Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Generalissimo Francisco Franco and Irony: Still Dead

Reporters Find Science Journals Harder to Trust, but Not Easy to Verify

When the journal Science recently retracted two papers by the South Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, it officially confirmed what he had denied for months: Dr. Hwang had fabricated evidence that he had cloned human cells.

But the editors of Science were not alone in telling the world of Dr. Hwang's research.

Newspapers, wire services and television networks had initially trumpeted the news, as they often do with information served up by the leading scientific journals.

Now news organizations say they are starting to look at the science journals a bit more skeptically.

"My antennae are definitely up since this whole thing unfolded," said Rob Stein, a science reporter for The Washington Post. "I'm reading papers a lot more closely than I had in the past, just to sort of satisfy myself that any individual piece of research is valid. But we're still in sort of the same situation that the journal editors are, which is that if someone wants to completely fabricate data, it's hard to figure that out."

Let's grant the author the premise that at a time when Neanderthal school officials around the nation (that's you, Kansas) are trying to twist the definition of "science" into jibberish, the best use of her time is to write an article casting aspersions on those nasty, trenchcoated scientists who publish in rags like JAMA and Science. It's the same sort of reasoning that leads the wise heads in the media to address the MillerWoowardNovakCooperTweety controversies by calling for panels on blogger ethics.

No, what I really liked about the piece is that we get someone from the WaPo complaining about getting bad information from other writers. And that he seems put out by the fact that he has to read the papers closely for a change.

Happily, the author did include a quote from someone grudgingly admitting that "most" of what the journals publish is "basically credible." Fourteen paragraphs into the story.


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