How to Write a Sensational Science Article

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Within the media, journalists often sensationalize headlines in order to gain more readers. This has the unfortunate consequence of information being misrepresented, and a loss of accuracy in what is being reported. This is most strongly felt when topics of science, especially physics and astronomy, are reported on.

Reporters (often with no formal background in science), sometimes misrepresent scientific discoveries, and sensationalize them in order to make the story more appealing. Headlines with titles such as “Scientists Discover The God Particle”, “Scientists Find Evidence For Advanced Alien Civilization Around Star”, or “Scientists Creating Black Holes At LHC”, are some examples of this. Readers that read these stories, or even just the headlines, would have an inaccurate idea of what the scientific discovery is actually about.

This doesn’t only just happen to big discoveries. Almost any scientific article can be taken and made sensationalized to the point where the original conclusion of the scientific article is lost. For example, a published journal article, titled, “Deformation-assisted fluid percolation in rock salt”, talks about how the rock salt surrounding geological storage sites for nuclear waste may not be as water-resistant as once thought. This journal article could easily be interpreted by the media to read, “Nuclear waste storage sites not safe from the environment”, even though there are many other factors that go into the storage of nuclear waste.

Many other topics can also easily be misinterpreted this way. Topics such as the big bang theory, dark mater, dark energy, quantum mechanics, theory of relativity, topics on exoplanets and extraterrestrial life, string theory, theories on multiple universes, and so on.

Whenever a news outlet wants to make a scientific story sound more appealing, they often add the word “quantum”, in the title. Stories on scientists creating black holes (or even multiple universes) at the large hadron collider, are also pretty juicy. Whenever a strange discovery is made in space with no immediate explanation, extraterrestrial life is sometimes given as an explanation, without mentioning that it is also highly unlikely compared to other possible explanations.

School should be about learning how to appreciate the amazing work that goes on in subjects such as the sciences. Often, students take math and physics classes in high school (with the preconceived notion that these subjects are hard and boring), and then avoid these subjects for the rest of their life as a result of that, before ever learning about all of amazing and interesting discoveries and ideas that resulted from all that math and physics.

More importantly, they fail to learn how to think critically, to question what they read about, and to only accept things after they have thought through and truly understood what they were reading.

References

Ghanbarzadeh, S., Hesse, M., Prodanovi , M., & Gardner, J. (2015). Deformation-assisted fluid percolation in rock salt. Science, 1069–1072.

Also published on Medium