Cross-posted at: www.snackfoam.co.uk
Ben Goldacre, author of the brilliant book Bad Science, has recently blogged about the issue of journalists and their refusal to link to primary sources, an issue that particularly bugged me when working on my undergraduate dissertation. Within research it is perfectly fine to use newspapers as a citable source, and for certain types of research they are useful as artifacts in their own right, but when they are being relied upon as an ends to means they can be problematic due to their innate biases and therefore deeper research into them is required. Newspapers are a great starting point in research but not being able to see their primary sources can be problematic, but there is a bigger issue at hand outside the academic world. Newspapers, and media in general, have a huge influence on the populations of the world and while a majority of people would not be interested in viewing primary sources I strongly believe news media needs to be held to account, I’m not necessarily against bias in news content, but bias with no basis bar ideology can be damaging. In his recent blogpost Ben Goldacre demonstrates The Telegraph, which is skeptical of global warming, making a link between beached whales and off-shore wind-farms.
This week the Telegraph ran the headline “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales”. “Offshore wind farms are one of the main reasons why whales strand themselves on beaches, according to scientists studying the problem”, it continued. Baroness Warsi even cited it as a fact on BBC Question Time this week, arguing against wind farms.
But anyone who read the open access academic paper in PLoS One, titled “Beaked Whales respond to simulated and actual navy sonar”, would see that the study looked at sonar, and didn’t mention wind farms at all. At our most generous, the Telegraph story was a spectacular and bizarre exaggeration of a brief contextual aside about general levels of manmade sound in the ocean by one author at the end of the press release (titled “Whales scared by sonars”).