Richard G. Petty, MD

Scientific Sensationalism

Earlier today I found myself in the audience for a really excellent seminar. But there was one thing that left me troubled. The presenter, who has published a great many successful books, suggested using the services of a research professional in a library to hunt down publications that could be used in books and articles. That’s great advice, but ONLY if the writer then goes and checks all the data in the articles. I have several times highlighted the problems of published research that has been reported in the media, but which turns out has fundamental flaws.

One of the jobs of reporters is to bring us information as quickly and as accurately as they can. I have known a great many people in the media, and they are almost all very smart and inquisitive. They are usually excellent at asking good questions. But nobody can be an expert on everything. I have written articles here about studies that have been reported around the world, but turned out to have great big holes in them that make data interpretation a precarious business! But it is my business to analyze papers in the biomedical field. I’m pretty good at working out the pros and cons in my own fields. But ask me to do a detailed review of a paper in higher mathematics, and I’ll quickly need someone to start administering oxygen to me!

The BBC carried a story About a report from the British Social Market Foundation, which can be downloaded here. The Foundation has warned about something that has been on concern to many of us working in science and medicine, that irresponsible reporting can undermine public confidence in science. The problem is the science rarely produces certain answers: it is painstaking, step-by-step process. There’s an old Yugoslavian proverb: Grain by grain a loaf, stone by stone, a castle.”

And it’s quite correct: that’s how science progresses. On the other hand, the media has to put out stories quickly, and is less tolerant of the uncertainties inherent in science.

This is also why blogs like this one will, I hope, help the public understanding about science. I’m also going to continue to highlight other blogs and websites that are providing quick, accurate reports of new scientific findings. Let me know how I’m doing!

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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