggestions for features that humans could evolve are just their own musings based on his own musings, new research has found that that humans could one day grow beaks if you misrepresent it slightly.
Sarah Griffiths believes that Dr Fraser, a biologist at Sheffield University, believes that humans will evolve constantly developing teeth thanks to ‘tooth fairy’ cells. The Mail Online reports that he believes that human teeth are no longer fit for purpose and could even change into a beak that beak would not rot, chip or fall out. While nobody believes that this is likely to happen it makes a good headline for enticing people to read the story. This is based on Dr Fraser’s research into the growth and robustness of pufferfish beaks and the possible applications to human teeth. Dr Fraser’s research is particularly well-timed as staff at The Mail Online’s teeth are no longer fit for purpose and they find it difficult to chew. This isn’t true either but could be inferred from the things they say other people say if taken out of context.
Overall this sort of copy is a parody of science journalism and as I have stated has negative effects on the public understanding of science. It is a joke when completed how it’s been completed here. Stopping it is likely to be complex, even it is does boil down to people stopping misleading press releases and journalists being vigilant with regards to the information they include in their stories. Hopefully then we can avoid this sort of copy and paste science journalism and avoid the repetition of inaccurate stories in this sort of copy and paste science journalism.