Ben Goldacre, a science reporter for the Guardian, has written an interesting (if too short) article on why science journalism is lousy most of the time.
Gary Schwitzer used to be a journalist, but now he has turned to quantitative analyses of journalism, and this month he published an analysis of 500 health articles from mainstream media in the US. The results were dismal. Only 35% of stories were rated satisfactory for whether the journalist had “discussed the study methodology and the quality of the evidence”: because in the media, as you will have noticed, science is about absolute truth statements from arbitrary authority figures in white coats, rather than clear descriptions of studies and the reasons why people draw conclusions from them.
Not only does coverage of science in the mainstream media affect the general public. It affects scientists as well:
A seminal paper from the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991 said that if a study was covered by The New York Times it was significantly more likely to be cited by other academic papers. But for three months large parts of the NYT went on strike. The journalists wrote stories about academic research which never saw the light of day. The research saw no increase in citations.