Social Media

Is Social Media Ruining Science Journalism?

Science and technology are areas that have always had the ability to draw public interest – when something exciting has happened. We all look on in excitement at the New Horizons pictures of Pluto, or read with interest when a new medical advancement has been made. However, a lot of the time, the work carried out in science, technology and medicine takes the form of baby steps towards these impressive goals, and headline grabbing glamour stories simply don’t occur with the regularity of celebrity scandals or the other kinds of news we get to feast on through social media media science journalism

This, of course, has always been the case, but as journalism is replaced by blogging, outlets claiming to bring the latest and best science news often use the same tactics more traditionally associated with lightweight media. Has the social media age ruined the way science is reported in the mainstream?


Popular science blog IFL Science has come under criticism from its own fans for increasingly using ‘clickbait’ style titles for its articles. It is by no means the only offender. A clickbait title is one that misleads the reader into thinking the article is more revelatory than it is, and often includes a dramatic question that obviously the reader has to open the article to see the answer to.

This, when it is employed in lightweight news (‘Which member of 1 Direction has a controversial new tattoo?’) is effectively harmless, but when reporting on science and medicine, it can have worrying effects. A link that says ‘Scientists have found that sleep affects your cancer risk – but how many hours do you need?’ and then takes you to an article that explains that in a small study on mice, a possible correlation between sleep and breast cancer was observed, is clearly not responsible writing.

Exaggerating the Significance of Findings

Nobody would even attempt to get a paper published in a science journal which said that the findings of a small, isolated study were enough to prove anything more than that a theory deserved further exploration, however most people don’t get their news from journals, they get it from blogs. People tend to be afraid to simply report that a study was done and the findings were interesting – instead they feel they have to exaggerate the significance of it so that every bit of research says something terrifying about climate change or promises an affordable cure for HIV.

Do You Want to Write About Science?

With a decent website by a design agency like anybody can have a professional looking, nice blog, but that doesn’t mean they are actually qualified to talk about anything – it is still hugely important to display some journalistic ethics. If you want to cover science, medicine and technology on your own blog, make sure you aren’t overblowing the significance of findings, and when you speculate on possible future implications, don’t state your theories as fact. Do this, and report honestly, and maybe you can help turn the tide of misleading and dangerous medical and scientific reporting on the web.

Social media has changed news in both good and bad ways, but when it comes to science and medicine, a move away from misleading journalism really needs to happen.