Layoffs at newspapers tend to hit the less essential sections first. You're not going to see the sports page disappear, but you might no longer have a local science reporter. To fill in the blanks, editors use wire stories, and when it comes to science reporting, they'll apparently print anything they come across. Basing a story off whatever piece of research comes to light is the easiest way to write a science story, with "according to new research" the opening sentence of choice. Over the weekend, we learned that meat causes cancer, exercise stops cancer, sleep stops cancer and stress causes it. Is there any way to prevent newspapers from dumbing themselves into even more layoffs?This AFP story represents everything that is wrong with the state of science reporting. The headline touts, "Exercise, sleep cuts cancer risk." In the body of the piece, actual analysis and understanding of medical issues is nowhere to be found:
In a long-term study of nearly 6,000 US women, researchers found that those who exercised the most had a 25 percent lower chance of developing cancer than those who were the least active. But among younger, physically active women, those who slept less than seven hours a night had a 47 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than those who regularly got a good night's rest.
Reuters wrote basically an identical story from the press release. Even if these two things were somehow related to each other, how exactly we should interpret the study from the National Cancer Institute? Since the Institute clearly has an agenda of some kind, it's not hard to see why they'd want the article on their study to read a certain way. The end result is just a quick rewrite of a press release, without any context for the findings. It's just a plug for their development people to tout when they're trying to raise money. And maybe it's a good thing for the institution that wire reporters who don't even have bylines will take whatever they say as the direct truth, but it's not helping educate the public about the issues, and it sure isn't service-y. For its part, internet media — which can impart a lot more context at its best — isn't helping. All it does is give misinformation a larger berth. When Papers Had A Future [Gawker]