Tuesday Talk: Science is always learning

Sullivan suggests reading Carl Zimmer on the time it takes for the true meaning of a scientific story to reveal itself. In particular, he praises the Retro Report series of videos for providing a realistic “second look” on science stories:

These videos remind us forcefully that the real meaning of stories about science takes time to unfold. That is very hard to remember, because there’s something intoxicating about a new science story. Suddenly some great truth about the world seems to be unveiled. That truth can be terrifying, or elating. I can’t count all the emails I’ve gotten when I’ve written a story about some very preliminary research on a disease, from people who suffer from the disease and want to know where they can go to get cured.

In reality, a lot of science-related conclusions fall apart or have to be revised in later years. Science itself is starting to grapple with its flaws, with papers like “Most Published Research Findings Are False.” On the other hand, some findings gain strength over the years, as more and more evidence supports them. But those studies pile up like sand grains, and so it’s easy for journalists to overlook them, even after they’ve grown into a mountain.

I hope Retro Report does more investigations into science. They’re wonderful history lessons, and they also help people think more realistically about today’s news.

[Above: Retro Report on the 1991 “Biosphere 2” project.]


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