The costs of bad science communication

Emily Willingham, SciLogs:

After the 20th cancer-related headline promising a “cure just around the corner,” readers just don’t believe the stories any more. For them, the words “breakthrough” and “cure” have lost meaning. And for good reason.

What’s the harm, you might ask, in a headline that perhaps overstates the case or a lede that does the same, with the balance debuting somewhere around the 10th paragraph? The harm can be a two-way street. Lose reader trust, and you will, I’m assuming, lose your readers.

Willingham’s comments don’t just apply to science blogging and reporting, of course. We see the same thing in the tech blogosphere every day.

  • And if science writing was also beleaguered by the daft prognostications of analysts, we’d be expecting the reintroduction of the plague

  • Canucker

    Really bad example of scientific hyperbole here:

    Anyone working in cancer research knows this is twaddle. It’s fine to hope for cures and some people are lucky enough to receive effective treatments (and to have cancers that can be contained) but this is nonsense, unfortunately.

  • D Pauw

    Specifics relating to science publishing aside, this fundamentally comes from disrespecting the audience to some degree. Instead of trying to address how the audience is likely lacking some important details you instead resort to hyperbole because it is much much easier. It is a very hard problem to fix (the absurd headlines are just a small part of the problem).