Scientific misrepresentation

This is going to be a short post; something not entirely new but quite frustrating to say the least. Scientific data, and peer-reviewed information, is a must nowadays to make an argument stick. As wonderful as this realisation is, the problem with that is also people from non-scientific backgrounds don’t always quite understand how to represent this data – I went to the M Shed in Bristol to see their exhibition on chocolate last weekend. Very interesting, and I’d highly recommend it, but the moment you walk in the door the first fact that you’re faced with is: in the UK 10.2kg is consumed (or something along those lines). It was obvious to me that this was per capita per annum, but if I base that number on my consumption per year, that doesn’t seem like all that much!

Not only misrepresenting data, but also mis-sourcing data can be a real problem. I am doing some research for a film, and I come across a certain behaviour by badgers and deer. “Wow, I’d love to catch that on camera!” I think . Upon further research on the internet the same phrase keeps on popping up, clearly taken from the same source. After doing some investigation and talking to people the said badger behaviour hasn’t happened for over 5 years as a result of increased lighting at night, and the deer are supposedly scared of water let alone will they swim in it! People looking to write quick articles don’t care about the validity of their information and will happily quote the same spotlight-grabbing facts over and over.

If it’s just someone like me trying to figure something out, it can be quite frustrating but it’s not the end of the world. My housemate is currently a researcher for a natural history programme, and I’m sure she encounters such frustrations all the time. It’s when it gets aired on national and international TV, spoken by David Attenborough, that people really start taking note. During the last episode of the Africa series that aired earlier this year, Sir David said that the “some parts of the continent have become 3.5C hotter in the past twenty years.” This statistic was taken by members of the research team from an Oxfam publication, who in turn had taken it from a Christian Aid report, which stated that the claim had been made at a climate change conference.

It is now, looking back at my education, that I realise why referencing and plagiarism is such an important concept. And as more and more people are able to write whatever they want across the internet, the more careful we should about with what we perceive to be ‘reliable sources’.


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