I always had issues with news stories that recounted studies or research from universities. It always deferred to studies, rather than question them.
Just because you question a study, it doesn’t make you anti-science. If the study is sound, the authors of the study can back up what they claim. If it isn’t, there may be fraud or some other problem that needs to be exposed.
Once upon a time, you had journalists who didn’t applaud every insight coming from the Ivy League. Betrayers of the Truth is a book that is a must-read for anyone who wishes to gain a more realistic perspective of how sometimes academia isn’t flawless or always right.
We have competing theories and schools of thought. There is debate, but to be more objective in reporting science, you have to be able to know how to read a journalism article and know how to determine a good study from a bad one (a starting point is here, here, here, here, and here).
But journalists have some sort of notion that if it comes out of Harvard, it has to be perfect, and often, it is anything but. They also have a notion that no study is flawed, let alone fraudulent.
They do not question who funded a study, for instance. They do not critically examine studies.
And even if the study is not fraudulent or bad, whether it is even necessary.
This study from MIT comes in this category. It is a Captain Obvious study that suggests that Twitter (who paid for the actual study, making it more market research than a study) has fake news that is more likely to come from people spreading fake news than bots.
You don’t say!
Even stories from bots come from people because it is people who program bots to spread them. They just use a more efficient way to do it (reminding me of that car commercial where the spokesman asks people whether they want to chop wood with a hand saw or an electric one). One is just more grassroots and the other is organized.
But the study got a lot of unquestioning play, from CBC to the Washington Post. It is not news, but stenography. The Post article has lots of babbling, but never actually assumes that there may be flaws with the study — or that it is merely stating the obvious — or that as it is funded by Twitter, its purpose may be to deflect criticism over the Left’s paranoid conspiracy theories why all their campaigning in 2016 gave Republicans victories across the board.
Journalists always go in with the assumption that academia has all the answers, and is beyond reproach. There has been major cases of fraud over the years, and we have replicators and meta-researchers for that reason.
We need critical and investigative journalism here — not flacks for STEM-based industries. The good ones will hold up, and the bad ones can be exposed, but as most who cover the industries are not schooled in the ways of experimentation, they are too intimidated to challenge anything at all; so they appeal to authority and then pretend it’s journalism.
So this study is fair game to ask hard questions — just like any other study. We need to know things, but we need to have critical eyes looking at studies, not adoring ones that can spread bad science and make trouble for those desperate for answers and think they found it reading the accolades of something that needed to be torn apart.