Been given a new assignment for college college, and thought of asking for advice on here.

It's just a short paper however, the task I've got to address is the public perception of science as understood via the media.

I've got to discuss whether concerns raised in the media are justified or scaremongering?

We are prompted to consider the MMR vaccine and Autism, swine and bird flu, SARS, disease and the (UK) DNA database.

But are there any examples knocking about the heads of the Atheists who love science where the public perception of science was either really laudable or damnable that you think I could focus on.

I was also thinking about the rather broad interpretation that media permits so not just Newspapers and tv but obvious places to start.

Also I mean it's obvious to go down - have you seen what Fox news says about Global warming? I was looking for a novel example where I can in particular write about not just how the media got the science right/wrong but how the public reaction was influenced for good or ill by the media.

Any ideas?

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That's not meant to be demeaning, but I really do think it's true.

I'm with ya on that one... Goes back to that dancing bear stuff.
Another place to get some ideas.
If your focus is on the MMR and autism nonsense, a good source of information can be found at Science Based Medicine, with some blogs by Marc Crislip, Steven Novella, and others. You might want to put in something about the flu vaccine "case" with the 25yr old cheerleader wannabe who developed a weird neurological problem shortly after a flu vax, calling it dystonia, and the media jumped all over it- turns out she doesn't even have symptoms consistent with real dystonia, and her problem magically went away when some quack administered "chelation" therapy.

So much nonsense, so little time.
>science based medicine< thanks for the resource tip.
Politicization of science subjects.

As I watch the Climate Change debate rage on, I know at least one person on my Facebook Friends list who is anti-government in general, but especially, vehemently, anti-Democrat. If Al Gore made a movie about how smoking is bad I truly believe this person would take up smoking just to spite him.

This person is otherwise very intelligent and even scientifically minded. But when I post anything within 3 degrees of separation of Climate Change she takes over my wall with near-incoherent rants about the great scam that is AGW. But moreover, her rants seem aimed as much or more so at the politics of AGW than at the science itself.

And she's not the only one.

I've been dumbfounded watching the insane hypocrisy come out of the Right. If Obama and the Democrats are for it, they must be against it at all costs.

Pretty sad.
So true Sylvain. On all points.
I've decided my topics for my essay will be the MMR/Autism scandal 1998 - 2005.

and for bit of topicality: the climategate emails - and an analysis of how the media misrepresents science.
Good topic.

Good luck!
Public view of science... hmmm...

The most glaring one is "it's just a theory."
Expanding a bit on my first response to this thread... In particular, Climate Change and AGW deniers have been on my mind a lot.

Climate Change falls into the category of inexact science and/or too many variables to be cleanly predictable. To compare, look at the public's attitude towards smoking:

We've known for some time now that smoking drastically increases one's odds of any number of illnesses and slow, painful deaths. To boot, it's a habit with no real redeeming value; no one truly enjoys their first cigarette; it's an acquired taste, partly through its addictive properties. Yet it seems half the world still smokes and half of those vehemently demand the right to do so around other people, endangering their health as well. Why?

Most seem somewhere between ambivalent or in complete denial about the proven adverse effects of smoking.

1) "My grandpa was a heavy smoker and died at 97 in a skiing accident"

2) "There are other things that cause lung disease besides smoking, you can't prove that I'm going to die of lung cancer"

3) "The person I smoke around might have gotten their lung cancer from something else"

4) "Oh stop your coughing and bitching; my one little cigarette around you isn't going to kill you. The stench doesn't bother me, therefore it can't possibly be bothering you."

Likewise with Climate Change:

1) At least in the case of tobacco, we can look at millions of smokers compared to non-smokers and see if one group tends to live longer/healthier than the other. With Climate Change, we can't exactly say, "Well let's look at these 500,000 earth-like planets that were industrialized compared to these other 500,000 earth-like planets that weren't..." We have no way to directly experiment on test subjects like in most scientific research.

2) There are in fact hundreds of other variables in Climate Change that have nothing to do with human activity. We can never prove that Hurricane Katrina was caused by AGW. Like the smoker with lung cancer, we can say with reasonable certainty that AGW greatly increases the likelihood of this or that outcome, but again, it's an odds game. We can't know whether the next mass extinction climate event will be for sure caused by human activity, or if Yellowstone suddenly blows. Like with smoking, "Greatly increased odds of..." doesn't convince everyone.

3) Same as #2 but even more inexact. Inexact, but we can still say with reasonable certainty that smoking around your neighbor/dumping toxic waste into the river is extremely bad for your neighbor/the people downstream from you.

4) The AGW version is; "I don't see it, therefore it can't be. I don't see the melting ice sheets, the continent-sized trash fields in the ocean. We just had a huge snowstorm so there can't possibly be Global Warming." The effects are too out-of-sight-out-of-mind for people to accept.

We even see this in fields like medicine. I have a headache, I take an aspirin, the headache goes away. Therefore, I believe it works. But what about something long-term? Take an antibiotic for three days, I feel better, therefore I can stop taking it. It can be hard for someone in that mindset to understand why they have to keep taking it for a week after they feel better. The disease is out of sight, out of mind.
What I went with in the end was as I said Climategate emails and MMR.

But what I chose to do was analyse how the media reported those stories.

So with a more restricted focus than 'is AGW real' I instead went with was the climategate story accurately reported - and the answer was no. At the very least it showed the unwillingness to present the evidence for the mechanisms of climate change (and how human activity may affect that) instead to present as didactic info nuggets the conclusions.

Shorn of the evidentiary and scientific method that supports the conclusions, a scandal like stolen emails that purported to show a conspiracy have much more of a ripple effect, especially when they are contrast on the news with a vocal climate denial platform, apparently in the assumption that the truth must lie at a 50:50 median point somewhere in between.

I found reports on science reporting in the media that backed up these findings.

With the MMR I focussed less on the what happened with the original lancet article but rather how a decade on, people still site it as though it hadn't been conclusively rebuked. (I found a Danish population study of over half a million children that found no correlation between MMR and autism) and contrasted this with Wakefield's original 12 children and the disparity of how one received saturated media coverage and the other did not.

There was a London radio broadcast from 2009 which was particularly useful in this regard as it contained a whole bunch of fallacies, homeopaths, anti-vax paranoi and lionising Wakefield - STILL. And it was important that it be from London as some boroughs are now reporting less than 50% take up of the vaccines.

I then broadened it out a bit to talk about vaccination more generally, revealing The Daily Mail has for two years been running diametrically opposite headlines concerning the HPV vaccine on either side of The Irish Sea. the killer cocktail in Britain was lauded as a life-saver in Ireland, which completed my theme that news reports of science are often so disassociated from considerations of evidence they might as well make it up and often do.
Sounds like your paper was spot on!


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