November 15, 2009

Scientists have discovered...


Time for a pet peeve. Why do people say “scientists” as if they are some homogeneous group? Nearly every morning I hear reporters say “scientists have discovered that blah, blah, blah” during their token science story. It seems to be a lazy way to avoid saying biologist, astronomer, chemist, physicist, etc. Now I can’t claim to be a scientist of any description (I dropped out of a PhD in Computer Science). Professionally I’m more of an engineer nowadays (although that is another category occasionally lumped into the media’s science bucket). However, I know a few PhDs or lecturers in science subjects and there is a fairly large difference between the things they do, so it’s not that hard to broadly differentiate them into categories more specific than scientist. Asking them is often a good start! Also, there is rarely a mention of where or how the work was done. I personally would be more impressed by a statistically significant result in a double blind study from MIT than a report from the Pond’s Institute (although TV commercials would suggest the Pond’s Institute has nicer labs).

Not convinced? Try this comparison. Next time you listen to the sport section of the news replace any mention of a specific game with “sport” and the players with “sports players”, then just remove any mention of specific teams. “Last night in sport, a group of sports players from Manchester beat 3-2 a bunch of sport players from London.” Not very informative.

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