Thursday, January 07, 2010

Using Research to Mis-inform

Too often news accounts of scientific research fail to inform the public or fail to use research in useful or helpful ways. This is often frustrating to scientists and at times these failures can be dangerous or damaging. (I have written elsewhere about the debate about the link between vaccines and autism as an example.)

But I find it particularly troubling when a source of information about higher education fails to engage scientific research in a useful and thoughtful manner. In this article,Facebooking Won't Affect Your Grades, Study Finds. At Least Until Next Month's Study Tells You It Will,
Marc Parry provides the worst example of reporting on scientific information.

1. He presents two studies that on the face of it seem to come to different conclusions about the impact of "Facebook" on student grades without any consideration of the methods or approaches.

2. He then compounds this weak exploration of the issue with the citation of the relationship between the use of Facebook and divorce. In this case, he cites no research, but merely provide links to other news articles as if these were sources of evidence.

3. Finally, he concludes with a flip statement that next month's research findings will make counter claims and that all of this is just a matter of "he says, she says" and not really a matter of science.

Rather that provide any sort of thoughtful discussion of the evidence regarding the impact of social networking activities on personal relationships or educational outcomes the reader is left with the idea that scientists studying this issue have nothing really useful to say on this topic.

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