Overbye’s teaching moment about scientific discovery and uncertainty

In my humble opinion (alright:  IMHO), the best science writing combines reporting on current advances in science — the knowledge or content — with insights into the process of science — how the new knowledge was acquired, and with what certainty.

Thus, I was delighted to read a recent article by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times about the kerfuffle over the claimed discovery of a so-called Goldilocks planet — aka, Gliese 581g  Continue reading

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Our “Darwin problem” is really about power and influence (and doubt)

A key challenge to the public perception and acceptance of science, and to the scientists and science writers charged with communicating scientific results to an interested public, is the increasingly common rejection of mainstream science by influential non-scientists. A long-standing example of this problem concerns public reception to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This past February, biologist Ken Miller took the occasion of Darwin’s 203rd birthday to address in The Huffington Post what he called “America’s Darwin Problem.”  Miller is a Continue reading

Posted in biology, blog, book, climate science, doubt, evolution, peer review, reporting, science denial, science vs. religion, science writer, scientist, theory | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Searching for objectivity in the nature vs. nurture debate

We like to think that science is objective, that its approach to knowledge derives from the lack of bias. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite the best of intentions, scientists confront and fight with bias all the time, both within themselves and  when interpreting the work of others.  Scientists have agendas just like anyone else, whether it’s a pet hypothesis or a cultural ideology, and it can be manifested in the way that the data are collected and interpreted.  So, how can the interested non-scientist find the truth amid the bias in the science they’re reading and hearing about? Continue reading

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Why do women leave science?

I happened across a thoughtful essay this morning on women in science, at the blog zinemin’s random thoughts.  The blogger is a senior postdoc in physics, apparently living and working in the Netherlands.  She highlights two problem areas — cultural and  structural — that may have the most impact on a woman’s decision to leave science.  The cultural problem is the lack of other women in the workplace, to serve as mentors, role models, collaborators and friends.  The structural problem is primarily the lack of adequate institutional support for families and the choices parents must make to juggle work and family, which, unfortunately, still affects women more than men.

Her observation reminds me of a recent, more general debate about whether women can “have it all.”   Continue reading

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Hitting sweet spot in reporting on new subatomic particle

So, Wednesday, July 4, was supposed to be THE day, when physicists scheduled an announcement about the 30-year search for the existence of a subatomic particle known as the Higgs Boson.  The Higgs Boson is predicted to exist by the so-called Standard Model, a theory that describes the interaction of the energy fields and associated particles that make up all matter in the universe.  Finding the Higgs would complete the Standard Model.  The buildup to the announcement began weeks and months earlier.  Back in December 2011,  physicists at CERN, which runs the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border where the most recent experiments have been done, offered preliminary evidence for the likely mass of the sought-after boson.  Mass is a critical characteristic of the particle, and narrowing down the range of likely mass was an encouraging sign that scientists were, finally, on the right track in their search.  The intervening weeks and months provided ample opportunity for scientists and science writers to lay the groundwork for the possible discovery.  We were treated to everything Higgs (e.g., Dennis Overbye, Beth Teitell, Ben Zimmer, James Weatherall, Numbers Guy, Curt Brainard, etc.), both before and after the announcement.

And, yet, on the big day, there was a curious reticence in the way physicists were describing their findings.   Continue reading

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This is the inaugural post to our new blog, Dissecting Public Science.  As articulated more comprehensively in the Mission statement, our goal is to open an ongoing conversation about how the process of science is represented, or misrepresented, in the public media, by science writers, science journalists, and scientists.  Regular posts will touch on a variety of topics concerning public science, including currently hot topics such as climate change, the Higgs boson, science vs. religion, childhood vaccines, GMO’s, the self-correcting nature of science, evolution, scientific fraud and free will.  We invite you to join the conversation with comments contributed to specific posts.  We also encourage you to suggest ideas for new posts by entering comments under Just Ask.  This blog is particularly intended for science students and educated non-scientists, but we welcome all who are interested in discussing the nature of science, including science writers, science journalists, and scientists.

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