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The Sciences

Science, and rumors of science

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitAugust 3, 2010 11:19 PM

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Dennis Overbye of the New York Times has a good article on rumors in science: how they get started, and how they propagate. As someone who stamps flat about a dozen or more of these every year, I appreciated Overbye's take on it... especially as I've been too busy to look into the latest ones, like the foofooraw over a misunderstanding about how the Kepler mission has found hundreds of Earthlike planets. It hasn't, and happily the NYT article covers that terrestrial tempest in a teapot pretty well. I try not to report astronomy news here until it's officially released, and even then I always try to read the journal paper affiliated with it, if there is one. I've skipped a lot of press releases after reading the paper and finding the PR was inaccurate, or the news incremental (in other words, a step in the right direction to understanding something, which is important in science but not always newsworthy), or that the work has been done before. I'm surprised at how often that last bit happens; in science new observations confirming previous results are important, but again, newsworthiness has different criteria. Anyway, even if you read something here, I'm not asking you to believe it. I do my best to look into these things when they occur, but it's not always possible to be 100% accurate. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. You'll be a lot less likely to get fooled that way. Tip o' the printing press to Sarah Anderson.

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