The Predictability of Science Churnalism + Bonus Sweary Rant

Ca. 20 hours ago, I dropped the following comment on Facebook:

Currently trending is that the Philae lander has perhaps found life on a comet… yeah, if that turns out to be verified and not just media mis-reporting of one lone nut with an incredibly tenuous association with NASA I will physically eat my shorts.

Now, I should reiterate that as I wrote that I had read absolutely nothing about the story on the Philae lander. I had no idea about the specific claims made. All I knew was the phrase “Trending: Philae: Comet That Spacecraft Landed on Could Have Alien Life, Scientists Say”. That’s all.

How much of it did I get right without even looking? Well, it’s obvious innit?

The pattern has become so predictable it was possible to get pretty much all of it right from seeing the mere fact that the story was trending. “Found alien life”? No. Just no. “Scientists say”? Nope, it was one lone nut, namely Chandra Wickramasinghe. “Evidence”? Smevidence.

The only thing I didn’t get right was “tenuous association with NASA” – not surprisingly, Philae is an ESA project, not a NASA one (idiot – though perhaps I just had the EmDrive on the brain). Still, that tends to fit the pattern; since it employs nearly 20,000 people and is associated with countless others, it’s not hard to have a connection with NASA, and “NASA claims” makes a pretty headline no matter the article content.

Still, the story trended anyway.

ALIEN LIFE? Astronomers say there are signs of possible alien life on Comet 67P, after studying data from the European Space Agency’s Philae Lander.

….ABC7 News said.

Philae’s comet may host alien ‘life’: astronomers

….Some other guy said.

Scientists have spotted what some believe to be evidence of life on the Philae comet.

….I Don’t Fucking Understand the First Thing About Science said.


…said the Daily Mail because for the last few months I’ve set AdBlock to kill anything from that site and my life has been so much better ever since. Although I’m told their article was on form.

Mere hours later, the refutation articles finally caught up. Bullshit, called Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy (in a near-identical reflex-action to mine). Nope nope nope said Rachel Feltman in the Washington Post. What a croquembouche of solidified emu excrement declared… well, pretty much anyone who knows even the first thing about the subject.

Why do we even bother with the refutation articles? The pattern is quite literally that predictable. Why not just write the generic post – titled “No, Scientists Didn’t Do The Thing You Read About” – and point to it? We can have a few set phrases like “It turns out that the evidence they presented has a more simple, parsimonious and perfectly expected explanation” and “No, the scientist in question wasn’t actually associated with the research project” and absolutely certainly “The claims weren’t published, they were just mouthed off in an email to the press desk” and words to that effect.

It would save so much time.

— Note, profanity begins here —

Mainstream popular science right now is a fucking shambolic piece of cunting horse bollocks. We thought it was bad before, but it hasn’t got much fucking better. The rise of the internet and – buzzword alert – social media has given us easier and more ready access to experts than ever before, but still these fucking fucktarded fucking newspapers, sites and the people who read them still gobble up any old shite guffed up by fucking moron that tells them something.

Lone Nut: “Hey, I’ve got a fucking PhD, kind-of, doesn’t matter that I’ve spent the years since plucking shit-covered morsels of Wrong out of my hairy anus and flinging them at the fucking internet, I have a crank theory for you to post!”

Shitty Newspaper: “Oh, sweet, dude, just what we needed! We haven’t undermined the public’s trust in science for fucking ages!”

Lone Nut: “Yeah, you take that sweaty morsel of shit I just told you!”

Shitty Newspapers: “Yes, sir, please feed me more of your shit! I love it because I’m a filthy fucking whore!”

That’s basically what happens. Each. And. Every. Fucking. Time.

It has been over a decade since Andrew Fucking Wakefield shat all over our collective consciousness with his outright fucking fraudulent claims about autism and measles jabs – and now people are starting to fucking die because of it – and the shitting papers still haven’t learned their fucking lesson about basic fucking fact-checking before jumping to publish some trumped up fucking dingo’s kidneys coming from some twat-mouthed cockwomble.

Just fucking admit it you cunts – you’re not fucking writing science articles, not even fucking popular science articles. You’re writing fucking clickbait for shit’s sake! Or worse, you’re trying to fuck about with peoples’ perceptions of what science even fucking is so that when you publish your own fucking horseshit like “vaccines cause AIDS” and “climate change isn’t real” people will believe your version of events because “Hey, scientists thought there was life on a comet! What idiots!”

Something needs to fucking change. Fucking pronto.

One thought on “The Predictability of Science Churnalism + Bonus Sweary Rant

  1. Notes from Reddit:

    “Science news is neither science nor news, its entertainment that generates profit.”

    I’m sure the logic underpinning that results in **all** news being classed as ‘entertainment that generates profit’. There’s nothing unique to science reporting that says only science can act as clickbait.

    “Imagining this level of planning, strategy and coordination across the media is a conspiracy theory, when its easier explained by simple individual motives for profit.”

    I’m wondering where you got the idea that this is a **serious** and **organised** conspiracy theory? I don’t think I proposed it as one. But I did link to a previous article that pointed out a comment from the Daily Mail’s comments board that, organised conspiracy or otherwise, demonstrated that this exact effect is in place. Distrust in science demonstrably increases in the presence of piss-poor popular science reporting. This plays into the hands of people who wish to push an agenda quite, quite nicely. That doesn’t imply an intentional conspiracy, but it implies a solid motive for opinion-outlets to not take any steps to improve matters.


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