One of the main problems in encouraging scientific literacy is how badly the mainstream media gets most science stories. Often this is because the press is looking for big headlines on press releases and doesn’t do a lot of background research. Today’s example is the report that plan fossils were found in a meteorite. Fortunately, Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait dissected the paper, as he had when it was announced. You can read his summation here.
If you want an even shorter explanation, there is nowhere near enough proof that the samples were not
- even a meteorite
Both of those make the breathless headlines that circulated around the web seem downright silly. However, that’s why it’s important to learn about the source of reports, and the reputation of the authors. Sadly, this type of hyperbolic reporting leads people to distrust science itself rather than the media’s poor reporting. Phil Plait is one of many very public skeptics that make a vocal attempt to debunk these types of stories, but they don’t share the audience that a crafty press release can fetch. It may be best to take the attitude that extraordinary claims should require a lot more research than an AP report based on a press release.