The problem of false balance when reporting on science | IFLScience

The problem of false balance when reporting on science | IFLScience

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  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How to fool the world with bad science

    Did you hear about the EmDrive, the “impossible space engine?” Here are the red flags you should have looked for!

    We have a saying in science — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — and what we mean by that

    Even then, you must be very careful not to fool yourself, which is often an easy thing to do, particularly if you have a stake in the outcome turning out a certain way.

    In other words, despite headlines like Space Engine Breaks Laws of Physics?, NASA validates ‘impossible’ space drive, and EmDrive Is an Engine That Breaks the Laws of Physics and Could Take Us to Mars, the EmDrive is none of those things.

    It is not a space engine; it is an apparatus that does nothing different from an empty container.

    It was not validated by NASA; it was shown by NASA to be indistinguishable from a ‘null’ device.

    It does not break the laws of physics; it obeys them.

    So what are we left with? Every legitimate scientist’s nightmare: false information posing as science, eroding the public trust in science itself. Don’t let it! If there’s bad science going around, the only cure for it is more and better science

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism

    The Scribble Pen, you may remember, is a project by bay area startup Scribble Technology that puts a color sensor and multiple ink reservoirs in a pen. We’ve talked about it before, right after they cancelled their Kickstarter campaign after netting 366% of their original goal.

    Yes, they cancelled their campaign after being successfully funded. To Kickstarter’s credit, the Scribble team was asked to provide a better video of the pen demonstrating its capabilities. The team pulled the plug on the campaign

    Here is the new campaign. The attentive reader will notice the new campaign is not a Kickstarter project; instead, it is a Tilt campaign.

    With more than $200,000 in the bank, you would think the questions asked in many comments on the old Kickstarter would be answered.

    We know what happened with the Scribble pen, but very little about the who, why, and how this huge, glaringly obvious fraud occurred.

    From the outside, Scribble appears to be a finely tuned corporate organism; official statements are only made through the Scribble Facebook account, Twitter account, and as comments on the now defunct Kickstarter. It’s an honestly stunning display of staying on message, but something that does not lead to any points of contact within Scribble.

    The People
    In all the media coverage Scribble has gotten from dozens of tech blogs, we know of only three people who are officially part of the Scribble team.

    A Registered Company
    Not being able to identify the founders and employees of a company is one thing, but not being able to identify the company itself is another matter entirely.

    With any sort of business that is developing something new and novel, it’s a good idea to have a trademark for your business and your product.

    The failings of tech journalism

    The last time we mentioned the Scribble pen, I noticed something strange about their campaign. They used the Hackaday logo when the only thing ever published here was a single paragraph in a links post calling the entire project ridiculous.

    Like many Kickstarters, they had a few logos of blogs and other media outlets below the fold, put there a statement of legitimacy. “These are trusted members of the fourth estate,” the creators of Scribble must have told themselves, “surely telling the world we have the approval of these fine upstanding establishments will lend us an air of credibility and legitimacy.”

    There’s a problem with this. When the only thing tech bloggers and journalists have to go on are a few videos, a media kit, and a Kickstarter campaign, the only information available comes directly from the project creators. This inevitably leads to a deafening echo chamber where the same facts are repeated ad nauseam.

    The idea of a color picking pen has been around for years, with thousands of people ready to throw their money into a hole in the hopes of getting their hands on one. It makes for great blog fodder and grabs eyeballs, but plugging a Kickstarter simply by repeating what a press release says does the public a grave disservice. Even the more respectable media outlets failed in this regard; the longest articles on Scribble added a little to their page length simply by interviewing the inventors who I’m not sure actually exist.

    Given the vast number of tech and design blogs in the last month reporting on the Scribble pen, someone must be held responsible for correcting these grave errors. This responsibility falls on us and other excellent blogs like Drop Kicker.


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