Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How to Read Stories about Garbage “Science” Studies

 

If you were on the Internet yesterday, you likely saw this story on various mainstream media platforms:

The study claims a lot of gross stuff, claiming that Americans use swimming pools instead of a shower and that 40% of Americans pee in the pool. The whole thing sounded strange, which is what led me to read the CBS story in detail. In it I saw the following paragraph:

Sachs Media Group… A poll run by a media group? That’s… strange. So I went over to Google and looked up what they do. Turns out they’re a PR agency, and one of their clients is… Big Chlorine (I didn’t know such a thing existed). After several individuals, myself included, pointed out the glaring conflict of interest of a media group representing the chlorine industry running a “study” on the cleanliness of pools (and therefore, the importance of chlorine), CBS updated its story, and it now reads:

The survey was conducted by Sachs Media Group, a PR firm working on behalf of the Water Quality & Health Council, a group of advisors to the chlorine industry trade association. On its website, Sachs Media Group says it aims to “Improve chlorine’s brand nationwide to pre-empt legislators and regulators from developing policy that promotes chlorine alternatives.”

This is what it takes for journalists to make an attempt to be responsible while reporting about science, they have to be called out on their laziness in public, repeatedly. 

The proliferation of reporting about junk science is rampant, and it undermines trust in science and the media alike, in addition to breeding scientific illiteracy among Americans.

In her new book on the data behind parenting choices, Professor Emily Oster writes about the issue,

We see, again and again, aggressive headlines that often overstate the claims of the (often not very good) articles they report on.

 

Why is this?

 

One reason is that people seem to love a scary or shocking narrative. ‘Report: Formula-Fed Children More Likely to Drop Out of High School’ is a more clickable headline than ‘Large, Well-Designed Study Shows Small Impacts of Breastfeeding on Diarrheal Diseases.’ This desire for shock and awe interacts poorly with most people’s lack of statistical knowledge. There is no pressure on the media to focus on reporting the ‘best’ studies, since people have a hard time separating the good studies from less-good ones. Media reports can get away with saying ‘A new study shows…’ without saying ‘A new study, with very likely biased results, shows…’ And other than the few of us who get our dander up on Twitter, people are mostly none the wiser.

Yesterday brought news of another egregious scientific blunder exposed as well,

BuzzFeed reports on the story,

The company claimed that the thermometer successfully predicted fertility in 99.4% of its customers. But the study that it was based on was pulled for selectively using data that made it look good — and undercounting possible unintended pregnancies.

In this case, the study, and the reporting filed later didn’t just mislead people but may have drastically altered the lives of families trying to get pregnant, or trying not to get pregnant.

We hear a great deal about the dangers of the eroding trust in science and the media. If both entities care about repairing it, raising their standards on science reporting would be a great place to start.

There are 45 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Science/statistics lessons from the news media? Our news media?

    They should have gone with the old, reliable “source who would only comment on conditions of anonymity.” Those stories are impossible to find fault with.

    • #1
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:07 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m confused. What part of the study’s findings do you dispute?

    Personally, I think the 40% number seems low.

    • #2
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    I’m confused. What part of the study’s findings do you dispute?

    Personally, I think the 40% number seems low.

    Note to self: Don’t invite Misthiocracy to the pool party.

    • #3
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:35 AM PDT
    • 17 likes
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    I’m confused. What part of the study’s findings do you dispute?

    Personally, I think the 40% number seems low.

    Note to self: Don’t invite Misthiocracy to the pool party.

    Or hose him down when he shows up.

    • #4
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    Even science journalists are still journalists. If they were smart, they would be doing science, not writing about it. I roll my eyes at many “science” stories. Sometimes they have to have a political statement in them, even when it has nothing to do with the science. Certainly there are the promotional ones. “Vaccines cause autism” was a scam by a doctor with an alternative to vaccines that he was trying to sell.

    • #5
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:42 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    Or hose him down when he shows up.

    We’d do that anyway.

    • #6
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:42 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. KentForrester Moderator

    I never gave it much thought when I used to swim in the city pool, but my guess is that almost all kids beneath the age of 13 pee in the pool. So if you swim in a public pool, you are swimming through a urine/water/chlorine mix.

    Knowing that, I’m not sure I could enjoy my swim these days.

    • #7
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Mark Camp Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    I’m confused. What part of the study’s findings do you dispute?

    Personally, I think the 40% number seems low.

    Note to self: Don’t invite Misthiocracy to the pool party.

    Or hose him down when he shows up.

    And when you do, be sure to use the guest hosing-down product chosen by Washington’s leading pool party hostesses–100% natural Chlorine! Studies show that Chlorine kills 99.4% of the germs on most pool party guests.

    Ask your pool doctor to find out if 100% natural Chlorine is right for you. May cause pain or death in sensitive individuals. No guest hosing-down product can prevent pool peeing. When using any 100% natural Chlorine guest hosing product, it is recommended that you provide an inflatable kiddie pool for the first hour of your party, and then open the grown-up pool. Hosing down guests who are pregnant, who suspect they might be pregnant, or who have wrapped blankets around themselves and then drenched themselves with Windex (R) or other ammonia-containing cleaners is not recommended.

    This message brought to you by the folks at the Pool Party Guest Hosing-Down Product Council.

    • #8
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:05 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  9. philo Member

    Arahant (View Comment):… If they were smart, they would be doing science, not writing about it. I roll my eyes at many “science” stories. …

    Beyond anything to do with Global Warming / Climate Change, I reserve my most exaggerated eye rolls for the semi-annual breaking news about the discovery of another “Earth-like” planet. Almost every one is worth a face-palm or two…or three…or…

    • #9
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Brian Inactive

    Just make sure to follow Russell Roberts @EconTalker & listen to his podcast every Monday. 

    you’ll be cured of Garbage science bias really quickly. 

    • #10
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I never gave it much thought when I used to swim in the city pool, but my guess is that almost all kids beneath the age of 13 pee in the pool. So if you swim in a public pool, you are swimming through a urine/water/chlorine mix.

    Fun fact: A strong chlorine smell in the air is proof that people are peeing in the pool. That smell is produced by the urea reacting with the chlorine. If there’s no urea, there’s no smell.

    • #11
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is all the result of Big Government. Hardly anyone notices that Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” speech also warned about Big (government funded) Science.

    Why is Big Government a problem in the pursuit of scientific truth? Because Government can make or break an industry — like, for example, the coal industry (see Barack Obama administration). Big Chlorine needs Big Government on its side. If government were less consequential, people could go about their self- or industry-interests without all the Big Lies.

    Why does Big Media repeat the Big Lies unquestioned? My guess is a combination of maleducation and ideological conformity. They make themselves the Enemy of the People.

    • #12
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:40 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Also to keep in mind: Chlorine isn’t added to a pool to neutralize the pee. Chlorine is added to a pool to kill bacteria, and there is no bacteria in pee. Pee is (virtually) sterile. The pee in a pool is not toxic, and neither is the chlorine for that matter, but the chemical produced when pee reacts with chlorine can be. It’s that chemical that causes your eyes to get red and itchy, for example, and it can also trigger asthma. This is why you shouldn’t pee in a chlorinated pool.

    • #13
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:55 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I never gave it much thought when I used to swim in the city pool, but my guess is that almost all kids beneath the age of 13 pee in the pool. So if you swim in a public pool, you are swimming through a urine/water/chlorine mix.

    Fun fact: A strong chlorine smell in the air is proof that people are peeing in the pool. That smell is produced by the urea reacting with the chlorine. If there’s no urea, there’s no smell.

    Don’t do much laundry, do you?

    • #14
    • May 17, 2019, at 10:59 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. JamesSalerno Coolidge

    Bethany Mandel:

    Big Chlorine (I didn’t know such a thing existed)

    I think we just found a new target for the left! Get on it, hounds of equality!!!

    • #15
    • May 17, 2019, at 11:02 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I never gave it much thought when I used to swim in the city pool, but my guess is that almost all kids beneath the age of 13 pee in the pool. So if you swim in a public pool, you are swimming through a urine/water/chlorine mix.

    Fun fact: A strong chlorine smell in the air is proof that people are peeing in the pool. That smell is produced by the urea reacting with the chlorine. If there’s no urea, there’s no smell.

    Don’t do much laundry, do you?

    Pee isn’t the only source of urea. It’s also in sweat (and poo). The strong chlorine smell from your laundry is from the chlorine reacting with the urea in the sweat in your clothes (and the fecal material left behind in your unmentionables).

    • #16
    • May 17, 2019, at 11:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JamesSalerno (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel:

    Big Chlorine (I didn’t know such a thing existed)

    I think we just found a new target for the left! Get on it, hounds of equality!!!

    I’ve never understood why opponents of salt don’t call it a campaign against chlorine, since table salt is Sodium Chloride.

    • #17
    • May 17, 2019, at 11:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    Misthiocracy –

    Bleach is unstable and gradually releases chlorine. Bleach in the bottle, along with bleaching powder / chlorine carriers, smell like chlorine. Acid promotes this release – in fact, that is how I would prepare chlorine water for chemical demonstrations. So an acidic low pH pool might smell of chlorine.

    Urea can be chlorinated – the reaction was known as early as the 1910s. However, this product is not listed as a hazardous substance. Urea chlorination reduces the free chlorine available to kill bacteria. It is only after it is oxidized to various volatile chloramines that it can become an irritant.

    Basically, your statement is over-broad.

    • #18
    • May 17, 2019, at 12:26 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    I’m confused. What part of the study’s findings do you dispute?

    Personally, I think the 40% number seems low.

    Note to self: Don’t invite Misthiocracy to the pool party.

    Or hose him down when he shows up.

    Embrace the power of “and”.

    • #19
    • May 17, 2019, at 12:26 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Stad Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: The study claims a lot of gross stuff, claiming . . . that 40% of Americans pee in the pool.

    I don’t believe it for one second. It has to be more like 95% . . .

    • #20
    • May 17, 2019, at 12:28 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Basically, your statement is over-broad.

    • #21
    • May 17, 2019, at 12:39 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. Mark Camp Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):
    Embrace the power of “and”.

    ….Now, that’s funny.

    • #22
    • May 17, 2019, at 1:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Mark Camp Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):
    This is why you shouldn’t pee in a chlorinated pool.

    Yep. We always told our kids, if you really can’t hold it till you get to a non-chlorinated pool, just go into the nearest restroom, and use the toilet. Nobody will even notice, and anyway, everyone has been in that situation at some point in their lives.

    • #23
    • May 17, 2019, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I never gave it much thought when I used to swim in the city pool, but my guess is that almost all kids beneath the age of 13 pee in the pool. So if you swim in a public pool, you are swimming through a urine/water/chlorine mix.

    Fun fact: A strong chlorine smell in the air is proof that people are peeing in the pool. That smell is produced by the urea reacting with the chlorine. If there’s no urea, there’s no smell.

    Don’t do much laundry, do you?

    Pee isn’t the only source of urea. It’s also in sweat (and poo). The strong chlorine smell from your laundry is from the chlorine reacting with the urea in the sweat in your clothes (and the fecal material left behind in your unmentionables).

    The worst smells in laundry I’ve ever had to deal with were from Mr. She’s synthetic undershirts (UnderArmour, and similar). He’s always been interested in “better-wicking” and “less-sweaty” underwear due to his active lifestyle (hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, etc), and he’s a bit of a gadget freak, so whatever the newest thing was, he was up to try it.

    But the synthetic stuff smells foul when it sits in the laundry basket for more than five minutes. Give me good old cotton and wool, every day.

    • #24
    • May 17, 2019, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. garyinabq Member

    Chlorine serves 2 purposes. Yes it kills bacteria but it also oxydizes organic wastes. When you smell chlorine, it means the chlorine has done its job but has converted to chloramines in the process, which gives the odor. Then the pool needs to be shocked to restore the form and eliminate the odor. Pool chemistry is pretty complicated but most public and commercial pools have automated controllers that measure and dose chemicals properly. That is why most pools are nice to swim in and safe, despite pee, sweat, etc. Hot tubs are a more intense environment but the same principles apply.

    So go ahead and enjoy. And yes, I am in the pool supply business.

    • #25
    • May 17, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  26. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    garyinabq (View Comment):
    And yes, I am in the pool supply business.

    Therefore you clearly cannot be trusted to provide non-biased data.

    ;-)

    • #26
    • May 17, 2019, at 2:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. Randy Webster Member

    Bethany Mandel: The study claims a lot of gross stuff, claiming that Americans use swimming pools instead of a shower and that 40% of Americans pee in the pool.

    I can’t believe that 40% of Americans even have access to pools.

    • #27
    • May 17, 2019, at 2:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Mark Camp Member

    I am confused.

    When we are at a pool and we “smell chlorine”, are we mostly smelling

    • Cl2, not chloramines?
    • chloramines, not Cl2?

    Each of these statements claims to be authoritative, but if I am interpreting them correctly, they seem to disagree:

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Bleach is unstable and gradually releases chlorine.

    So, Cl2, not chloramines?

    garyinabq (View Comment):
    converted to chloramines in the process, which gives the odor

    So, chloramines, not Cl2?

    • #28
    • May 17, 2019, at 2:50 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Yeah, I defy anyone to leave an opened bottle of Clorox in their enclosed laundry room and enter it an hour later without a respirator unit. Chlorine smells, dudes. It doesn’t need to interact with nuthin’. Now, maybe when it’s diluted in a swimming pool it doesn’t smell as noticeably until it interacts with urine or other bodily excretions, but, heck, I can even smell it in unfiltered tap water! Are you guys trying to gaslight us?? /get it? *gas*light?

    • #29
    • May 17, 2019, at 3:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “We see, again and again, aggressive headlines that often overstate the claims of the (often not very good) articles they report on.”

    Also, a high % of headline writers appear to be extraordinarily clueless, even by journalist standards. See for example the headline and picture for this article about the F-82 “jet fighter”.

    https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/meet-f-82-fighter-strange-looking-jet-went-war-korea-46037

     

     

    • #30
    • May 17, 2019, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes

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