Stochastic Scribbles
Random musings in a variety of subjects, from science to religion.

Scientists say ...

One of my pet peeves with certain stories I see in mainstream news outlets are those which say “scientists say …” or “scientists discover …” in the headline or in the story itself.

It’s annoying because it doesn’t really say anything. Scientists are not a monolithic group who all think the same, and in fact, are normally a pretty fractious lot. They may agree on the fundamentals of a field (most of the time), but scientists as a group are unlikely to immediately all agree on a new discovery which is likely to appear in a news article. The more extraordinary a claim is, the more scientists will be skeptical about it, while less startling discoveries are most likely to be obscure even among scientists in a given field. And this doesn’t even go into scientists in different fields.

It’s basically a statement like “politicians say that raising any taxes on businesses is evil” or “politicians say that cutting food stamps is evil”, and for anyone who is aware of anything political at all, it is so obviously ridiculous to treat politicians as a monolithic group. The same is true of scientists, albeit at least scientists’ claims tend to be constrained by reality (usually).

I’m consoled a bit by the fact that some news outlets and writers do a much better job in this regard, where a discovery isn’t treated as a done deal and the relevant group is explicitly identified instead of something being discovered by a monolithic group of “scientists”.