Thursday, April 7, 2011

The sad distortion of original sources.

I'd like to link a few things here. Yesterday, the Herald, bless it's little tabloid heart, printed an article stating that scientists had confirmed a link between living close to motorways and pre-term births. As with any science reporting in the herald, I took it with a shipping container of salt and moved on. It popped up again in my reading today on where Jim McVeigh pointed out the various problems with the supposed finding in the article. Even better, these were problems that the authors themselves had identified - you tend to get more pre-term births in lower socio-economic groups and you tend to get more people from lower socio-economic groups living next to motorways.

Even at this I probably would have usually hrmmed in a disapproving tone and moved on. A week or so ago though, I read a Ben Goldacre at Bad Science, in one of his usual superbly written columns, opined that it would be quite good if we could get the newspapers to link to the original source in their online editions. Not only would this have the effect of allowing people easy access to follow up stories they found interesting, it would also give punters such as me a little more confidence in their reporting. It's not that I would go and look up every link they provided, it's the knowledge that I could if I wanted to that would be comforting. Some of the science reporting in the Herald could very well be good reporting. I've caught it out a sufficient number of times now though, that I just don't trust it. This could fix that. Not, of course, that I think they would ever do something like that. Removes to many opportunities to scare their public.

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