A recurring theme on this blog: The principles of information responsibility demand that each information consumer/producer must know the ways that your brain can let you down. Awareness of confirmation bias is part of scientific ethics, but it is increasingly part of responsible consumption mainstream journalism. (Confirmation bias is hardly the only issue. For posts about others, see here, here, and here.)
Now we have this perspective:
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.
Wicked meta. Yes, information responsibility still demands that we understand how our brains can let us down. And yes, most non-neuroscientists learn about that (if at all) from the mainstream media—the same media that the principles of information responsibility demand that we consume skeptically. But don’t give up. Skeptical consumption of mainstream media—or skepticism about anything—does not mean blunt, rhetorical scowling about things you don’t want to believe. (Exhibit A: Politically motivated dismissals of Nate Silver’s work.) It means developing a finely calibrated bullshit detector, built up from numeracy, logic, awareness of the shortcomings of metaphor and other rhetorical figures, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of various media sources.