Since the recent fall-out of the recent NY Times OP-Ed piece discussing the use of fMRI to predict the inclinations and feelings of swing voters is still fresh in our minds, I wanted to simply provide the link to a recent PLoS ONE paper that touches on the general concept of the media reporting on science.
Basically, only around 10% of popular press articles actually list the source of funding paying for the research. But of those, only 75% of the time was the type of financial tie obviously cited. I agree with the authors of the article, who state that the explicit reporting of financial ties and potential conflicts of interest by researchers plays a significant part in how the public views science and the scientists. It took a long time, but almost all academic journals now require a “Conflict of Interest” statement to be published with each manuscript. With the explosion in popularity of science blogs and news sites linking stories to scientific findings and articles, the time has come for the popular press to uphold the same sort of standards, better informing the reader of potential bias.
So the publication of this article simply allows me to re-hash what I touched on in that previous entry since, but we probably could have guessed it, now we have the numbers revealing that the NY Times is in no way alone on this matter. Science journalism plays an enormous part in public opinion, which influences the actions of politicians (sometimes), who have some power to control major chunks of research funding. Therefore, public trust and respect are essential for the long-term growth and stability of scientific funding, especially from the government. So let’s have the press play their part both in providing full disclosure and refraining from publishing scientifically-dubious (but headline-grabbing) stories, leaving the “spin” for the politicians.