Debunking Science Media Hype: Example from Archaeology

Jeff Baker is one of many dedicated scientists on Science on Google+ setting an example of how to improve public science outreach. Jeff is an archaeologist who often writes educational critiques of science journalism. He discusses science news sites that have published misleading headlines or incorrect science.

We need more of this type of writing! The public doesn’t always know when news sites are reporting science incorrectly. It’s up to practising scientists to step up and call attention to lax science journalism. The general public can help too, by asking questions and even posting these to our Science Outreach category using our #AskAScientist  hashtag.

Check out some of Jeff’s posts below where he has critiqued popular science reporting on archaeology.

Over-Shooting the Mark

Archaeology Magazine reported that the discovery of fluted spear points in Alaska throws into question the model of early human migration to North America. Jeff argues that this is a simplistic reading, and that the actual scientific evidence might suggest that the migration route was not direct from Asia to America, but that it also included migration the other way.

Red Hot Chilli Pepper Lies

A misleading title from Archeology.org would have us believe that chillies were first used 2,000 years a go in Mexico. Research actually suggests chillies were first used 6,000 years a go in Peru and Mexico.

Correlation is not Causation!

National Geographic reported on research speculating that the Cahokia (a Native American tribe who lived in what is now Mississippi) may have been killed off by a large-scale flood. Jeff argues against this report. The correlation between flooding and the end of this civilisation does not necessary equal causation.

War of the Worlds

Popular Archaeology reports on a computer simulation that aims to model the development of modern civilisations. Jeff points out several flaws in the premise of this research, which relate to the limitations of the study design and assumptions made by the programmers. This includes their idea that warfare is essential to human development.

Misleading Migration

The Scientist published a deceptive headline and introduction on research suggesting that the first Americans did not migrate via Siberia, but instead came across the Atlantic. Jeff corrects this reporting.

This is What a Real Archaeologist Looks Like

If you’d like to see what a real archaeological dig site looks like, Jeff recommends visiting the Archeology.About website. I’ve pulled out a few of the images from the article, but it’s worth reading the original.

Originally published on Science on Google+.

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