Why Correlation is not Causation: Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia

As so often happens, a post from Science on Google+, a community I help moderate, has got me thinking about how easy it is for headlines to quickly lead to #ScienceMediaHype . A post with a link to a news story has the headline, “Teen Marijuana Use Linked with Schizophrenia.” As a sociologist with an interest in mental health, this sets off alarm bells. The discussion on our community quickly turned into a debate about the correlation presented in the headline. As a few of our community members pointed out, correlation does not equal causation.  My post provides a summary of the actual study and I discuss the sociological problems associated with media coverage of mental illness. Continue reading Why Correlation is not Causation: Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia

Why Bad Science Reporting is Dangerous

Three White children smile at the top of the graphic, and two Black children smile on the lower half. The title is overlaid: Bad science reporting is dangerous

You may have seen an article being reprinted on major news sites that describes the “evolutionary” and “scientific truth” about women being “bitchy.” It’s appeared in The Atlantic, CNN, Bloomberg Businessweek and elsewhere. It’s since made its way into our Science on Google+ community, and was subsequently removed because the discussion quickly devolved into gender stereotypes and emotional personal arguments that strayed off topic. I am reproducing my response and expanding my argument to show the dangers of bad science reporting. In particular, articles that use social science to validate gender stereotypes only serve to encourage the public to generalise on individual gender experiences. This is the antithesis of social science.

The social sciences use empirical evidence and social theory to show how culture, history and place shapes social experiences of gender. To put it another way, while it’s tempting to think that the way in which you experience gender has some innate and biological purpose, most gender experiences vary according to social class, ethnicity and other variables. My post will show why two contentious fields of social science – sociobiology and evolutionary psychology – appeal to journalists eager to stir up controversy. This is a lazy media route that misses out on the opportunity to advance the public’s understanding of social behaviour.

Continue reading Why Bad Science Reporting is Dangerous

Bad Science Journalism

Huffington Post Science published an article on a research study “proving” that heterosexual men and women can’t be platonic friends. I immediately had questions about the problematic assumptions and methodology of this study… except they never bothered linking to the study; they didn’t think it was relevant to name the researchers or the journal or website where the original data are published. Instead, there are a bunch of silly and irrelevant links, a couple of which may be paid links to advertisers.

This type of lazy science journalism is very disturbing. Stories like this are published “fact” (“Science says men and women can’t be friends”) and then shared by the general public who don’t understand science. All this does is verify “common sense” assumptions that science is set up to critically explore. How are scientists meant to critique and engage with such a poorly written article?