Newspapers are particularly bad at presenting science. If it takes more than a quick Google search or scanning through Wikipedia to find something out, that's really far too much research for a modern journalist to worry about. At all times, you need to simplify, dumb-down, smooth out contradictions - and if all else fails, just not bother.
Today there comes interesting research on climate change - chipping away at a major plank of the refuseniks' "It's the sun" argument. That line is a particular favourite of people on messageboards. "I read somewhere once that sunspots are to blame, therefore I ignore all other evidence that ever appears, because anything else is too hard to understand". That kind of thing.
Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity.
Says the BBC report. Yes the sun affects the climate, but that doesn't explain changes in the past 20 years - this latest research falls into line with many similar published real science articles. Naturally if you're willing to think about conspiracy theories this is simply evidence of the great global wool-pulling-over in which scientists from vastly different cultures and backgrounds are all 'in on it' and secretly manipulating the data to keep themselves in work. But anyway - interesting evidence nevertheless, I tend to think.
I looked on the Mail's website for their report on this. Sadly there wasn't one. Too hard to understand? Too tricky? Not quite what their "I'll pollute because I like it so there nur nur nur nur" readers want? But there are articles about science. Well I say "science" but I mean...
Cup of coffee a day can keep Alzheimer's away, say scientists
Well not really, some rabbits have been given pure caffeine to see how it affects their brains, but it makes for a good headline doesn't it?
"High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood-brain barrier. For the first time we have shown that chronic ingestion of caffeine protects the blood-brain barrier from cholesterol-induced leakage."
says a professor. See the 'perhaps'. He goes on to say:
"Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug and its ability to stabilise the blood-brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders."
Again, note the 'could'. But that intellectual caution is blown away by the Mail hacks. Far too tricky for our readers!
A cup of coffee a day could keep Alzheimer's disease at bay, research suggests. Scientists have shown a daily dose of caffeine helps protect the brain from the harmful effects of cholesterol, which is linked to the disease.
But... that's not quite it. Oh well, doesn't matter! This from the Mail who have reported all kinds of stuff about coffee. That it can ward off diabetes; that it's 'good for you in moderation'; but that filter coffee is 'bad for you'; yet coffee breaks would be 'good for kids'; but maybe not so much for pregnant women (or maybe it's OK really?); mind you, on the other hand, it can improve women's memories; ah, but that one cup of coffee you're having to stave off Alzheimer's is putting your heart at risk.
Confused? You should be. It comes from the oversimplification of every single piece of research, slapped onto a page with an even more simplified headline and intro to try and erase all doubts and contradiction. Mind you, if there's a great climate change industry, there also appears to be a great coffee research industry as well - hardly surprising with such enormous commercial interests at stake... or is that going down the conspiracy theorists' route? Probably it is, so I won't.
One final thing to watch out for is how research is treated. See the lack of critical attention given to those coffee studies. Well today another piece of research comes out, not scientific research this time but a report saying that cannabis should remain class C classification. Will that just be reported as fact without any scrutiny? Or will columnists be sharpening their pens to take a dig at the conclusions, contrary to the "drugs are bad, mmkay" stance of the newspaper? We'll wait and see.