Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our "liberal" media: science edition

There's an interesting editorial in the Dallas News about science reporting and how stories get spun in the media. Even though we're told non-stop about how the media is "liberal," it turns out that scientific studies that support conservative views get huge attention in the press (and can be distorted to say things they don't actually say), studies that support traditionally liberal views get virtually no traction at all.

[A parenting study] tracked the effects of good fathering on 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 and found that by age 3 a child would have more emotional and behavioral problems if the father had not taken time off after the birth.

Don't recall reading about it? You don't remember seeing experts lined up on the morning news shows to explain how crucial the findings were, or advocacy groups noting how this proves it's important to support paternity leave?

That's probably because, although such a study was indeed published, it got virtually no media attention...

Over and over again, studies that appeal to anti-feminists and social conservatives gain media traction, while the ones that come to opposite conclusions languish in obscurity.

For instance, the traditionalists always like studies with results showing large gender differences that support the old-fashioned sex roles. A great example is the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which in 2005 found that women and men differ in their use of the Internet:

More men (30 percent) than women (25) said the Web helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women (56 percent) than men (50) said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach. These differences are statistically significant.

But when filtered through the media, these findings are interpreted as: "If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the Internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections..."

A difference of at most 6 percentage points became an absolute gulf between the sexes, and the media exclaim, "Women are relational; men are factual!"

I'm starting to notice this more and more, myself. When reading about something about science in the media, I often have to just wince because they get it fairly obviously wrong or draw inaccurate conclusions. I mean, does every article about media storage capacity have to tell us how many Library of Congresses will fit on this new media? Does every report on a new transistor design have to mention artificial intelligence?

I didn't realize this the first time I read through it, but the piece is written by J. Goodrich, who runs the feminist harlot blog Echidne of the Snakes. Score one for the bloggers.

1 comment:

moon_grrl said...

LOL @ calling Echidne of the Snakes a "feminist harlot blog".

Seriously, though, this is a great post. On a parallel track: just last weekend, while I was visiting my parents up in Kankakee, the local rag had a blurb about the Field Museum's Darwin exhibit. I'll be danged if the Daily Journal could get through just ONE article involving the dreaded "e" word without bringing up how against G-d the whole concept is.

It's incredibly frustrating.