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Professor Astronomy

Science and the media: why you shouldn't believe everything your read

29 Oct 2010, 18:17 UTC
Science and the media: why you shouldn't believe everything your read
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

A month ago, I blogged about a newly-discovered planet, Gliese 581g, that may or may not be suitable for life. Since that time, considerable controversy has arisen. A competing team of planet hunters has claimed that they cannot find the same planet in their data. After trumpeting an amazing discovery, many of the same media outlets are publishing stories decrying the (possibly) false result. Confused? You have a right to be. Some of the blame for this confusion lies with scientists on both teams, but much lies at the feet of the science media who are reporting the story. (I'll share in that blame since I didn't question the reality of the planet in my original post, though I did discuss our lack of knowledge about what this planet is truly like).

Today, a friend posted this opinion piece from Marty Robbins published online by the Guardian, which I think does a superb job of summarizing where the reporting went wrong. To summarize Robbins's summary, the scientists and press releases by both teams clearly state (though sometimes bury) that their discovery / refutation of Gleise 581g is preliminary, and needs to be confirmed by additional data. In other words, both ...

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